Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree hacking practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining it's harmful effects, topping remains a common practice. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, and the Tree Care Industry Association, tree topping is considered malpractice. Click here to view an article put out by the ISU extension service about topping trees.

So...what is tree topping? Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal/apical role, essentially topping is the act performing several internodal cuts, (also known as heading cuts) on the main leaders and branches of a tree in an effort to severely reduce the height of a mature tree.  Sounds pretty harmless eh? ...not quite, and here are the consequences of letting someone top your tree:

*Aesthetically, your tree ends up looking ugly.

*Trees rely on their canopy to absorb energy from the sun via photosynthesis. Trees use this energy they absorbed through their leaves/canopy to ward off disease, maintain their mighty stature and large root system. When trees are topped and lose most if not all of their canopy, they use the little bit of stored energy they had kept in their trunk and root system to produce suckers/watersprouts in a desperate attempt to regrow what they lost....these suckers provide inadequate energy for the tree, and the majority of topped trees end up in a mortality spiral and die in a few years after having been topped.

*Topped trees result in massive root die-back due to the lack of energy from losing their main energy source - their leaves/canopy. The tree simply can't afford to keep the same size root system as it had before it was topped due to it's reduced photosynthetic capability.

*The heading cuts left from topping result in a much higher decay rate than a reduction or thinning cut, and produce a large amount of epicormic shoots (watersprouts or suckers).

*The epicormic shoots/suckers resulting from a topped tree can grow at an extremely fast rate, and are weekly attached to the tree which will result in massive storm damage to your house and property.

*Topping leaves your tree open and susceptible to disease and fungal decay.

*Due to lack of foliage on your tree from topping, the bark of your tree will be more susceptible to sunburn.

*Topping is expensive. Why pay someone to ruin your asset?

Here is a picture of an unsightly and unhealthy topped tree:

 I cringe whenever I see a tree that has been topped, especially a tree that has JUST been topped.

Here is what this tree is going to look like (at best) in the next year or two (note the unsightly watersprouts):

I hope everyone found this informative - bottom line - don't top your trees.
Eli Morgan - ISA Certified Arborist. Email: PH: 641-919-3691 facebook