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Why Tree Topping is the Worst Thing You Can Do When a Tree is Too Tall

Topped tree in front yard
Don't let this happen to your tree!

Often, homeowners are concerned about a tree that’s become so large it blocks sunlight, obscures a view, or is getting too close to electrical power lines. They don’t necessarily want to remove the tree, they just want it cut down to a less intrusive size. “Tree topping” seems like a good solution, but it’s one of the worst things you can do to a tree.

Tree topping (aka “hatracking,” “height reduction,” “canopy reduction,” “heading back,” “rounding over” and “stubbing back”) involves removing the entire top of a tree. The result is a cut-down, barren eyesore of a tree with stubs where there once were leafy branches. It’s so bad that most cities now ban tree stubbing within city limits.

You typically see ads for tree topping from landscape maintenance companies. No certified arborist we’re aware of would ever condone, let alone perform, tree topping. Only unscrupulous “landscapers” out to make a buck off of unsuspecting homeowners offer “tree topping services.” If you come across one, do not hire them.

Why tree topping is bad for trees:

  1. Almost all leaves are removed, and with them the tree’s primary food source
  2. Bark that’s abruptly exposed to full sun can easily burn and develop disease cankers
  3. The stubby limbs left on the tree are prone to insect infestations, disease and decay
  4. The tree responds to the trauma by quickly growing new limbs which aren’t strong enough to withstand winds and storms
  5. New branches will rapidly grow higher and bushier than before the tree was topped, so the tree topping has the opposite effect of what was intended and you're left with a tree that requires frequent, ongoing maintenance

How to deal with a tree that’s grown too large

Topping is not the answer. With careful pruning, the height of a tree can be reduced without compromising its ability to survive.  A properly pruned tree will not need to be pruned again for 10 to 15 years, while a topped tree will require repeat pruning every 2 to 3 years.

In cases where a tree's roots have become so invasive they are damaging the foundation of a house, or situations where a tree is leaning precariously toward a structure, tree removal may be necessary. A certified arborist will be able to assess each situation and recommend the best course of action.

Some pruning techniques used by Russ’ Tree Service to control the growth of large trees:

Windowing is the removal of several branches within an area of a tree to create a window in order to allow a view of something beyond the tree. By carefully selection of branches to be cut, the health of the tree is not compromised.

Crown raising (Skirting) is the removal of lower branches to allow for a better view past the tree.

Crown cleaning is the removal of dead, diseased, over-crowded or weakly attached branches in the upper canopy of a tree.

Crown reduction (drop crotch pruning) is the removal of large branches at the top or side of a tree. This is commonly done when the height of a mature tree has to be reduced to keep it from interfering with a power line.

None of these pruning techniques endanger a tree in any way, or result in a tree that requires a lot of follow-up care and maintenance.

Get a free estimate on your tree problem

Whether it’s a tree that’s grown too large for your lot, a tree that’s fallen over in a storm, or a lot you need to have cleared, Russ’ Tree Service will provide a free estimate for the job. With reasonable rates, prompt service and turf-friendly equipment, we’re your best choice for Milwaukee area tree care services.

Contact Russ’ Tree Service online to request an estimate on tree pruning or other tree care services.
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