Why topping hurts trees | Living the Country Life

Why topping hurts trees

A tree that needs to be pruned back should never be cut across the top. Known as topping, this method should be avoided if you want to keep the tree alive. Instead, prune the tree to retain its natural structure.

Radio interview source: Sharon Lily, Education Director, International Society of Arboriculture

Listen here to the radio story (mp3) or read below

Every tree has a natural shape, and should be pruned carefully to retain its structure. Trees that are buzzed straight across the top are not only ugly, they'll never grow back into their beautiful form. 
Sharon Lilly is the education director for the International Society of Arboriculture. She says people who top their trees often don't know any better. Some do it because they're afraid the tree is unsafe and think topping is the proper thing to do.  She says it may be safer in the short term but it will likely bring even more problems.   
"The tree needs to put out leaves to survive, so it puts out a lot more shoots from each of those cuts," she says. "The problem is, those shoots are very weakly attached and as they grow and become larger, they tend to snap right and left with the wind storms that come through."
Wounds left from the cuts will often decay. The branches are putting out new shoots on the outside, and decaying on the inside. 
Lilly also notes that in the longrun, topping trees is expensive.
"Once the trees are topped, they grow back very fast," says Lilly. "Sometimes in as short as three-years they are back to the height that they were before they were topped, and they need to be topped again. So it's expensive to do it over and over again. The tree becomes progressively more decayed and conceivably more hazardous with each topping. So, it starts a spiral that just really gets worse and worse."
If you have a tree that has to be reduced in height or spread, Lilly advises hiring an professional arborist who understands the recommended pruning techniques to retain the natural form of the tree.  

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