DNR FIELD NOTES
October 15, 2010
PROPER TREE CARE DOESN'T INCLUDE 'TOPPING'
By Chuck Turley
Washington State Forester
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
October is Urban Forestry Month. Here, at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), we are working closely with our local urban and community forestry partners to increase the awareness of proper tree care, particularly the damaging practice of “tree topping.”
What is tree topping? It is the drastic removal or cutting back of large branches in mature trees, leaving large, open wounds that subject the tree to disease and decay. Topping causes immediate injury to the tree and can ultimately result in early failure or death of the tree. This practice has been deemed unsafe for many years but, sadly, is still happening to trees.
When a tree is topped and many major branches are removed, the tree, literally, can starve to death. The cutting upsets the balance between the tree’s leafy crown and the amount of roots and seriously affects its food supply. A lot of leaf surface is needed to take in light and carbon dioxide to produce sufficient food for the branches, trunks, and roots. Topping cuts off a major portion of the tree's food-making potential and severely depletes the tree's stored energy reserves.
Topping trees should never be a part of proper pruning because it permanently damages the tree. A tree simply can’t recover from wounds that are created when you remove too much of the canopy.
Topping trees actually can cost more in the long run than proper pruning
From the visual aspect, topping disfigures the tree. Unattractive branch stubs, obvious pruning cuts, and a broom-like branch growth replace the tree’s natural beauty and form. In contrast, when carefully pruned, the shape and health of the tree are maintained or enhanced—and a well- pruned tree likely will need pruning less often.
When planting a tree, avoid having to top it in the future
- Check out the location - proximity to buildings, utility lines, other trees.
- Select trees or shrubs to fit - proper height, slow-to-moderate growth, fit for soil.
- Know where the sun is and how it travels across your property during the various seasons of the year.
- Choose from varieties suggested by a certified arborist - don't rely on what looks good in your yard.
- Consider your neighbors’ needs also.
- Consider community infrastructure - walkways, streets, traffic visibility.
It only takes a minute to destroy a tree that has taken decades to grow. That’s why, if you have any concerns, it is so important to have a local, certified arborist visit your property to evaluate your trees. Healthy trees are an asset to our society, and the practice of tree topping often leads directly to a tree becoming unhealthy and unsafe.
People top trees for many reasons, all of which are associated with misconceptions. DNR’s mission is to help communities understand the negative effects of tree topping and encourage proper tree care.
Media Contact: Please contact Janet Pearce, Environmental Education Outreach Specialist,
EDITORS: A photo of the author is available on request.