All trees have very unique structural characteristics which serve to provide the tree with the best possible chance of obtaining sunlight. A tree, grown wild, in a forest will develop a very different form from a tree placed in the middle of a suburban front yard. Understanding a few basic principles of tree habit helps most homeowners realize that topping a tree is not a method of pruning, it is most likely a path to tree death.
Most homeowners become discouraged as they suddenly realize their beloved pear tree has grown taller than their home and in some instances, they panic, and hire an unqualified tree company to “reduce” the tree’s height.
Topping a tree indiscriminately severs branches and leaves an overwhelming amount of open wounds which invites decay before the tree has a chance to form wound wood. Pruning these branches back to a side branch that is about one-half the diameter of the branch being cut will provide a better chance for the tree to heal.
A surprising fact about topping most trees is that they actually will return to the original height within 2 years. The tree reacts to the drastic reduction in live crown foliage with vigorous sucker growth to replace the leaves. This vigorous growth also reduces the tree’s ability to fight off insects and decay.
A topped tree becomes a huge liability and actually may reduce the property value. The large amounts of sucker growth becomes a hazard because it weighs heavily on the ends of blunt cut branches which are decaying rapidly. Heavy winds and snow will inevitably destroy the tree beyond repair.
So what should a homeowner do when faced with an overgrown tree in their front yard? Consult a well-trained and reputable arborist to discuss pruning options, removal and replacement with more appropriate 3 varieties of trees. Topping may be a cheap and quick fix performed hastily but it will regrettably become a major problem soon again.
Why Topping Hurts Trees (International Society of Arborists):
Tree Owner’s Manual (USDA Forest Service):