Tree Topping

This content is archived

Published on: Sep. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

the industry," said David Hill, president of the St. Louis Arborist Association. "It is one way we have to eliminate unprofessional practices like tree topping and climbing with spurs from the industry."

Selecting professional tree care in Missouri is a worthwhile investment of time and money. Inappropriate tree care could lead to the slow death of a favored tree which, with proper care, could live to be more than 100 years old.

Find out if the individual or company carries professional certification, particularly through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). ISA certifies individuals who meet a minimum experience requirement and pass an industry-based exam. A list of ISA Certified arborists in your area can be found on the Internet.

Tree Topping Myths

Myth: Topping a tree will reduce storm damage and make the tree easier to maintain.

Topped trees can regain their original height in as little as two years. The fast growing, extremely long and loosely attached shoots caused by topping will be more susceptible to breakage and storm damage. Ultimately, a topped tree requires more attention in the future than a properly pruned tree.

Myth: Topping invigorates a tree.

Topping immediately injures a tree and starts it on a downward spiral. Topping wounds expose the tree to decay and invasion from insects and disease. Also, the loss of foliage starves the tree, which weakens the roots, reducing the tree's structural strength. While a tree may survive topping, its life will be significantly reduced.

Myth: Topped trees will add value to your property.

Topped trees are ugly and may reduce your property values. Also a topped tree can become hazardous and cause property damage, making it a liability.

Myth: Topping is the best way to keep a tree from getting too big.

A tree's genetics and environment determine how tall it will grow. Topping just shortens the life of the tree and creates long term maintenance problems.

Topping vs. Pruning


  • Branches are shortened, leaving stubbed-off branch ends.
  • Sprouting occurs near the ends of cut branches. Branches quickly grow back, only thicker.
  • Regrowth is weakly attached and breaks easily in storms.
  • Can cause dead branch stubs. Maximizes chances for future decay inside branches and trunk.
  • Tree quickly regains original size, but with weak branches.
  • Especially destructive if applied to entire tree.
  • Produces whole population of weak, unhealthy trees over time.

Recommended Pruning

  • Whole branches growing in undesirable directions are removed.
  • Only offending branches are removed.
  • Future storm damage is minimized.
  • Tree can grow over pruning wounds. Chances for decay are minimized.
  • Tends to lengthen time needed between prunings.
  • Works with natural growth habit of tree.
  • Encourages trees to grow safe and sound.

When seeking a tree service, check the company's topping policy. If they top, don't let them near your trees.

Content tagged with

Shortened URL