Think Before You Top, Get The Facts

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Find out the real facts about common topping myths. Learn out about alternatives to topping, as well as ways to get involved in spreading proper tree care in our community.

What is Topping?

Topping is the drastic removal of large amounts of leaves and branches from a tree's crown.
According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), "topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role."

Other names for topping include heading, tipping, hat-racking and rounding over.

Goals of Tree Awareness in Vancouver 

  • Help the community understand the problems that occur with topping,
  • Present alternatives to topping,
  • Reduce the amount of topping in our community,
  • Protect and enhance Vancouver’s urban forest canopy, which provides shade, reduces erosion, improves water and air quality, and creates a more livable community.

Topping...

  • Hurts trees

  • Is expensive

  • Creates unsafe, hazardous conditions

  • Shortens the life of a tree

Topping Myths -Common Urban Legends and the Real Facts

Myth: Topping rejuvenates the tree

Fact: Actually, topping removes large amounts of energy-converting foliage from the tree. This forces the tree to tap energy reserves to replace lost foliage, resulting in a weakened tree that is more susceptible to attack by pests and disease.

Myth: Topping makes the tree fuller

Fact: In fact, many trees will send out or "flush" large amounts of foliage to replace the leaves removed. New growth is dense and may appear to be fuller. Unfortunately, new branches are poorly attached and easily break. In addition, topped branches are open for attack by pests and decay.

Myth: Topping is inexpensive.

Fact: A topped tree requires more maintenance due to increased pruning cycles. Ultimately, the tree will die prematurely, reducing property values, and will need to be removed and replaced.

Myth: Because all my neighbors top.

Fact: People once thought the earth was flat but we now know that's not the case. Research has shown proper pruning techniques work with the trees biology, not against it.

Myth: New growth is stronger.

Fact: The new growth after topping usually grows faster, but is not stronger. Instead, new growth is poorly attached and easily breaks off, increasing storm damage and personal liability.

Myth: The tree casts too much shade.

Fact: The canopy of a tree may be thinned with proper pruning to allow more sunlight through, while not severely damaging the tree.

Myth: The tree got too big.

Fact: Trees NEVER get Too Big. Trees have a genetic disposition to be a certain size while environmental factors affect the potential size. If tree size is a concern, consider selection of smaller trees

Get the Facts

  • Topping hurts trees.

  • Topping is expensive.

  • Topping creates unsafe conditions.

  • Topping shortens the life of a tree.

What Are Some Alternatives to Topping?

• Plant the right tree in the right place. Carefully select the appropriate species before you plant a tree. Bear in mind the mature size of the tree and do not plant trees that will cause future conflicts with infrastructure, utilities, structures or views. Young trees should also be properly trained.

• Prune properly to allow your trees to realize their full potential for health and beauty in the landscape. Proper pruning can remove excessive growth without the problems topping creates. If you have your trees properly pruned, you should not need to have them pruned again for 10-15 years; conversely, if you top your trees you may have to prune your trees every few years.

• Enhance views by "windowing" or "crown raising." "Windowing" is defined as removing several branches symmetrically within an area of the tree. By carefully choosing which branches to cut, and making proper pruning cuts, you can leave a window in a tree that provides a fully framed view and also maintain the health of the tree. "Crown raising," or "skirting," is the removal of lower branches to open up a view. To maintain a healthy tree, never remove more than 25 percent of the canopy of a tree at one time.

• Remove dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly-attached, or low-vigor branches through "crown cleaning."

• Consider "crown reduction" when a mature tree's height absolutely must be reduced, such as to correct utility line conflicts. Crown reduction is accomplished by removing larger branches at the top or side of the tree. Branches are removed by using proper pruning cuts above a lateral branch that will increase in size after cutting. This is the method that Clark Public Utilities uses to maintain their utility lines. Crown reduction is also known as "drop crotch pruning".

How You Can Make a Difference

To maximize the community benefits of the urban forest, we need to take care of our existing trees and plant more trees. There are many ways you can help make your community a healthier and more beautiful place.

  • Contact us to schedule a presentation to give to your group.
  • Print out this No Topping poster and display in your break area, business window, or other high traffic area.
  • Include information in your newsletter or publication about the hazards of topping. We can provide a short article for your publication.
  • Hire a professional arborist that is licensed and bonded, and ask plenty of questions about their business practices.
  • Become a NeighborWoods Steward and help preserve our urban forest.
  • Attend one of the many upcoming events where you can visit with Urban Forestry and get involved.
  • Do you have a good idea on how to inform others that topping is not the right solution? Please share it with us!

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