Fact or myth? Discover the truth about tree topping and learn alternatives that keep your trees healthy. Then help us spread the word. Together, we can protect and enhance Vancouver’s urban forest canopy to provide shade, reduce erosion, improve water and air quality, and sustain our high quality of life.
What is Topping?
Topping is the drastic removal of large quantities 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:
- Rounding over
- Hurts trees.
- Is expensive.
- Creates unsafe, hazardous conditions.
- Shortens the life of a tree.
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 as it tries to replace the lost foliage, weakening the tree. A weakened tree is more vulnerable to attacks 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 missing leaves. New growth is dense and may appear to be fuller, but those new branches are poorly attached and can easily break. Plus, topped branches are open for attacks by pests and decay.
Myth: “Topping is more affordable.”
Fact: A topped tree requires more maintenance because you have to prune it more often. Ultimately, the tree will die prematurely, reducing your property value and possibly even the character of your neighborhood. Then, you end up having to pay for the dead tree to be removed and replaced.
Myth: “All of my neighbors top.”
Fact: Research has shown how proper pruning techniques work with a tree’s biology, not against it. Many of your neighbors already know this, and if they don’t, you can help them learn!
Myth: “New growth is stronger.”
Fact: The new growth after topping usually grows faster, but it is not stronger. Instead, the new growth is poorly attached and easily breaks off, increasing the risks of storm damage and personal liability.
Myth: “The tree casts too much shade.”
Fact: The canopy of a tree may be thinned to allow in more sunlight by using proper pruning techniques that don’t damage the tree like topping does.
Myth: “The tree got too big.”
Fact: Trees have a genetic disposition to be a certain size and seldom deviate beyond their genetic parameters. However, their placement within the context of your neighborhood or property may affect its preferrable size. If tree size is a concern, consider your selection. Plant trees that will fit the available space when they reach maturity.
Even More Reasons Not to Top Your 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 avoid planting trees that will cause future conflicts with infrastructure, utilities, structures or views.
Prune properly to allow your trees to realize their full potential for health and beauty in the landscape. Proper pruning removes excessive growth without leaving the tree vulnerable. After a proper pruning, you usually can wait 10 to 15 years before they will need to be pruned again, whereas if you top your trees, you may have to prune your trees every few years.
Enhance views by windowing, crown raising or using other, healthy pruning techniques. There are many excellent methods to manage tree growth without hurting the tree. Here are a few:
- Windowing removes 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 maintains the health of the tree.
- Crown raising or skirting removes lower branches to open up a view. To maintain a healthy tree, never remove more than 25% of the canopy at one time and retain at least 2/3 live crown ratio.
- Crown cleaning removes dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly-attached or low-vigor branches.
- Crown reduction or drop-crotching removes larger branches at the top or side of a tree when its size absolutely must be reduced, such as when utility lines are competing for space. (This is the method that Clark Public Utilities uses to maintain their utility lines.) Be sure to use proper pruning cuts above a lateral branch that will increase in size after cutting.
Ready to learn more about proper pruning? Check out this article from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources: Remove the 3 D’s from your trees; learn what, when and how to prune
How You Can Make a Difference
By taking care of our existing trees and planting more, we maximize the community benefits of our urban forest. There are many ways you can enhance the health and beauty of our community:
- 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 Neighborhood Tree Steward and help preserve our urban forest.
- Let the neighborhood know topping is bad with a yard sign; contact Urban Forestry to find out how to get one.
- 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? We’d love to hear it.