Can You Cut the Top Off Of A Tree?

Over the past few months, we’ve gotten a lot of questions from the public about how to deal with unruly trees. Specifically, people are wondering if they can cut the top off of their trees without doing too much damage. This practice, called tree topping, has come under fire for some of the perceived and actual negative effects it has on the tree itself. Continue reading below to learn more about tree topping, and why you shouldn’t do it.

Should I leave the leaves on my lawn?🍂

Why Top Trees?

Before we explain why tree topping is generally a bad idea, we’re going to take a moment to explain why people may want to top their trees.

Tree topping is generally done as a way to control the growth of a tree and prevent it from interfering with buildings, utility lines, poles, and other structures that might be in the way of the top of a tree as it grows.

As we’ll describe below, not only is the practice harmful to the tree, it’s generally ineffective as a method of growth control.

Why Tree Topping Isn’t Great

There are a wide variety of reasons that tree topping is not an ideal solution for the vast majority of people.

First and foremost, tree topping can kill the tree. By creating an open wound at the top of the trunk, tree topping leaves the tree vulnerable to disease, insects, sun damage, and other negative influences on its continued health and vibrancy. The wound at the top of the tree can actually lead to something called “sun scald,” which further promotes disease and damage.

It also creates an unsafe structure for the tree. After a tree is topped, the tree will attempt to rapidly regrow the excised part of the trunk. This leads to the creation of a large mass of new, but structurally weak, vegetation. And all of this will be perched precariously at the top of the tree. It’s not a recipe for sound stability.

Third, and as we mentioned earlier, tree topping is relatively ineffective at controlling growth on a permanent basis. The tree will often simply regrow the removed parts of its trunk quite quickly. Before you know it, the tree will have regained its original height.

Even if a tree survives the removal of its top, tree topping can reduce the tree’s overall health by removing its source of food: its leaves. By removing a large number of a tree’s leaves, you reduce the ability of the tree to convert sunlight into nutrients that would otherwise sustain the tree.

Tree topping can also create an unsightly and ugly tree. The regrowth caused by topping does not look natural or pleasing to the eye. You can wind up with a tree that has a strange mass of new growth at the top but also malnourished bottom and middle sections. The end result is one that looks unbalanced and unnatural.

Because of this negative aesthetic effect, tree topping can actually reduce the property value of the property on which the tree stands. Generally speaking, people prefer pretty trees to strange and unattractive ones (go figure!), and will pay less for a property that contains the latter.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, trees are tough to replace. They take a long time to grow and, if you buy one fully grown, you’ll pay a lot of money for it. Tree topping is an unnecessary waste of a valuable resource.

If you’d like to prevent the need for topping a tree, take care when you choose the location of newly planted trees. Don’t choose locations underneath utility lines or poles or very near man-made structures. Buy quality nursery stock that makes sense for the space you’re putting the tree in.

Most importantly, as young trees grow, prune them properly. Careful pruning as the tree ages and grows will prevent a lot of the issues that people tend to have when the tree is fully grown. In fact, a qualified and licensed arborist, or a professional and skilled landscaper, will be hugely helpful when it comes to pruning a growing tree and preventing the problems we’ve discussed above. 

We hope that we’ve been able to help you improve your understanding of what tree topping entails and why you should avoid it. In our view, the less this practice goes on, the better it is for everyone involved (trees included).