CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hort Peeves (or a New Year's Resolution?): Stop the Topping!

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

You've heard this before: Stop topping trees! And to be honest, I've seen photos, but I've never really seen the practice, until last week. I've seen plenty of bad pruning jobs, but never topping.
Tree Topping (photo from Northwest Arbor-Culture)
For those unfamiliar with this hideous practice, it's essentially slaughtering the poor tree from the top down, removing large branches and the entire top of the canopy. Some claim it's a "tree haircut" that the tree will grow out of. But no, the tree doesn't "grow out of it" (unlike perms in the 80s) and it always ends up making things worse. Essentially, the trees produces a lot of suckers (water sprouts) that are structurally unsound and prone to damage and breaking. Oh, and the cuts made to do the topping are often large and can lead to disease and insect issues, because the trees can't produce the correct tissues to seal off the wounds.
Water sprout growth following tree topping. All of this growth is structurally unsound and is more susceptible to breakage in storms and can cause tree failure. 
Tree topping is a terrible practice. I should point out that educated and certified arborists never do this. Don't pay someone to do this to your trees.

On the way home from work last week, I saw tree topping in action. I couldn't believe it and immediately pulled my car over to circle back. What I saw was a gentleman in a bright orange shirt hacking his way through a line of trees in his backyard. I cannot be certain if this was a paid service or the homeowner. Regardless, it was horrifying. These trees lined the back fence and were far enough away from the utility lines. The trees didn't deserve this (and it looks like it wasn't the first time they were topped, since I drove by again after the bloodbath).
Yes, I know the dangers of taking photos while driving...I had to do it on the sly. I couldn't stop and just take photos of the man in action!
Here's another shot after zooming in on the photo from the road.
And what do the trees look like after the wrath of a pole pruner? They look awful. And ugly. They do nothing for the landscape. But there's a nice pile of firewood! Oh, and this was done the last week of December 2017...not the most ideal time to prune woody plant material.
Tree topping is wrong. Resolve NEVER to do this.
Let's all make a resolution to stop this practice! It's one that is far easier to accomplish than going to the gym and eating healthier. Happy 2018 fellow horties!

5 comments:

  1. A neighbor did this to a tree in my yard without my permission because he felt that the tree was too close to his home. I was upset because I thought the tree looked stupid, but I had no idea it was so bad for the tree. Reading this makes me so angry. Time to put a lock on my gate, I guess.

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  2. I just moved into a new old house where I think this was done to some trees in my new backyard. I think they are maples but not sure. How can this be corrected? How do I prune them now that they were pruned wrong? Should I hire an expert? Where do I find a reliable tree expert? I live in Madison Wisconsin. Thank you for the great article. I thought that my trees didn't look quite right!

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    1. Hi there! Sorry for the delay. It would be best to contact a certified arborist with training from the International Society of Arboriculture. You can find an arborist at www.isa-arbor.com and hone in to your Zip code and location. I would discuss your situation with a couple of professionals and see what they can recommend (if anything).

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  3. My neighbor did this to a large diseased Ash tree. He removed large branches himself, then called a professional tree service to take-down the rest of the tree. It was costly, so he did nothing. The ash has new leaf growth and presents a strange appearance. Neighbors plan to leave it; they feel birds, squirrels and other wildlife enjoy it.Visitors to my home can't believe the "very weird tree" visible from my home. It is quite the conversation starter! Jan Stoven AKA Mom Stoven

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    1. Maybe this is the only situation where it's a good thing for emerald ash borer!?! I'm joking. I've seen the tree and it's ghastly. Poor ash. Chainsaws aren't for everyone!

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