CO-Horts Blog

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!

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