Should I Top My Tree to Reduce Its Size?

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Topped Tree

Should I Top My Tree to Reduce Its Size?

My landscaper suggests that I cut back the top of my Sugar Maple to reduce its size. Is this ok?

Answer:

I suggest that you quickly replace your landscaper and find a qualified arborist. Tree topping is extremely injurious to trees.  Unfortunately, it is a very common practice, performed by practitioners who don’t understand trees.

Topping refers to the practice of cutting a mature tree back to a uniform height and/or width, leaving large branch stubs and sizeable wounds. It is also referred to as heading, stubbing, or hat-racking. Often, topping is used as a misguided measure to reduce the size of a tree. Bad idea. Better to plant the right tree in the right place to begin with.

Sometimes topping is performed for no reason at all. Over many years, I witnessed an annual “hat-racking” ritual of a neighbor’s mature oak. The landscape contractor would randomly cut branches back to stubs, with no consideration of proper pruning practices. In the fall, after the few remaining leaves had come down, the oak looked like a hideous hat rack – its amputated branches maimed, year after year. Over time the oak became so unhealthy that it was finally removed.

Topping removes a large percentage of a tree’s crown – the leaves of which are required to feed the tree. The tree responds by going into survival mode, pushing out rapid, profuse new growth below the pruning wounds, in an effort to make more leaves (leaves = survival).   This suckering new growth is weak, poorly attached, and more susceptible to pests and diseases.

While healthy mature trees are able to withstand small injuries and “close off” such wounds, they are no match for the numerous, large wounds created by topping. These large wounds may never callous over and compartmentalize, making a tree much more susceptible to pests and decay. Once decay starts, it may well spread into the main trunk.

Although tree topping may have been (mistakenly) conducted to minimize tree failure, this practice actually increases the odds that a tree will fail or become an expensive removal.

Just say no to tree topping and find a qualified arborist with great references.

Good luck!

Best,

Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Posted in

More from Ask EcoBeneficial!

Where Are the Pollinators This Year?

Question: I have a pollinator friendly garden in Maryland and I see very few pollinators this year. No butterflies. Only bumble bees. Have you noticed the same? Answer: Things are not good for pollinators this year in the Northeast.  I have seen relatively few pollinators and virtually no butterflies.  I…

Read More

Is ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry a Good Pollinator & Bird Plant?

Question: I am thinking about adding the serviceberry Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ to my landscape. I realize that it is a cultivar of a naturally occurring hybrid of Amelanchier laevis & Amelanchier arborea. Will this plant be a good source for pollinators & birds? Answer: Our native serviceberry species…

Read More

Good Reasons to Stop Blowing Leaves?

Question: My neighbors are constantly blowing leaves off their yard.  Besides being noisy and annoying, I know it’s not good for the environment.  How can I convince them to stop? Answer: Leaf blowing has become an obsession in America.  At this time of year, in the fall, the relentless hum…

Read More