What Does It Mean To Top Out A Tree?

What Does It Mean To Top Out A Tree?

“Topping out” a tree, also known as tree topping, is a harmful and destructive tree pruning practice where the upper portion of a tree’s canopy (the main branches and top growth) is significantly cut back or removed. This process results in the removal of a large portion of the tree’s crown, leaving behind stubs or shortened branches. Topping is often done to reduce the height or size of a tree quickly, to manage its growth.

It is generally considered an improper and detrimental pruning method for several reasons, including…

  1. Health Impact – Topping severely damages a tree’s health. The removal of a significant portion of the canopy disrupts the tree’s ability to produce energy through photosynthesis, weakening it and making it vulnerable to diseases and pests.
  2. Structural Weakness – Topping leads to the growth of weak, poorly attached branches known as “water sprouts” or “suckers.” These branches are more likely to break, creating safety hazards.
  3. Aesthetic Problems – Topping results in an unsightly appearance, with stubby branches that are not in proportion with the remaining canopy. This can diminish the tree’s aesthetic value.
  4. Increased Risk – Topped trees are more susceptible to decay, making them prone to rot and structural failure. This poses a greater risk to people and property.
  5. Tree Stress – Topping causes significant stress to the tree, potentially leading to reduced vitality and overall decline. It can also result in rapid regrowth, which further complicates the tree’s health and structure.
  6. Regrowth – Topped trees often respond to the pruning by producing numerous fast-growing shoots, creating a dense thicket of weak branches known as “witch’s brooms.”

Due to the negative impacts of topping, professional arborists and tree care organizations strongly discourage and often condemn this practice. Instead, proper tree pruning techniques should be employed to address issues like height reduction or crown management, while preserving the tree’s health and structural integrity. These techniques include thinning, crown reduction, and selective branch removal, which should be performed by trained and certified arborists in a manner that supports the tree’s long-term health and safety. If you have concerns about the size or health of a tree, it is advisable to consult with a professional arborist who can provide appropriate and responsible tree care recommendations.