Topped tree

Tree topping was once a common practice, but now arborists caution people about trimming too much to stress out trees.

Darla Horner Menking | Herald

Today, I’m addressing the issue of pruning your trees, what to know and what to ask.

Lately, I have seen so many instances of “tree guys” topping huge trees. I asked a professional arborist about this practice and what a land owner should know before they let someone loose in their yard with a chainsaw.

Apparently, 30 to 40 years ago, topping trees was pretty common. But arborists now discourage the topping of trees as a common pruning technique. The picture below is a great example of what some area “tree pruners” do when you hire them to cut back dead limbs or thin them.

It is very important to be “on the same page” with anyone you hire to cut your trees. Topping trees takes all the leaves off at one time. This stresses the tree since leaves are needed for photosynthesis, providing the tree with food. We are at least three years into a drought so stressing a tree is not a good idea.

Businesses that top trees assure the owner their trees will sprout and fill in with a fairly dense canopy. Some do, and some don’t. The ones that do will be obvious, as they take on a round canopy, looking like a bush with a trunk. While some may want this, the new branches are technically small “suckers” that are very unstable, abnormal growth. They will have a difficult time staying attached in a hard rain or high wind.

When hiring a pruner and before anyone starts cutting, there are some key things to know. Make sure their definition of pruning is the same as yours. Tell them if you only want them to prune off dead limbs, thin out smaller branches and those rubbing together, and always ask them if they intend on topping the tree.

Communication is key because once a tree is topped, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Trees not only add beauty to a yard but value to the land. And remember, it’s always best to seek out advice from a certified arborist.

Darla Horner Menking is a Bell County Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at

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