Topping Trees

Topping Trees also known as heading, hat-racking and rounding over are commonly done to reduce the size of a tree. Even though the harmful effects have been known for years, the practice sadly continues. Topping is cutting tree branches back to stubs or lateral branches.
Topping removes leaves, which represent the tree’s food making potential and a large amount of the tree’s stored energy reserves. After topping the remaining energy reserves must activate latent buds so new branches and leaves can form. Energy is required to attempt to heal the pruning cuts and to defend the itself chemically from pathogens. Topping weakens a tree. Even though a tree may survive topping, it becomes weaker and more susceptible to damage from insects and diseases if topped more than once. Topping a severely stressed tree will usually kill it.
When pruning a tree, cut just beyond the branch collar at the branch’s point of attachment. Trees are biologically equipped to close wounds made along the branch collar. Cuts made along a limb create stubs with wounds the tree may not be able to close. A healthy, normal tree will compartmentalize or wall off the decaying tissues, but few trees can bear multiple severe wounds. Exposed wood tissues start to decay and the decay can spread to the trunk, causing death to the tree. unscald can be another issue resulting from topping. A tree’s crown absorb sunlight and protect the branches and trunk from high levels of light and heat. Suddenly removing the canopy can result in sunscald of the tissues beneath the bark, which can lead to the bark splitting, cankers, and death of branches.
Topping destroys the natural form of a tree. Nothing looks worse than a topped tree in the winter that is disfigured. The tree will never regain its natural form.
There are times when a tree must be pruned to reduce the spread or height. Remove the branches back to their point of origin. Generally, the branch you cut back should be 1/3 the diameter of the limb being removed. These will help save the natural form of the tree.
For more information on topping trees, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7 p.m. on SCETV or Email Outen at

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