Topping a tree is one of the worst things that can be done to the tree and usually leads to certain death of the tree. Here’s why:
- It starves the tree. Removing much of the tree canopy upsets the crown-to-root ratio, seriously and adversely affecting the tree’s food supply. Leaf surface is needed to manufacture sufficient food to feed and support the entire tree. Topping also depletes the tree’s stored food supply.
- Removing the tree’s normal canopy suddenly exposes the bark to the sun’s direct rays, often scalding the newly exposed open bark.
- Topping removes all the existing buds, which would ordinarily produce normal sturdy branches.
- It’s rare for the large branch stubs left from topping to close and heal. The stubs become vulnerable to insect invasion and fungi. Once decay begins, it can spread to the entire tree, killing it.
- Topping stimulates the growth of new shoots, called to “suckers” or “water sprouts,” which are not as structurally sound as the naturally occurring branches. These water sprouts are often more susceptible to diseases such as fire blight (rosaceous trees) and herbivorous insects such as aphids and caterpillars.
- Water sprout re-growth is generally rapid, so a topped tree often will grow back to its original height faster and denser than a tree that has been properly pruned or thinned. So topping is only a valid temporary solution to oversized trees.
- Some tree species, like sugar maple, oak and beech, do not produce water sprouts, leaving a bare trunk and a quick death for the tree.
- Aesthetically, topping disfigures the tree. Ugly branch stubs, obvious pruning cuts and a broom-like branch growth replace a tree’s natural beauty and form.