You might not know this, but trimming a tree correctly requires a certain amount of knowledge about trees and how they grow. That’s why tree experts are often recommended for such jobs. An experienced arborist knows what will help a tree and what could damage it, and they’ll get it right the first time. Good tree care requires knowing what to do for both healthy and sick trees.
Image by Marek Matecki
For healthy trees, you can trim sick or damaged branches off, shape the trees, and keep them robust and able to keep expanding near the crown. Often, with healthy tree care, there are preventative measures to ensure the well-being and health of the tree. For sick or diseased trees, you can focus on trimming the sick or dying branches, but if the damage to the tree is substantial, more drastic measures may be necessary, such as treatments for disease or even tree removal. That might leave you wondering if tree topping might be a valid solution. It almost never is, but what if it happens or has already happened? Will a topped tree grow back?
What Is Tree Topping?
Think of tree pruning but on a huge scale. The cut is made on the main trunk, usually higher up, or it includes the removal of a series of large limbs, drastically reducing the height of the tree. There are two main harvesting techniques used in the wood industry, and they are called coppicing or pollarding. They have some practical uses, but rarely, if ever, does a tree in a residential situation have any reason or need for topping in a residential setting.
Why Do People Top Trees?
In worst-case scenarios, topping may be necessary. If there really is no other option, then sometimes topping can be used to solve an issue with the trunk, with branches high up the tree, or for other health issues. But there are also some misconceptions that might lead someone to top a tree.
Some people believe that topping a tree can be a way to reduce the number of leaves that fall during the autumn. While this is true to some degree, it really is only a temporary fix and isn’t particularly good for the tree. And as the new shoots grow in, they will generally grow back fuller and faster than what was previously there, leading to more leaves in the long run.
It’s also possible to cut back enough branches to be considered topping. In particular, this might be done during the stormy season, and the reasoning is to prevent the branches from falling and damaging property or hurting people. But the branches will grow back in a much weaker form than they were when they were cut, so already there is a higher risk of branches coming down if they’ve been cut.
While the intention is understandable, topping trees cause more harm being done than good, as branches don’t always grow back. Whether the branches will grow back or not depends on where the pruning or cutting is taking place. If a branch is cut too close to the trunk, chances are it won’t grow back. If there are small, latent buds on the tree, those will grow back, but not the bigger branches that were removed.
Does Topping a Tree Decrease the Chance of a Tree Falling on a House?
Another reason that people will use when they top trees in their yard is that they are taking preventative action against a tree falling on their or their neighbor’s house. In fact, this is counterproductive to keeping their home or their neighbor’s home safe. With topping comes a more unbalanced weight for the tree, and that means a higher risk of it falling over. This is usually not the case, but if you have any concerns, it’s time to bring in an expert.
The only way to tell if there is any risk for the tree to fall is to have a professional come in and inspect the tree. A certified arborist can tell a lot about its structural integrity just by looking at it. If you think that topping the tree is the right choice, it’s important to get a second opinion, and not just anyone’s. Talk to a certified professional who works with trees every day.
What Sort of Damage Can Occur with Topping a Tree?
Topping a tree will usually be harmful to the tree, putting it in a state of stress. That often leads to the untimely death of the tree. Topping is dangerous to the health of the tree for several reasons, including exposure to the elements and pests. If there is a large section of exposed trunk and bark, with no branches and leaves to shield the bark from the sun, then the tree can suffer from scalded bark. Open wounds from the pruning can offer easy access to a host of pests that invade the tree and ultimately kill it. It is also possible that without enough leaves, the tree will be unable to get all the nutrition required to survive and it could essentially starve to death.
Will a Topped Tree Grow Back?
As we’ve discussed, a topped tree can grow back, but it won’t look like it did before or be as healthy as the original tree. Branches will be smaller and the sprouts often plentiful. This means that although it will fill back out, it will be smaller and be weaker. There will be a lot of thin, vertical growth, and it will look unseemly and unstable.
If you’re thinking about topping a tree, call in a professional for a consultation first. In Oregon and Washington, Mr. Tree is your trusted local tree expert and can help determine whether the tree should be topped or if there’s another solution.