DON’T Make This Tree Pruning Mistake

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The ever-famous Whomping Willow from Harry Potter

The ever-famous Whomping Willow from Harry Potter

Have you ever driven down the street and seen a tree that looks more like the  “Whomping Willow” than “The Giving Tree”?

Sorry to inform you, it’s not a sad attempt to recreate a beloved fictional tree. What you see is actually a pruning practice often referred to as “tree topping” — and it is very harmful to trees.

What exactly is tree topping and why is it bad?

Topping, heading, tipping or rounding-over all refer to the practice of cutting off branches or trunks without consideration, leaving stubs where branches once grew.  

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Not only is this practice unsightly, but it seriously stresses the tree, putting it at risk for disease and pests shortening its life. While a healthy tree is beneficial, a weak topped tree becomes a liability. Weakened branches are more likely to fall and cause damage, under the responsibility of the property owner.

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Despite all of the facts pointing at the harmful effects of tree topping, many companies still rely on this method. To protect your trees, do your research. If a company advertises that they “top,” do not hire them. It means they don’t understand how to properly prune.

Want to learn more about how to protect your trees? Visit our website.

  • dannymccullough

    pruning a soft wooded “ornamental pear” worked wonders for me at a college I was landscape director. Their tree branches always break off…ruining the tree. “Scalping them allowed the tree trunk to continue growing to an awesome size and the branches left produced massive springs making an awesome looking pear tree,
    But this may be the only tree you would want to do this too?????

    • Nicole King

      No, you would want to cut the Bradford Pear down, avoiding the splitting you describe, the awful smelling flowers, and the spread of this terrible tree.

  • Steve

    Can I repair a crepe myrtle, after, I’ve preformed “crepe murder’

    • Nicole King

      Yes, simply let the tree branch out from the ‘knuckles’ previous formed from repeated cutting. After you see multiple branches, choose a few (like 3) from each stem (or fewer if you have a lot of main stems) and let those grow on to form a more natural shape. Southern Living Magazine and the ‘Grumpy Gardener’ have lots to say about crepe murder.

  • David Straub

    What if you have to cut it way back drastically? My maple tree is now touching my neighbors house on one side, and my other neighbor’s garage! That is NOT acceptable …… it is either cut it way back, or cut it down! I NEED the shade, just not all of what I get now ( it is also shading too much of my garden as well). My “yard/driveway” is very narrow also. This tree really should not be there (came up on it’s own), but since it is there, it needs to be controlled. It is approx 30-40 feet tall now, with a huge crown. What should/can I do to keep this tree?

    • Nicole King

      Trimming the side branches of a tree is much different than cutting every limb including the ‘leader’ or top of the tree. You should hire a certified arborist to determine the best management. Some ways of trimming will heal, others not so much.

  • SMCJ

    I have a beautiful and sizeable Red Bud on my property…I’ve been here 5 years. The yard has great slope for drainage, but rains have eroded top soil and now many large roots are exposed. I am looking for a low-cost solution that will improve the appearance of the yard’s sod and add to the life and stability of this beautiful tree.

  • Linda Strader

    I am a Certified Arborist in Arizona, and desperately trying to teach my community to NOT top trees here. Homeowner’s Associations are the worst offenders, with bylaws that dictate trees cannot exceed 12 feet tall! Consequently, beautiful, mature trees and being sheared like hedges, or have main branches cut into stubs. So, I am fighting this through education.

    The tricky thing is that my area has the largest pecan grove in the U.S. They top these trees every year. Now I understand that pruning for nut production is a whole different type of pruning, but what floors me is the trees don’t die. It’s hard to explain this to homeowners, who insist their mountain views are worth more than the appearance of the neighborhood’s trees, and, besides, after all, the pecan growers do it. I’ve not been able to find anything online as to why the pecan trees survive this brutal treatment. Do you know?