Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

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July 18, 2014

Tree topping: Facts vs. fiction

Tree topping is the removal of main tree branches to stubs in either a straight-across hedge fashion or a complete de-limbing of the tree, leaving only the main trunk or trunks of a tree, according to a Tree Care Industry Association news release.

The information included some some facts and fictional statements about topping:

Fiction: “Topping rejuvenates the tree.”

Fact: Tree topping usually removes so much of the tree’s crown that it can unbalance an older tree’s root-to-shoot ratio and temporarily cut off its ability to make food. When trees are topped, they will typically respond by readily growing new shoots. From that point forward they become high-maintenance. Most must be pruned regularly in an attempt to restore normal structure and growth. Pruning a tree annually is not environmentally sustainable or cost-effective. The tree will also be more susceptible to disease and insect problems.

Fiction: “The tree is too big and casts too much shade and needs to be reduced by topping.”

Fact: By their very nature, trees create shade, which means persons really can’t plant anything underneath and expect full success. But in some instances, proper selective pruning, not topping, can reduce the bulk of a tree, letting in more light and allowing wind to pass through the tree. Proper pruning does not stimulate regrowth, and the tree will not respond as drastically as when topped or over-thinned. A qualified arborist is trained to understand which kinds of cuts to make (thinning cuts, not heading or topping cuts). He/she also knows when to stop.

Fiction: “Topping a tree is cheaper than having it pruned.”

Fact: Initially, it might seem cheaper to cut the tree in half to get the result you are looking for. But over time the tree will require more frequent maintenance and become a danger. Drastic topping cuts create opportunities for epicormic shoots on the remaining trunk to grow quickly into large, poorly attached branches, if the tree doesn’t just die outright. The potential for them to break off and cause a hazard to property or people is very high. From a legal standpoint, the owner or owners of such a tree may be responsible for damages if it can be proved they were negligent. Incorrect pruning can cause trees to become hazardous and, therefore, is negligence.

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