What’s The Difference Between Tree Topping and Tree Pruning?

This is a question that any Fairfax County property owner should know the answer to. We sometimes get requests for tree topping service and we have to explain to the property owner that tree topping is not recommended. This post provides alternatives to tree topping and will explain why crown reduction is a much better tree pruning method, when it should be done, and how to know the difference.

What Is Tree Topping?

Topping a tree is the removal of the top of the central stem of a tree, called the leader, as well as the upper main branches. Tree topping techniques involve removing the branches and foliage from the top of the tree, which are then removed from the trunk. Topping is sometimes called heading, stubbing or dehorning. The result is an unsightly tree with stubbed, upright branches called water sprouts at the top. The water sprouts that grow at the top of the tree have weak, shallow anchors and are likely to break off in a storm. All these practices are not good for tree health.

Photo of trees after tree topping service

Tree topping results in an unsightly tree with stubbed, upright branches

Is tree topping bad for trees?

The practice of topping a tree is the drastic removal or cutting back of large mature limbs. This stresses a tree and makes it more prone to disease and pest infestation (pest treatment can be expensive). Unlike other trimming practices, topping your trees will not only cost you more money, but can will also lead to premature death of your trees.

Not only is topping bad for trees, it can also lower your property value. Topped trees are typically ugly and look like their dying which reduces the aesthetics of your landscape and reduces curb appeal. Sometime property owners are even fined for topping their trees (where local ordinances prohibit topping).

Tree crown reduction

Another horrid tree that's been topped

Safe Pruning Alternatives to Tree Topping

Although tree topping is a common practice, it's not the only way to thin or prune a tree. There are many safe alternatives that will have similar results. One of these is known as crown reduction. Crown reduction is a safe way to thin or prune a tree without harming it and will not cause damage to the tree in the future. Cutting a tree crown can be done with a chainsaw, garden pruners or an axe. For example, if your tree is growing too much at one point, you can make a cut from that point to the next higher branch. This will allow the tree to grow according to its natural shape.

Crown Reduction

Another safe pruning method is crown thinning. Unlike crown reduction which lowers the height of a tree's crown, crown thinning just removes some of the limbs to thin the canopy. Arborists prune branches from a tree crown to thin or prune a tree without harming it. This is done to help the tree grow in accordance with its natural shape and size.

Tree thinning and crown resotoration

Tree crown reduction maintains the natural shape of the tree

Tree Crown Restoration

Tree crown restoration, on the other hand, is a pruning technique used to help a tree recover from damage caused by disease, pests, or improper trimming. The damaged tree is thinned and ultimately repaired, which helps to make the tree more robust and solid. Proper pruning involves the removal of dying diseased wood plus loose and partially broken branches that expose the tree to infection or stunting growth. With proper pruning, limbs can regrow and be less susceptible to breaking.

Consult a Certified Arborist For Proper Tree Care

As you have learned, improper tree trimming can hurt your trees, lower your property value, and end up costing you money in the long run. We always recommend consulting with a tree care professional before attempting to trim or prune your trees. An ISA certified arborist is a skilled professional that is knowledgeable in all aspects of tree care and maintenance. Certified arborists can help you identify the cause of your trees problems, recommend solutions, and provide expert advice. And they'll tell you how dangerous tree topping is and why it is not recommended, especially when there are safe alternatives.

Contact Genesis Tree Service Fairfax to get a free tree trimming service estimate including tree thinning, crown reduction, crown restoration, and more.

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