Tree topping, stubbing, dehorning, whatever you want to call it: Stop it. This practice is a major threat to the urban forest. It dramatically shortens the lifespans of trees and creates hazards in high traffic areas. Trees are important, not just for global ecology, but also for urban ecology as well. Tree topping is dangerous, expensive, doesn’t look nice, and it is dangerous.
Tree topping is done to keep trees small. However, it does the opposite. After a tree is topped, its growth rate increases. It grows back rapidly to replace its missing leaf area. You probably remember from your primary education years learning about photosynthesis. The trees need their leaves to create their food, so they will grow to get the nutrients they need.
That growth won’t slow until the tree returns to its original size. The only case where it will not grow back to its original size is if you damage the tree so that it has no strength to heal itself. From damaging that, you begin the dying cycle of the tree. Topping will not make any significant size differences for too long. Succeeding at stopping the tree’s growth means that you have successfully killed the tree.
Topping trees is expensive. The fact that it is constantly regrowing, faster than it was before, means that you have to redo the process until the tree dies and must be removed. When a branch is cut, young shoots, called suckers or watersprouts, grow to replace it. These must be cut and recut, but will regrow next year. A properly pruned tree stays as intended longer, along with being much healthier and beautifying for the tree.
Topping, additionally, decreases the value of your tree. Trees add value to your property, so appraisers subtract hundreds of dollars from your tree’s value when it is topped.
The actual appearance of a topped tree is offensive. The tree limbs that are sawed off are not at all pleasant to the eye. When the tree grows the suckers and sprouts— the natural beauty is tainted. Topping ruins the silhouette of a tree, suckers bloom poorly (if at all), the expenses aren’t worth it, and you could kill the tree. Though some trees may regain their health and stature, they will be the exact size or even bigger than before. That is the best case scenario of tree topping, which causes you to wonder… Why did you do it in the first place?