Topping Trees - Knowledgebase Question

Trenton, GA
Question by zcklong
January 15, 2010
Hello,my name is Zach, and I am currently making plans for my eagle project at my local public library, and I have a question about topping some trees. I'm not sure what kind of trees they are, and I currently don't have any pictures of them, but the library wants them cut down bellow the roof, and I was wondering if this might be a safe decision to do this. I plan to do my project Feb. 20. Any help would be much appreciated.


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Answer from NGA
January 15, 2010

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Although it is commonly done, tree topping isn't healthy for the tree. In fact, it can cause all kinds of problems a few years down the road. Topping won't work to keep trees small. After a deciduous tree is topped, its growth rate increases. It grows back rapidly in an attempt to replace its missing leaf area. It needs all of its leaves so that it can manufacture food for the trunk and roots. It won't slow down until it reaches about the same size it was before it was topped.

Each time a branch is cut, numerous long, skinny young shoots (called suckers or watersprouts) grow rapidly back to replace it. They must be cut and recut, but they always regrow the next year making the job exponentially more difficult.

According to Dr. Alex Shigo, world renowned scientist and author on the subject of arboriculture (trees), topping is the most serious injury you can inflict upon your tree. Severe topping and repeat topping can set up internal columns of rotten wood, the ill effect of which may show up years later.

Instead of topping the trees, find out what kind they are and whether or not they can be selectively pruned. If so, you can remove selective branches and limbs to reduce the size of the tree without simply lopping off the top. You may be able to find an arborist in your local area to assess the trees and suggest ways to make them smaller, or you might contact your local Master Gardener (check with the University of Georgia cooperative extension office). Web searches should turn up some contact names.

Best wishes with your project!

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