What Is Tree Topping and Why Topping Is Harmful to Trees

What Is Tree Topping and Why Topping Is Harmful to Trees

When a tree gets a bit too tall for your liking, your instinct may be to give it a quick and easy chop. Even though it’s not your intent to put the tree in danger, you could be doing so without realizing.

Let’s break down what tree topping means, why people do it, and why you should not top trees.

Why You Shouldn’t Top a Tree – And the Better Alternative

What does topping a tree mean?

Tree topping is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you cut the top of a tree off, which reduces the tree’s remaining top branches to stumps. As a result, your tree is left with weak, unstable limbs and a bare, unnatural appearance. Also, your tree is much more prone to breaking and may be a risk hazard.

Why do people top trees?

Here are the biggest reasons people choose to top trees. They want to:

  • Fix trees that interfere with electrical wires.

  • Shorten trees that grow too tall near their home.

  • Prevent the tall tree from coming down in a storm.

These are all good reasons to take action and care for your tree, but tree topping is not the way to do it.

How is topping harmful to trees?

Tree topping hurts trees in four, major ways.

  1. You remove lots of leaves, which strips away the tree’s food source.

  2. The remaining shortened limbs provide easy access to decay, insects and disease.

  3. The tree is forced to quickly grow new limbs that are often too weak to handle storms.

  4. New branches eventually grow to the original height of the tree, restarting the unsafe cycle.

In the long-run, topping a tree can prove to be a costly mistake. The tree will either need extra care to stay alive or will eventually need to be removed.

Is there a good way to top trees? What’s an alternative to topping?

Yes, great question! When you prune a tree correctly, you reduce the tree’s height and keep it healthy! Ask your local arborist what branches you can trim to safely shorten your tree.

And when planting a new tree, look up! Be sure you’re not planting under a tall structure that the tree could grow into when it reaches its mature height. If you are, find a new spot.

Watch this video to see step-by-step how to prune your trees properly!


  • Placerville Tree Service August 22, 2018 >YES!! We always suggest pruning over topping in our tree service any day. It's our duty to save the trees and find solutions rather than hinder their growth and effect their health!
  • The Tree Doctor August 21, 2018 >Hi Patty, New roots that form from the cut surface grow in response to a couple of factors. One is the genetics of the tree, and the other is the set of environmental conditions of the surrounding soil. Roots do not have a brain; they cannot seek out water. They do tend to grow towards a source of water because roots tend to grow toward conditions that favor their development. As long as there are no cracks in the concrete, the roots should have no access to the pool, even though they may grow toward the pool because there may be more moisture in that direction. I would recommend having a certified arborist come out and taking a look if you are still concerned. You can contact your local Davey Tree office directly at (518) 618-3642. You can also fill out a quick consultation request form on their local webpage here: http://www.davey.com/local-offices/albany-tree-service-and-lawn-service/. Best of luck to you, Patty.
  • Patty Shaver August 20, 2018 >I have a huge silver maple near my pool (about 15 feet away). The pool has been in place for 5 years. While installing the pool, the contractors cut a couple of the big branches and the roots (flush with the pool wall. Will the roots grow into my pool? If I remove most of the canopy and leave one limb (it has a swing on it) will the roots continue to grow towards the pool? If I cut the whole canopy off and leave the tall tree trunk will the roots continue to grow towards the pool? Thank you so much for your help!
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