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Dormant pruning is essential for healthy trees. But, cutting off the entire top of your tree  can leave it at risk. Learn the risks of tree topping and how to repair it.

Help! How Do I Fix a Topped Tree?

November 8, 2016

A good trim refreshes trees. Once they get a healthy cut, they can spring into a new growing season with gusto.

Though there is one infamous pruning shortcut that holds trees back from a healthy start—tree topping. When you cut the top of a tree off, you leave behind a weak tree that’s unstable and at risk of decline.

If you’ve topped your tree once, you can likely fix it. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing a Topped Tree

For the best chance of your tree surviving, consult with your local arborist about corrective pruning.

Will a topped tree grow back on its own?

Oh, yes–and quickly! Trees lose essential energy when topped. Due to this damaging energy loss, trees need to react and regain what they lost. The top of your tree may soon be covered in thin, vertical sprouts that look like twigs, called water sprouts. Water sprouts grow in quickly, right below the pruning cut, as trees attempt to recover. Soon, your tree will be just as tall as it was before. But now, it will be unstable and have an unflattering silhouette.  

Luckily, you can repair and reshape a topped tree with these 5 steps.

  1. Before pulling out the pruning tools, you’ll need a little patience. A topped tree grows multiple sprouts as it tries to restore energy. Avoid tampering with these until they’re established. You want to wait until the new sprouts grow to the original height of the tree before pruning.

  2. Scope out the canopy for dominate branches, called leaders. Leaders should be the tallest branch and free of damage such as cracks or decay.

  3. Cut weak sprouts down to the trunk. Leave shorter, stronger sprouts that look like they could catch up with the new leader. The stronger sprouts will branch out as new limbs on the leader. With that in mind, be sure the leader is central and stable, so it can successfully grow into a replacement branch.

  4. Repeat this process a few times over the next 4 to 6 years. Be sure to periodically trim the sprouts you left behind to help train them.  

  5. And presto! With time and care, your tree should branch back into its natural form.

Questions about the process? Contact your local Davey Office.

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