Why topping trees is bad!

The summer is fast approaching, all of our sleepy trees are finally waking up and breathing life into 2014. Although this is not really the time of year to be carrying out any major pruning work, tree pruning is happening because this is the time of year we get back into our gardens and begin to notice what effect the trees are having on our sunlight. So, lets just point out a couple of key factors when it comes to pruning for light.

Rule number one: DO NOT HAVE YOUR TREES TOPPED! By topping we mean, chopping off all of the crown to leave nothing but large stubs. Topping is a practice that has been frowned upon since the early 90’s and should not be confused with pollarding, which is a legitimate Maple_water_sproutspractice where by a trees new growth, and only it’s new growth, is pruned back at regular intervals, from a young age, to manage it’s size. Topping is a very unnatural occurrence for a tree and causes them a great deal of stress, often leading to substantial decay, die-back and even death, not to mention that they will never be quite right again, and will generally look so bad that they will soon after be removed. By topping a
tree you are removing the trees leaves and therefore it’s ability to produce food (photosynthesise). The trees natural response is to pile on rapid upright growth in an attempt to reach the sunlight. This upright growth, if left unmanaged, will often create a new crown that’s more dense than the previous crown and therefore allowing less light topping-dissectionthrough. This new growth is attached to the tree at the edges of a wound that will generally decay over time, and as the new growth increases in weight it is more likely to break off in high winds. This is serious if the “new growth” is 10 years old, weighs 30kg and overhangs your conservatory! The wounds created by topping are unnatural and therefore very difficult for the tree to heal, so often infection will enter the tree at this point and work it’s way through the rest of the tree. It is a great shame to see a mature tree that has been topped and is slowly declining as decay works it’s way down into the main structure, causing the crown to slowly disintegrate.

What are the alternatives?

If it’s light that you need then a professional arborist or tree surgeon will be able to perform a crown reduction or crown thin. These two procedures, if carried out correctly, will reduce the height or density of the tree’s crown by way of pruning cuts that the tree can more easily recoveryear1 from, and that will not cause the heavy upright sucker growth mentioned before. If you are concerned about the safety of your tree and worry that it may fall over then, again, topping is not the answer, if anything it will create a greater hazard. A tree’s safety can be monitored by way of a tree inspection. An inspection will identify any weak branch unions, areas of decay at the base or in the crown, and recommend any remedial work that may be carried out to reduce the risk posed by a tree.

What if thinning or reducing won’t solve the problem?

This is a tough question, and one that often leads tree surgeons to topping, but over the years I have come to believe that if that tree is just too big or too close or too messy, then why not remove it and re-plant with something more suitable. If a tree is in the wrong spot then you will either spend the rest of it’s life, or the rest of your life fighting with it. And what good is a mature tree that’s been so severely pruned that it will be an eye saw and potential hazard, if not for you, for your neighbours or future owners of your property.

Remember: just because a tree is large, it is not necessarily unsafe, and by topping a tree you can cause greater harm than good.

If you have trees that are causing the issues mentioned here then why not contact us for some advice or to arrange a meeting. Please be aware that the removal of a tree will most likely require approval from DEFA, and in some cases you may require approval before carrying out any pruning work.

Happy spring time,

Ben Brooker – ben@trees.im


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