When you need to salvage a tree that has fallen victim to ‘tree topping’ here are ways for restoring topped trees. A topped tree is one that has had the crown of its tree cut off. Not only does this makes a tree ugly, it can lead to its early death, says a Penn State ornamental horticulture expert.
Introduction | “What Is Tree Topping?”
Some building owners and a few property managers assume that if they top a large tree, it will compensate by producing a new, healthy, lower-growing crown, says J. Robert Nuss, professor of ornamental horticulture in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “It’s not true. Removing the central trunk and the tops of main branches permanently destroys a tree’s form and causes unnatural growth.”
Topping severely weakens trees because removing a tree’s crown, removes too many leaves.
- Without enough leaves to photosynthesize, the tree slowly starves to death.
- When trees are topped, they develop bristling “water sprouts,” or “tree suckers.”
- “To the untrained eye, this looks as though the tree is rejuvenating,” says Nuss. “But tree suckers don’t develop into substantial limbs or produce enough leaves.
- Trees whose limbs are merely overgrown tree-sucker off shoots remain weak and spindly, and snap off easily in storms.”
Sometimes topped trees develop a double leader, or trunk. This new trunk often is weaker than the original and can be prone to splitting. The massive root system underground below the soil line is also weakened because it no longer receives adequate nourishment from the crown. Trees in this condition are more likely to split or blow over in a storm.
“If you plan to top a tree in your yard because you fear it might blow over on your house, consider this: a mature tree with a healthy root system is much less likely to blow over than a weak one with damaged roots,” says Nuss.
- Topping a tree also creates large wounds where the crown and limbs are cut off. It takes years for these stubs to heal. In the meantime, they provide the perfect environment for harmful insects, disease and decay.
- “Pruning is meant to remove dead, diseased, damaged or insect-infested branches and keep the rest of the tree healthy. It’s also used to allow more air and light to reach the center of a tree.”
For most any mature tree, especially if more than 20 feet tall, it’s wise to hire a professional tree service. “Don’t injure your tree,” says Nuss. “Tree services have the knowledge and equipment to do their arborist’s job safely and effectively.”
Utility companies often are forced to top trees growing under wires — the only alternative is to cut the trees down. “If you have utility wires crossing your property, it’s best not to plant trees under them,” says Nuss. “If you want to plant trees under wires, plant low-growing ones, such as dogwoods or redbuds.”
The Restoration Process After Tree-Topping
Restoration is pruning over time which is conducted for “topped” or damaged trees.
- The tree’s crown has been cut off which is not recommended. Sometimes trees must be topped for safety or utility wire passage, but this type of topping of trees (i.e., for line of sight or utilities) must be done correctly if need be.
- As new sprouts readily grow to replace lost foliage, sprouts provide the means to restore energy reserves in the living wood inside the tree and to grow a new crown. However, sprouts can become weakly attached and can break if not managed correctly.
- Restoration pruning helps prevent a weak limb network this by guiding growth and selectively pruning sprouts and branches to produce structurally strong architecture.
Regarding age of trees and his enthusiasm for healthy new tree sprouts in efforts to re-shape a tree, Nuss recommends:
- On young trees, restoration can begin the second year; more time may be needed on older trees.
- Once sprouts begin to form lateral branches or have grown for several years (or sooner if sprouts are extremely vigorous), they begin competing for the same space on the parent branch and in the crown; they should be reduced in number or shortened.
Finally, Nuss adds…”SPROUTS ARE GOOD!”
- Selected sprouts become the new crown and restore energy reserves.
- Restoration pruning encourages sprouts to form a strong replacement crown. Two or more pruning applications may be required over several years.
- Delay pruning sprouts until the tree’s foliage volume is substantial and approaches the pre-topping amount. This may take several years.
- Remove or reduce undesirable sprouts once sprouts begin forming branches that compete for space on the parent branch and in the crown.
Springtime Is Trees And Landscaping…+ Serpico And You.
Among many other landscaping projects, early spring is a good time to prune many trees, and we recommend scheduling time now for meeting with Serpico. Combine our locally certified *green* landscaping Master Plan integrated to your certified *green* arborist care too, with Serpico’s commercial Tree Care division.
It’s important to plant, maintain, remove, and prune trees properly…if a tree falls victim to ‘tree topping’, our tree specialist teams at Serpico Landscaping know ways for restoring topped trees back on the path to healthier growth.