Improperly pruned (topped) tree (24846 bytes)

Proper Tree Trimming Does Not Include Topping Your Trees

By Charlene Byers, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

"Topping" your tree can cause problems for both the tree and the property owner.

Topping is defined as the drastic removal of large branches with little regard for location of the pruning cut. Most often, these branches are removed from the top of the tree. Better long-term results can be achieved with more selective pruning practices.

topped trees (16132 bytes)

Row of "topped" trees

Throughout the United States, tree pruners, both professional and amateur, have resorted to tree topping to keep trees away from power lines, manage the size of large trees, and to keep trees small and compact. However, research has shown that compared with trees that were not topped:

  • topped trees are twice as likely to be classified in poor condition.
  • topped trees, especially junipers, are substantially more likely to contain dead branches .
  • topped trees were more like to contain insects, disease, and parasites.
  • topped trees had a much greater likelihood of having large cavities.
  • topped trees are more likely to have water sprouts which are unsightly and which result in potentially hazardous conditions when the sprouts become large and heavy.

When pruning your trees, follow sound pruning practices. The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service has several fact sheets on proper pruning. They include no. 7.205, "Pruning Evergreens," no. 7.206, "Pruning Techniques for Shrubs," and no. 7.207, "Pruning Deciduous Trees." Access these fact sheets online or contact your local county Extension Office for copies of these and other documents on trees.

Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010