Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Topping your Trees

I would like to thank my neighbor Cliff for sending me the following article.  I have been a Central Texas gardener for 26 years and a Landscape Design business owner for quite a while as well, and aside from my biggest concern, which is the over use and mis-use of chemicals, our lack of education and true appreciation for our trees, is a close second.

Please read the following article (edited for content), then read the continued information from me about our local Central Texas trees.

***Topping techniques bad for trees, homeowners
Date Published: January 21 2011
by Staci Giordullo
Related Stories
Hire certified experts for healthy trees, home safety
Utility tree trimming policies outrage homeowners
4 tips for hiring the right tree service
Having just purchased a home in Scottsdale, Ariz., Angie’s List member Dee McLaughlin was dismayed to learn she’d have to remove the lone mesquite tree on her property due to the former homeowner’s decision to have it topped. “My arborist pointed out that it’s no longer a tree as the shape had been completely destroyed,” McLaughlin says. “All that remained was a center stump with a multitude of spindly growths shooting
off of it. The tree was ruined.

Experts say topped trees like this can become diseased and hazardous while properly pruned trees thrive and add value to a homeowner’s property. Defined as the excessive and arbitrary removal of parts of a tree with no regard for its structure or growth pattern, tree “topping” — also known as hat-racking, heading, tipping and rounding over —
remains a contentious practice among tree care service companies, despite disapproval from the two leading industry groups.

“Tree service companies that follow industry standards will refuse to top your tree,” says Bob Rouse, the Tree Care Industry Association’s director of accreditation. Established in 1938 and formerly called the National Arborist Association, TCIA accredits tree care companies that adhere to national pruning standards, maintain liability insurance, follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines and thoroughly train all employees. In addition, TCIA accredited companies have been audited for trade licensing compliance and are susceptible to a
mediation procedure if consumer complaints warrant it, in which their accreditation can be revoked. TCIA has more than 2,000 member companies that follow stringent safety and performance standards.
The International Society of Arboriculture also rebukes topping.
“As certified arborists, we don’t condone the topping of trees,” says spokeswoman Sonia Garth. “However, it’s still a huge debate in our industry. There are regions, like Florida, that claim trees that
have been topped fare better. It’s like any other industry where you have different schools of thought, and sometimes there just isn’t a consensus.”
Created in 1924, ISA is the only organization that certifies individual arborists worldwide.

“Topping completely destroys the shape of the tree from which it doesn’t recover,” says member Judy Roberson of Charlotte, N.C. “Taking care of the trees on your property is almost as important as caring for children and pets. Trees add significant value to the property.”

Experts say topping a tree to prevent storm damage is one of many misconceptions surrounding the practice. “For decades people have said ‘you got to get that tree cut back or it’s going to crush your house.’ But as the tree regrows, it’s structurally weaker and the risk becomes greater.”
Topping destroys the balance between the roots and crown of a tree. Removing too many branches and leaves can starve trees because without foliage, trees cannot make enough food to maintain their strength.
“A tree knows what it needs to produce the amount of food for it to survive,” says ISA-certified arborist,Mark Wisniewski of San Diego.
As a defense mechanism, a tree will quickly grow food-producing shoots — up to 20 feet in one year
— that are weak and prone to breaking, resulting in a more hazardous tree. In addition, bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop disease cankers. Large stubs left behind from improper cuts can’t heal or seal, inviting decay to enter and spread.Fruit trees are an exception.

Many companies will top trees if a customer requests it. However, most tree care professionals say topping takes on a different meaning in regard to fruit production. “Fruit trees stand alone in the field of arboriculture,” says ISA Board Certified Master Arborist Tchukki Anderson, a TCIA staffer who notes there’s more than one way to prune fruit trees. “It can be confusing at the mildest. Fruit trees are trees, but they’re also a crop. The word ‘topping’ is considered a poison, but in many cases it’s how you can create a productive fruit tree.” Fruit trees aside, when it comes to preserving the shade and ornamental trees growing in your yard,
Wisniewski says topping is the most expensive form of pruning.
“You’ve not only destroyed the shape of the tree but lessened its value,” he says. “You’ve created a hazardous condition and you might have to prune it annually after it’s been topped, knowing it might hit the same height in a couple of years.”

“Trees are really no different than you or I,” says ISA-certified arborist Jim Houston, “If they don’t get the proper amount of nutrients and
water, it increases their stress level, making them more susceptible to disease and insects.” If larger cuts are required, the tree may not be able to compartmentalize the wound. Sometimes the best option is to remove the tree and replace it with one that is more appropriate for the site.
“Some trees we don’t reduce — period,” says Ping. “You don’t do crown reductions on sugar maples or oak trees. Sometimes it’s the wrong tree in the wrong place, and you have no choice but to remove it.”

Get professional advice before planting a tree so they’ll have help choosing what works best for their landscape. “Trees are one of the most important assets in our landscape,” says Pittsburgh member Cindi Lacy.
“Having an educated professional care for the trees is crucial to their long life.” Homeowners should also verify if a trade license is required by their local municipality or state. Some tree services do not practice good pruning techniques and would rather the client be ignorant instead of educating them,” he says. “They’ll tell their client what he or she wants to hear, instead of what they need to hear because it takes more time to make proper pruning cuts.”***

I found this article profound for a number of reasons, one…I have been saying this for 20 years and it is just as relevant today. Two, I am shocked that “so called” professionals commit such crimes of nature and sleep at night, and third, that people are left making such an important decisions based on the trust of these “professionals”.

Now many like myself, are professionals with educations who are experienced and are not afraid to tell the home owner no. A good part of doing my job well is to be able to tell the home owner what they do not want to hear.  The news is not always good, sometimes the tree that was used,  really was the wrong tree for the job, other times the tree has been so badly damaged by having been pruned improperly, you are better off replacing it.

For our local trees, you should NEVER top off your Crepe Myrtles.  They should only be trimmed back to pencil thin branches, anything else creates a “knuckle” effect and structurally damages the tree as well as making it aesthetically unpleasing. If you have Oaks, please read my article on Oak Wilt. Oak Wilt is epidemic in Central Texas and you need to know what to do to protect your Oaks.

Fruit trees can be trimmed after they fruit until the early Winter months to prevent you from cutting off fruit already set for the following year. be mindful that Winter pruning of fruit trees removes the fruit buds for Spring on the stems that are cut. The main reason for trimming fruit is to keep space in between the branches (for air circulation), you want to trim the ones rubbing together, or any damaged or dying branches.

Another important point in this article is that our Texas heat will scorch a tree that is pruned severely in the Summer time. If you are pruning your trees due to storm or wind break, do the minimum you can in the Summer, then complete the job during cooler months not to cut off too much foliage that is  needed for food and protection from the Sun.

Finally, if you are making new tree choices, contact a professional like myself to help you make the right choices, just because you saw a tree in your neighbor’s yard that was 10 ft tall and lovely, doesn’t mean that is the tree for you. You may not realize that in 5 years that tree will triple in height, or is prone to disease or worse yet, IS NOT NATIVE>>>AHHHH.

Feel free to contact me at with any Central Texas questions. I am always happy to answer what I can. If you would like to schedule a consultation or design apt, I charge $75.00 for a one hour consult.  Money well spent when you consider what you waste on mistakes.

Happy Gardening!!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: