Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Ky.gov An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Frankfort's urban forest

Division of Forestry
Tree Topping

Topped treeTopping is a practice that includes the cutting of main branches to stubs. This is a practice that is no longer "professionally recognized"  because it is very harmful to trees. Topping not only takes the beauty out of the tree, but it will eventually kill it. Having trees pruned correctly will save more money than having them topped. Selecting the right tree for the right place will reduce the need to top trees.

Eight Reasons Not to Top Your Trees

1). Starvation: Topping drastically reduces the amount of a tree's live crown, which temporarily shuts down its food-making ability.  A well-established tree has developed an appropriate root-crown ratio.  Proper pruning never removes more than one-third of a tree's crown.

2). Shock: Removing so much tree crown leaves formerly protected bark exposed, possibly resulting in sunscald. Previously shaded shrubs or trees under this canopy may also suffer.

3). Insects and Diseases: Topping improperly "prunes" a tree and leaves stubs. These stubs cannot callus over and are left wide open for insect, fungi and disease invasion. If decay is already present in a limb, stubbing will increase the rate of decay.

4). Weak Limbs: Topping forces the tree to sprout from latent buds, which produce weakly attached limbs. Unlike a healthy tree that grows limbs in a pocket of overlapping wood tissues, sprouts are only anchored in the very top layers of parent tissue. These sprouts often fall during storms, causing a mess as well as a hazard with liability problems.

5). New Growth: People most often top a tree because they think it is "too big" and is a hazard. In an effort to force out a new crop of leaves, some species will sprout as much as 20 feet in a year. These weak sprouts typically produce a larger hazard than before the tree was topped.

6). Expense: Although at first it may be cheaper to hire someone to top a tree rather than a trained arborist to prune a tree. However, in the long run it is much more expensive. If a tree does not die from the initial topping, it will require this procedure every few years. When the tree does die, there will be the expense of having it removed. Topped trees can also lower property values.

7). Death: Almost all topped trees eventually die from topping. Although some species handle topping better than others (maple versus beech), the improper pruning cuts allow decay to spread rapidly through the tree.

8). Ugliness: A topped tree will never regain the natural beauty and grace of a tree allowed to grow in its natural form. This disfigured tree removes a potentially valuable asset to a landscape.