While the selective removal of branches (called pruning) is beneficial to trees, excessive pruning – called topping – can harm trees to the point that they die. Topping is usually done to cut back the height of a tall tree. Trees growing into power lines often end up topped. Branches large and small above a certain height are cut back without regard to the shape of the tree.

Topped trees are found throughout the Truckee Meadows. It is so widespread that many people think it is an acceptable practice but it is not. Arborists and tree care professionals have many techniques that can reshape and lessen a tree without resorting to harmful topping techniques.

Drop crotching is one pruning technique that can substantially reduce the height and overall canopy of a tree while still maintaining its natural shape and health.


Reasons to avoid tree topping

  1. A topped tree will usually cost more in the long run because of the sprouting growth that occurs.
  2. The tree will never again have a natural shape.
  3. The large stubs created from topping provide ideal entry points for pests and diseases.
  4. Main branches that survive topping often suffer from sunscald when leaves that normally provide shade are removed.
  5. Removal of large amounts of leaf material can cause starvation.

Read more about why topping hurts trees from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)