5 Tree Topping Myths That Are Harming Your Trees

April 29, 2024

Don't chop off your trees' heads! Learn why tree topping is terrible for your trees' health and what to do

As spring awakens and new growth explodes across Winston-Salem, it’s a great time to think about your trees. While they are great at bringing shade for the hot summer months ahead, sometimes branches can become overgrown, creating issues with your view or brushing against your home or power lines.

Many homeowners and business owners call upon reputable tree service companies, like Godspeed Tree Service, to prune their trees to help ensure safety. After all, tree pruning is an essential part of tree maintenance.

However, a form of pruning known as “tree topping” is still commonly seen in our area. There are many reasons not to have this service done to your trees.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tree topping is a drastic pruning method where the entire top of the tree is removed.
  • Tree topping will not keep your tree small to prevent it from growing into power lines and buildings or obstructing your view.
  • Tree topping isn’t the most affordable option when it comes to pruning.
  • Tree topping doesn’t promote new growth or make a tree stronger.
  • Arborists and other licensed tree service companies do not recommend tree topping.
  • Proper pruning techniques are better for your trees than tree topping.

What Is Tree Topping?

In general terms, tree topping is removing the tops of trees. It can also be called rounding-over, heading, stubbing, tipping, lopping, and dehorning.

Regardless of what you might call it, tree topping is a drastic pruning method that promises many things but delivers quite the opposite. In the most extreme circumstances (which we’ve also noticed still happens quite frequently), trees are topped down to nothing more than stubs.

Topped tree

What Does Tree Topping Look Like?

Tree topping is when a tree has a bunch of lopped-off branches. In place of a natural and healthy-looking tree, you’re left with a blunt stub with no leaves.

Why Do People Top Their Trees? 5 Myths You Need to Know

Tree pruning is a necessary service that offers many benefits. But before you reach for the chainsaw and start hacking away at your treetops, there are a few things you need to know:

Myth #1: Tree topping will shorten your tree so it won’t run into power lines and buildings or block your view.

In fact:

Tree topping is the worst thing you can do to keep a tree small. When you top a tree, new small branches, called water sprouts, will shoot up shortly afterward. These water sprouts grow back 4 to 10 times faster than regular branches and shoot straight upward. They multiply each time you try to prune these water sprouts by cutting them off.

This means that if you top a tree, you must repeatedly prune it. This is one of the reasons that tree topping is a popular sales technique, as you’ll have to continue hiring the same people repeatedly.

Proper pruning techniques direct branches away from wires or other dangerous areas so they don’t need to be pruned aggressively. This also maintains the tree’s structure.

wo side-by-side images of trees in Winston-Salem. One shows a healthy tree with properly pruned branches; the other shows a tree that has been topped with jagged, uneven cuts.

Left: Photo of a freshly pruned tree. Right: Topped tree with branches and leaves removed.

Myth #2: You can prune your trees at a steal! Tree topping is the most inexpensive option, so you’ll save money.

In fact:

Topping your trees will cost you more money (and frustration). Topped trees must be pruned constantly to keep up with the water sprout growth. The stressed trees are more prone to pests, and those pest treatments can be costly. The tree’s decline may lead to premature death, and tree removal and replacement are expensive.

Are you planning to put your house on the market in the next few years? Topped trees, especially those that are clearly dying, reduce home values and lessen curb appeal. In some instances, people have been fined for topping their trees, usually in areas where tree topping is illegal, such as Vancouver and San Francisco.

Myth #3: Topping gets rid of excess foliage, so the tree has more energy to focus on other parts of the tree.

In fact:

Leaves are how a tree gets nutrients and are needed to produce energy. The leaves gather water and sunlight and convert it into food for the tree. If a tree loses its leaves, it must use stored energy, making it more vulnerable to pests and diseases. The quick spurt of growth following tree topping may seem like health is returning, but this can be deceptive. More on that below.

Myth #4: New growth will immediately appear, rejuvenating the tree and strengthening it.

In fact:

The regrowth after topping appears quickly, but these are emergency growths that the tree sends up in desperation. The tree is under extreme stress, and the water sprouts (as these new growths are called) are weak and ugly. They grow directly upward and are weakly attached to the branch. The weak attachments mean that they’ll break off as they grow.

The cut branch will often rot where the water sprouts appear (because of the non-selective pruning cut), so you will likely have branches falling all the time for seemingly no reason. That’s dangerous, expensive, and looks awful.

Myth #5: Everyone else on your block is topping trees. You should, too.

In fact:

We, along with arborists all around the country, hope that’s not the case. But even if it is, your neighbors will soon have dead, dying, or diseased trees that look awful, attract bugs and pests, and constantly need to be pruned. Tree topping is the second most common cause of tree decline and death (the first is planting a tree too deeply in the ground).

Despite all the articles, literature, and notices about the disastrous effects of tree topping, you can still see it done widely. Tree topping is usually done in public spaces by city employees who have not been trained on proper pruning techniques, as well as on private property by those who are more interested in making a sale than ensuring your trees continue to be healthy and safe.

Thankfully, Winston-Salem recognized the detrimental effects of this form of pruning and prohibited tree topping services on any city property or right-of-way.

By choosing better tree pruning techniques, you, too, can make a positive impact on your trees and your neighborhood.

Godspeed tree crew pruning some branches of a tree.

Don’t Top Your Trees – Call Godspeed Tree Service for All Your Tree Pruning Needs

At Godspeed Tree Service, we believe in treating trees with respect, not giving them a bad haircut! We are your Winston-Salem tree pruning experts, and we’re happy to help you keep your trees healthy, well-maintained, and beautiful. That means using industry-standard practices that prioritize your tree’s long-term health.

Please contact Godspeed Tree Service today if you have questions about pruning or want to schedule a consultation to learn more about your professional pruning options. You can call us at 336-399-8348 or request a free quote on our website.


Godspeed Tree Service

Owned and operated with high standards and consistent reliability by Bobby Gates, Godspeed Tree Service has earned the trust of the North Carolina Triad community over the course of more than 25 years in business. With a strong emphasis on safety, conscientious training, and accommodating the needs of each client, you can't go wrong by hiring Godspeed for any of your tree service needs! 

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