Your trees can add a lot to your landscape; shade, beauty, a sense of permanence and landscape maturity, or a place to hang your hammock.
Trees have evolved for millions of years and can do pretty well without our help, but if they’re growing close to where people live, work or play, then they require a little maintenance to keep them safe and healthy. Usually just some routine maintenance can prevent or remedy many problems that trees might have, while neglecting it can be the source of heartache later on.
As important and helpful as good maintenance is, poor practices and bad work can be worse than doing nothing at all. Soil disturbance, bad pruning cuts, climbing with spurs, or over-pruning all cause more problems than they might solve.
One of the worst offenses is the practice of “topping.” Topping is when the ends of all limbs in the crown of a tree are cut off, usually to stubs. The most common reason for topping is that the tree is getting “too big”. It’s an understandable fear that as a tree gets larger it gets taller and heavier and has more potential to do damage.
Proper maintenance and monitoring can almost always prevent that from happening, and there are better ways to reduce trees when necessary. If you’re still just too worried about a tree, it’s better to remove and replace it with a smaller-growing tree than to top it. Besides being unsightly and defacing the natural beauty of trees, topping can cause severe health issues and a long series of detrimental consequences.
For example, leaves are what trees use to produce food. Topping removes most, if not all of a tree’s leaves, and therefore its source of food production. The tree will have to use stored energy to produce a new set of leaves, leaving it weaker and with a lack of reserve energy. Like people, when weakened they become more susceptible to secondary afflictions.
Another consequence of topping is decay at the point where large cuts are made. Trees respond to injury by trying to wall it off to prevent decay and grow new tissue to encase the wound. Large stub cuts in trees are difficult for them to compartmentalize in that way and as a result there is often decay that spreads down into the limbs from the cuts. The tree forces out multiple sprouts to create foliage as quickly as possible; those sprouts are often dense, tangled, poorly attached to the tree, vigorously long from trying to compete with other sprouts, and are now growing from a decayed area on the limb.
The sprouts expand into each other and become weaker over time, and the wood in sprouts is not as strong as normal wood. What you’re left with years down the road is an ugly, dangerous tree with terrible structure and decay. Why put yourself and your tree through the pain? Take good care of them instead; it will pay dividends for years to come.
Michael Davie is natural resource manager for Snow Creek Landscaping in Arden. Contact him at [email protected]