Why Not To Lop
Topping your tree, or as it is more commonly known in Australia as tree lopping is generally synonymous with drastic height or size reduction of a tree in the urban landscape. This procedure is normally carried out due to a feeling from the homeowner that trees have become too large for the given area within a yard or a fear that large trees present a hazard. Tree Lopping however does not reduce the hazards associated with tree and branch failure; in fact, scientific evidence collected from around the world has proven that in all but a few species this practice actually has the reverse effect.
What is Tree Lopping?
According to the International Society of Arboriculture “Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role.” This practice does not necessarily mean lopping the whole tree, rather, cutting a tree or limb to height or length based on a feeling or requirement for clearance rather than according to tree physiology.
Tree Lopping Causes Stress
Plants do not obtain their food from the soil as is often thought, (You cannot feed a tree) but manufacture their food through a process called photosynthesis. This process occurs in the leaves of plants and is quite obviously essential to their continued survival. Tree Lopping a tree often removes all of the foliage bearing canopy of a tree and in doing so can temporarily starve a tree. In response to this, plants must rapidly generate new shoots to compensate for the lack of food being manufactured. In order to grow these new shoots and produce leaves, a tree must draw upon stored energy or ‘food reserves further weakening it. If times have been tough of late i.e. drought or poor soil conditions a tree may not have enough energy reserves to activate the new shoots and may become seriously weakened or die.
Tree Lopping Causes Decay
Throughout the tree there are regions that have the capability of manufacturing special chemicals that if a tree is healthy and the wound is not too large can resist infection and allow the tree to close over or ‘occlude’ the wound. Cuts made along a limb between branches create stubs with open wounds that the tree may not be able to occlude and this creates a passage into the tree which can be utilized by decay causing organisms
Tree Lopping Creates Hazards
The survival mechanism that causes a tree to produce multiple shoots below each topping cut comes at great expense to the tree. These shoots develop from buds near the surface of the old branches. Unlike normal branches that develop in a socket of overlapping wood tissues, these new shoots are anchored only in the outermost layers of the parent branches.
The new shoots grow quickly, as much as 20 feet in one year, in some species. Unfortunately, the shoots are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. The irony is that while the goal was to reduce the tree’s height to make it safer, it has been made more hazardous than before.
Tree Lopping Makes Trees Ugly
The natural branching structure of a tree is a biological wonder. Trees form a variety of shapes and growth habits, all with the same goal of presenting their leaves to the sun. Topping removes the ends of the branches, often leaving ugly stubs. Lopping destroys the natural form of a tree.
Without leaves (up to 6 months of the year in temperate climates), a topped tree appears disfigured and mutilated. With leaves, it is a dense ball of foliage, lacking its simple grace. A tree that has been topped can never fully regain its natural form.
Tree Lopping Is Expensive
The cost of lopping a tree is not limited to what the perpetrator is paid. If the tree survives, it will require pruning again within a few years. It will either need to be reduced again or storm damage will have to be cleaned up. If the tree dies, it will have to be removed.
Tree Lopping is a high-maintenance pruning practice, with some hidden costs. One is the reduction in property value. Healthy, well-maintained trees can add 10 to 20 percent to the value of a property. Disfigured, Lopped trees are considered an impending expense.
Another possible cost of lopped trees is potential liability. Lopped trees are prone to breaking and can be hazardous. Because lopping is considered an unacceptable pruning practice, any damage caused by branch failure of a lopped tree may lead to a finding of negligence in a court of law.
Alternatives to Tree Lopping
Sometimes a tree must be reduced in height or spread. Providing clearance for utility lines is an example. There are recommended techniques for doing so. If practical, branches should be removed back to their point of origin. If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role. A rule of thumb is to cut back to a lateral that is at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed.
This method of branch reduction helps to preserve the natural form of the tree. However, if large cuts are involved, the tree may not be able to close over and compartmentalize the wounds. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the tree and replace it with a species that is more appropriate for the site.
Hiring an Arborist
Pruning large trees can be dangerous. If pruning involves working above the ground or using power equipment, it is best to hire a professional arborist. An arborist can determine the type of pruning that is necessary to improve the health, appearance, and safety of your trees. A professional arborist can provide the services of a trained crew, with all of the required safety equipment and liability insurance.
When selecting an arborist
Check for membership in professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the Queensland Arborist Association or Arboriculture Australia. Such membership demonstrates a willingness on the part of the arborist to stay up to date on the latest techniques and information.
Check for Qualifications, in Australia we use the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF). AQF level 3 is a trade qualified arborist and an AQF level 5 arborist is a consultant or both. Other industry certifications are ISA arborist certification. Certified Arborists are experienced professionals who have passed an extensive examination covering all aspects of tree care.
- Ask for proof of insurance.
- Ask for a list of references, and don’t hesitate to check them.
- Avoid using the services of any tree company that advertises topping as a service provided. Knowledgeable arborists know that lopping is harmful to trees and is not an accepted practice.
- Uses tree climbing spikes to climb trees that are being pruned. Climbing spikes can damage trees, and their use should be limited to trees that are being removed.