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Tree Topping Harms Trees

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Trees are a vital component of healthy urban communities, giving area residents a multitude of benefits including clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and psychological well-being.

Considering their many benefits, one might assume trees in our cities and communities receive the best of care. Unfortunately, when it comes to tree pruning, this isn't always the case.

First, a general reminder: most minor, routine pruning (removing weak, diseased, or dead limbs) can be accomplished at any time during the year with little effect on the tree; however, growth and wound closure are maximized if pruning takes place before spring growth flush. Perhaps most importantly: remember not to "top" your tree.

Tree topping is the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches to stubs. It's a common but detrimental practice that damages a tree's health and its value. It weakens trees and shortens their lifespans by making them vulnerable to insects and disease.

Topped trees appear disfigured and mutilated. Sadly, once topped, a tree will never return to its natural shape and taper.

Each time a branch is cut, numerous long skinny shoots called water sprouts grow rapidly back to replace it. These water sprouts are actually weakly attached to the tree; as they grow in size and weight, they add to the tree's risk of failure.

Using the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers guidelines, professional landscape appraisers may subtract hundreds of dollars from the value of a tree when it's been topped. And, not only do topped trees reduce your property values, they may affect those of your neighbors' as well.

Today in many cities, tree topping is banned because of the public safety factor and the potential for lawsuits.

Kristin Ramstad, urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry, hopes people can learn to appreciate the advantages of proper pruning and give up the practice of tree topping. "Topping creates high-risk trees, but proper tree pruning creates healthy trees," says Ramstad.

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