We have all seen them—trees that look like they have been beheaded. The technical term for what has befallen these trees is “tree topping.” Tree topping refers to the indiscriminate cutting of central tree branches to stubs and/or upper or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role. Other names for tree topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat racking,” and “rounding over.” And to be clear—the Village of Olympia Fields’ tree ordinance prohibits this harmful practice.
The most common reason given for topping is to reduce the size of a tree. Homeowners often feel that their trees have become too large for their property. They fear that tall trees may pose a hazard to their homes. Topping, however, is not a viable method of height reduction and certainly does not reduce the potential for hazard. In fact, topping may make the tree more hazardous in the long term.
Reasons not to top your trees
Tree topping is perhaps the most damaging tree pruning method known. Here are several reasons you should NEVER top a tree:
- Tree topping is hazardous to the tree and, ultimately, your home;
- Tree topping disfigures the tree, making it unsightly;
- Tree topping can lead to sunburn of the existing tree trunk, which can cause decay;
- Tree topping stresses trees, which can lead to the death of the remaining tree; and
- Tree topping is expensive.
Moreover, a stressed tree is more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations. Large, open pruning wounds expose the sapwood and heartwood to attacks. The tree may lack sufficient energy to chemically defend the wounds against invasion, particularly from those insects that are attracted to the chemicals that trees release. Branches within a tree’s crown produce thousands of leaves to absorb sunlight. When the leaves are removed, the remaining branches and trunk are abruptly exposed to high levels of light and heat. The resulting sunburn of the tissues beneath the bark can lead to the development of cankers, bark splitting, and the death of some branches.
Alternatives to topping
Sometimes a tree must be reduced in height or spread (e.g., to provide clearance for utility lines or to protect the physical structure of the home). In these cases, there are recommended methods of branch reduction, other than tree topping, which can help preserve the natural form of the tree. If practical, branches should be cut back to their point of origin. If a branch is shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role. As a rule of thumb, cut back to a lateral that is at least one-third the diameter of the limb being removed. Before cutting, it is wise to consult a licensed arborist for the best recommendations on appropriate height reduction methods.
What tree topping means for our neighborhoods
Topped trees lower the value of your home and the homes of your neighbors. A proliferation of tree topping can make neighborhoods appear blighted and can signal the beginning of neighborhood deterioration.
The Village of Olympia Fields is a Tree City USA awardee, and as such, we take pride in our wooded, tree-lined neighborhoods and parks. Moreover, our trees improve air quality, promote a healthy environment, and bring beauty to our community.
So, please…No More Tree Topping!
Additional information on tree topping
Research tree topping online or at your local library. For additional information on the Village’s tree topping rules and regulations, please contact the Village’s Public Works Department at 708-503-8000 ext. 3530.
Submitted by Susan Moroney, Vice-Chair of the Beautification Committee