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Is Topping or Lopping a Tree Bad?

Lopping refers to the removal of large side branches and topping is the removal of large portions of the crown of the tree. Both of which are practices we will never undertake at The Tree Man. Whilst this was an acceptable pruning practice many years ago, knowledge of tree health has since caught up and lopping and topping are now considered to be the most harmful pruning technique. Most professional arborists agree that it is a technique that should never be used unless the tree is being removed.


Why is it so harmful?

A residential street lined with heavily lopped trees
Lopped or topped trees can be left severely weakened and disfigured

Puts the tree under stress: Removing a large portion of the crown (in some cases all of it), also means removing the tree’s food supply (its' leaves, which through a process called photosynthesis generates its’ food). This puts the tree under a lot of stress and weakens the tree leaving it susceptible to infection.


The tree can go into shock: If the tree doesn’t die, it will likely enter starvation mode and trigger rapid growth trying to replace what it has lost. It is a misconception that topping / lopping stimulates growth as these new shoots will often be weak. They are often located near the cuts, but not as strongly attached, which can pose a future risk and require regular maintenance. This emergency growth will also grow so fast it will likely defeat the reason for topping in the first place.


It leaves large wounds: Lopping or topping creates large surface area wounds, which take a long time to callous over. This means the tree is susceptible to infection, which can lead to decay and sometimes total failure of the tree. Correct pruning should promote quick callous growth over the open wounds minimising risk.


It looks terrible: This may sound blunt, but indiscriminately removing large branches of a tree will destroy its natural form and leave the tree disfigured with ugly stumps.


It is costly: Whilst it might seem like the cheapest solution in the short term, it will almost certainly be more expensive. All of the above means that your tree will either require regular maintenance to control the growth and keep the tree safe or it might ultimately need removing.


What are the recommended alternatives?

There are several reasons you might have been considering topping or lopping your tree; your tree might be interfering with electrical wires, it might have grown too tall close to your home, it might be blocking sunlight, or it might be a risk in a storm. In any of these instances, lopping or topping is not the answer, it might seem like the easiest option, but the results do not last.


At The Tree Man we will never undertake tree lopping or topping and instead recommend proper pruning techniques depending on the desired outcome:


Crown reduction: This is the correct technique for pruning a tree that has outgrown its space. Care and precision is needed to avoid crossing into toppling / lopping territory and we would only recommend removing 30% or less of the growth.

Crown Cleaning: The removal of dead, dying and diseased wood.

Crown Thinning: This will also remove dead, dying and diseased wood, but will also remove some live limbs to give an overall crown thin of up to 30%.


Of course, there are instances where unfortunately none of these options are enough and a tree is simply too large for the space. Whilst it might seem extreme, in such cases we would recommend removal and replanting of a more suitable species for the space. This is a more favourable solution than heavy handed pruning such as topping or lopping that will leave you with a weakened tree in a dangerous location and in need of regular maintenance.


You should always speak with a qualified Arborist to understand your options. At The Tree Man we would be happy to help, please get in touch to discuss.

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