Tree Topping and Storm Damaged Trees

Many of us, all across the country, have experienced storm damaged either from the harsh winters or devastating springtime and summer storms.  Many of the trees damaged by severe storms will have large broken branches.   Repairing trees damaged like this is often difficult and more time consuming than the simpler job of “topping” them.  Topping is a very destructive approach to pruning trees and is not recommended.    Our friends at the Nebraska Forest Service have some advice concerning Tree Topping.

What is Tree Topping?

According the Nebraska Forest Service, topping is the indiscriminate cutting of large branches back to long stubs.  Topping cuts are made without regard to the locations of side branches. The Nebraska Forest Service says that if a tree service recommends topping you should decline and look for another tree service provider.  They further state that topping is never recommended by anyone with a good understanding of trees.

What Tree Topping Does

  • Tree Topping removes a major portion of a tree’s leaves, which are needed to produce food.  Topping can thus begin an irreversible decline of the tree.
  • Topping makes a tree sore susceptible to insects and diseases by reducing the ability of the tree to produce chemical defenses.
  • Branches left after topping become decayed and create a hazardous situation if the branch breaks.
  • Cuts made by topping stimulate the development of many “water sprouts” just below the cut which are weakly attached and are easily damaged in future storms.
  • Topping destroys the natural form of a tree.

What can land owners do when dealing with damaged trees after a storm?

Inspect Trees – Look for splits and cracks in the trunk or major limbs.  Look for any areas where water appears to be seeping from within the tree.  Inspect the root collar area to look for uplifted soil or disturbed roots.

Pruning – Large trees should be pruned by a professional.  Many times large trees are located near utility lines and you need to be aware of this.  If this is the case, you will need to call the utility company rather than a local tree professional.  First and foremost, prune to make the tree safe.  The object then becomes to maintain as many live branches in the crown of the tree and remove severely damaged branches, and minimize open wounds that will lead to decay.

Mulching – is good for both large and small trees.  Stressed trees can be helped by mulching an area at least 2-3 feet from the base of the tree and 2-4 inches in depth without piling it up against the bark.

Fertilization – is not recommended for damaged or stressed trees.  It can upset the natural defense mechanisms of a tree and can cause more harm than good.

Removal – If over 50% of the tree’s crown is destroyed, removal may be recommended.  However, if the root system is still in intact, the crown will re-grow.  The Forest Service advises to think carefully before deciding to remove a tree as long as it does not create a hazardous situation.

And when in doubt, consult a professional arborist.  To find one in your area, contact your state Arborists Association or the International Society of Arboriculture.

Nebraska Forest Service Storm Damage Bulletin No. 4 and 5


  1. great article. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Topping is very bad for a tree if you want it to thrive and flourish.

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