Our Garden Gate: Wrongs are done to trees when topped

Topping off trees like this does not keep them healthy. Roger Boddart photo

My life has been dedicated to the natural world and the caring of flora and fauna throughout California, but what I see being done to trees today really concerns me and it is a shame how some trees are treated unfairly. When the public sees the topping of trees, it becomes like a plague in the neighborhood. The public thinks this is how trees should be treated, and it is not so.

Trees are life for they bestow upon us a host of benefits that is part of the green world. They give shelter, food, warmth and inspiration, clean the water and are the great air-cleansers that help cool the planet. The Amazon basin is 10 times the size of Texas and is said to be the lungs of this floating rock called Earth.

The Amazon rainforests have been cut and recut and have been diminished by over 20% in this lifetime. Once these ancient verdant forests are changed to farming, the soils erode from the torrential rains and many of years of topsoil are washed away.

Trees take in carbon from the air and emit life-giving oxygen for people to breathe, and with that said people must continue planting new trees and caring for them as good earth stewards. Humans take 12-16 breaths in a minute. Should they take this breath for granted? They do not realize that is just one of the great gifts that trees give people.

It’s been said that in 2018 there were 15 million dead or dying trees in California from bugs, disease and forest fires. The loss will have a tremendous environmental impact on the climate and how the entire global ecosystem will change in the future.

Trees are only one way that people can help with the global climate, and it’s so easy to do at home or in the neighborhood. Gather the neighbors and start a beautification tree planting project for the street.

When I drive around town and see the butchering of wonderful and healthy trees, having their tops cut off, it is not a good thing and it concerns me.

The way of reducing the height of the trees can be handled in a more reasonable approach through drop-crotch pruning, where branches are cut back to laterals that are at least one-third of the limbs diameter. The topping of trees is also referred to as stumping, heading, tipping and hat-racking.

There are many myths and reasons about topping of trees.

False: It does not make the trees easier to maintain.

True: It can cost more in the long run to remove the sucker-growth in consecutive years and can be more costly.

False: It does not stimulate growth that is good for the tree.

True: It can diminish property value and a well-landscaped home with tree plantings can increase property values.

Instead consider these eight good reasons not to top a tree.

Starvation: When trees are topped, they lose their foliage which is the life-giving food factory for trees through the process of photosynthesis.

Shock: A trees canopy is like an umbrella and shields the interior branches, stems and trunk. The exposure of too much interior sun to the trees can lead to sunburn or sun-scald which can cause significant damage to the bark.

Insects and diseases: Large topped tree wounds can lead to invading opportunistic bugs and pathological fungi which will make the trees more stressed and vulnerable and can cause significant decline in a tree.

Weak limbs: The water-sprouts or new weak limbs can be susceptible to wind-throws and be a liability of breaking.

Rapid new growth: This rapid growth after the topping of a tree sucks energy from the tree and can elongate it twice as fast as normal growth and become weak causing for an unhealthy and an unsightly tree.

Tree death: Yes, it is true that for some species of trees, the extensive shock of topping over and over again can cause death to a tree.

Ugliness: What is more heart wrenching to see a topped tree? Once a tree is topped it never regains its grace and dignity of its character, and the community is greatly robbed.

Cost: It’s easy to hire a tree cutter with a saw who does not have professional skills, rather than a trained and experienced, certified arborist. However, if the tree dies from improper arbor care, it’s expensive to remove, and if the tree is vulnerable to bugs and disease, it can be costly for ongoing tree care.

If anyone has inherited trees when moving into a new property, they might consider having their trees evaluated by a professional so they can have a plan of stewardship for their long-range preservation.

Trees are a valued resource to any property and with a little information about the do’s and don’ts when maintaining a landscape homeowners can save themselves time and expense. Remember, that it’s not just planting a tree, it’s also about the juvenile establishment until the tree gets settled in and followed by the adolescent phase of structural development. It’s kind of like raising children through the beginning and formative years.

It really starts by having the right tree in the right place from the beginning. Do some homework, go to the local nurseries and ask questions, go online and do a little research before putting a shovel to the soil and plan before planting.

Join me this fall when I partner with the Nature Conservancy and communities in California to collect oak acorns to Re-Oak California. Stay tuned.

We are all like trees, for we must create new leaves in new directions in order to grow, so be a climate champion and plant some trees today.

Roger Boddaert, The Tree Man of Fallbrook & Maker of Natural Gardens, can be reached for consultations at (760) 728-4297.