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Tree topping vs crown reduction: which is better for your tree?

Picture of an arborist cutting a tree crown

Large trees are majestic and beautiful. However, if they get too big, they can become dangerous. For example, tall trees are at risk of toppling over during a storm or growing into power lines. If you have a large tree on your property, it may be time to call a professional arborist who knows how to trim a tree properly.

There are two techniques for pruning and shaping large trees: tree topping and crown reduction. These methods vary greatly. Therefore, knowing the differences between the two can help you make the right choice for your tree. Here are some of the pros of cons of tree topping and crown reduction.

Tree topping

Tree topping or hat-racking is an aggressive pruning technique that involves removing most of the tree’s crown and leaving only lateral branches and stumps. You may also hear the terms rounding-over, heading or tipping to describe this method.

Pros of tree topping

Tree topping can be helpful if a tree has been severely damaged in a natural disaster. This technique should only be used as a final resort or in a last-ditch effort to save a tree that otherwise would have little to no chance of survival.

Skillful tree topping can also help trees that are leaning too far to one side and are at risk of toppling over. Again, this method is a desperate remedy to try and save a tree from imminent death.

Cons of tree topping

Tree topping does more harm than good. In fact, most professional arborists frown upon this technique. It’s even illegal in some jurisdictions. Removing too much foliage from the top of trees reduces their ability to nourish themselves through their branches. If they survive, trees without crowns sprout lateral branches and lose all aesthetic appeal.

Tree topping also leaves gaping wounds that heal slowly and could make the tree susceptible to pest infestation and disease. Without branches and leaves, the tree could also become vulnerable to sunburn and bark damage. Tree topping can be so harmful that it may kill a tree. Therefore, you should avoid tree topping services at all costs if you want your trees to thrive.

Crown reduction

Crown reduction is a tree pruning technique that involves reducing the tree’s foliage while maintaining the structure of the crown. Crown reduction removes bulk without altering the tree’s shape. The arborist only trims about 20 or 25 percent of the tree’s foliage. This percentage is much less than what would be removed during tree topping. Consequently, crown reduction is a more careful method of pruning than tree topping.

Pros of crown reduction

Crown reduction has many benefits. For instance, arborists only trim down to the tree’s first lateral growth. This technique ensures the wounds heal faster to promote normal, attractive regrowth.

Crown reduction also helps reduce stress on the tree by taking weight off branches that may be too heavy, thereby reducing the likelihood they’ll break during a storm.

Another benefit of crown reduction is that the arborist will also remove dead limbs. Dead branches attract pests and diseases that can harm the tree. The arborist can also determine if the dead branches are the result of a health problem.

Moreover, crown reduction is especially beneficial to fruit trees. For instance, if the fruit tree has too many branches and buds, the fruits will compete for energy and space to grow. In fact, too many fruits on one tree translates into smaller fruit that’s often of poor quality. Trimming a tree helps produce fruit with higher sugar content and consistent ripening.

Additionally, moisture attracts fungi that cause root rot, leaf wilt and crown rot. Crown reduction improves airflow and sun exposure inside the tree’s canopy, which can prevent these diseases from taking hold. Careful trimming also gives the tree top a balanced and well-manicured appearance to improve the look of your landscaping.

Cons of crown reduction

Crown reduction has many benefits. However, it also places stress on the tree. Trees feed themselves through their leaves. Therefore, removing branches and foliage also reduces the tree’s ability to nourish itself. However, if done at the right time of year, the benefits of crown reduction far outweigh the risks.

Tree pruning services in Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Winnipeg

At ArborCare, our team of professional arborists knows the best methods for trimming and shaping a tree to keep it healthy and beautiful for years to come. We can also help with tree removal and tree planting. Our arborist services are available for residential and commercial customers in Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Winnipeg. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or get a free quote.

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