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City of Carmel’s Recommendations for Tree Pruning

Post Date:06/07/2011

Carmel, IN – The City of Carmel promotes and encourages proper tree care practices to maintain the beauty and value of homes and businesses in the community. When working with landscape or tree professionals this summer, please consider the information below on the negative effects of Tree Topping.

Tree Topping Hurts Trees

The practice of topping is so widespread that many people believe it is the proper way to prune trees. Topping can cause a variety of problems in trees, and ultimately cause problems for homeowners.

Topping Versus Pruning Topping is the excessive and arbitrary removal of all parts of the tree above and beyond a certain height without regard for the structure or growth pattern of the tree. Pruning is the selective removal of certain limbs based on the structure and growth pattern of the tree.

Tree Topping Myths:

  • The tree is too tall - This indicates poor species selection, improper tree placement, or fear that the tree might be dangerous in storms.
  • Topping reduces the risk of storm damage - The reduction in height reduces risk temporarily, but as the tree re-grows it is structurally weaker and the risk becomes greater.
  • It has to be topped because of power lines - Tree and power line conflicts may be resolved by proper species selection, better placement or different pruning technique. Remember: power line clearance benefits the lines, not the trees.

Problems Caused by Topping:

  • The balance between the roots and crown is destroyed.
  • Sunscald can occur. Bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop disease cankers.
  • Large stubs cannot wall off the cutting wound. As tissues die, wounds do not seal, and decay may enter and spread to the trunk.
  • New growth is weak. New sprouts are attached to the surface of stubs rather than being anchored from within former limbs.
  • Topping can create a hazard. Storms do more damage because the new growth is weakly attached.
  • Topping disfigures trees. Topping alters trees' natural beauty and form.
  • Topping is only temporary. Trees will grow to their natural height rapidly.

Alternatives to Topping:

  • Select the right tree and plant it in the right place.
  • Remove the tree and replace it.
  • Prune the tree properly. Proper pruning removes limbs where they are attached to a larger branch or the trunk. Selective removal of limbs reduces the wind resistance of the tree.

Summary: practice of topping is not recommended by the City of Carmel. It can lead to decay, storm damage and disfigured trees. Proper pruning that thins the crown with cuts made at branch collars is the best practice for the long-term health of trees.

Hiring a Tree Care Company: The City of Carmel encourages hiring companies who have International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified professionals on staff. A certified arborist is a tree care professional with knowledge and skills in proper tree care techniques. Please contact the ISA for a list of certified arborist in you area.

For more information call the Department of Community Services Urban Forestry Program 317-571-2417 or go to Carmel's Urban Forestry webpage,

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