Tree Topping

Choose a Certified Arborist

Selecting professional tree care in Arkansas can be as risky as buying mulch or firewood from those door-to-door guys in pickups and it can be costly in the long run. A bad choice of mulch or firewood can be altered after one season; the selection of inappropriate tree care can lead to the quick death of a favorite tree that could live to be more than 100 years old with proper care.

Basically, there are tree care professionals and there are tree cutters. Tree cutters tend to be untrained, uninsured, inexperienced, minimally equipped and many are in business briefly.Tree care professionals typically belong to one or both of two organizations – the National Arborist Association (NAA) and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The ISA conducts extensive courses and certifies those who pass an industry-based exam.

One good test of a professional is how the firm advertises it services and if it does tree topping. Topping is the severe cutting back from the top or side of a tree resulting in rapid growth of ugly shoots or sprouts and premature death of the tree. This is widely practiced in Arkansas.

Some homeowners believe that topping is the right thing to do. But it is the worst thing a property owner can do to a tree. Ironically, some tree services advertise that they top trees, particularly in the Yellow Pages.If you call a tree service and they suggest topping, don’t let them come near your trees. Considering the investment in trees – aesthetic, environmental and financial – tree care should not be decided by the first person to reach the door with a chainsaw.

When selecting professional tree service companies, ask for a visual example of how they will prune the trees. It is always wise to select a Certified Arborist. For a list of ISA Certified Arborists call AUFC at 501-625-3710 or the Southern Chapter of ISA at 336-789-4747, or click here. You will also find links to locate a Certified Arborist on the AUFC website, www.ArkansasTrees.org. AUFC is a non-profit oganization dedicated to the stewardship of Arkansas’ urban and community trees.

Myths About Tree-Topping

Myth: Topping a tree will reduce storm damage and make the tree easier to maintain.
Topped trees can regain their original height in as little as two years. The fast growing, extremely long and loosely attached shoots caused by topping are weak and will be more susceptible to breakage and storm damage. Ultimately, a topped tree requires more attention in the future than a properly pruned tree.

Myth: Topping invigorates a tree.
Topping immediately injures a tree and starts it on a downward spiral. Topping wounds expose the tree to decay and invasion from insects and disease. Also, the loss of foliage can cause sunscald that kills the tissue just below the bark causing that portion of the trunk to die. Topping also starves the tree, which weakens the roots and reduces the tree’s structural strength. While a tree may survive topping, its life span will be significantly shortened.

Myth: Topped trees will add value to your property.
Topped trees are ugly and may reduce your property values. Also a topped tree can become hazardous and cause property damage, making it a liability.

Myth: Topping is the best way to keep a tree from getting too big.
A tree’s genetics and environment determine how tall it will grow. Topping just shortens the life of the tree and creates long-term maintenance problems.

Topping versus Pruning:

A topped tree is easy to spot. Its natural shape has been destroyed, while a properly pruned tree looks well-shaped, symmetrical and healthy. In fact, a tree that is pruned correctly will show no evidence of alteration. With proper pruning, an arborist will spend time carefully selecting and removing branches.

Proper pruning is an important part of caring for and protecting the health of your trees. In fact, many tree care professionals recommend that homeowners start early and continue proper pruning throughout the life of a tree.

The Right Tree in the Right Place

A bad habit that turned into an accepted practice in Arkansas would become extinct if people would follow a procedure called “the right tree in the right place.” Planting a tree with an eye to its’ future size and branching patterns would help eliminate the problem of “topping.”

Planting the right tree in the right place isn’t difficult. It just takes some planning to determine the type of tree that will best fit the location. Homeowners, businesses, and even local governments – that plant trees along streets and sidewalks – should be aware of the type of trees they are planting and where. A beautiful environmentally beneficial shade tree can grace our state for a century or longer, if treated properly.

In planning for a new tree, consideration must be given to the proximity to other trees, buildings, and underground or above-ground utilities. Ground considerations – hilly or flat, dry or moist, hard or soft soil – also play a role in the planning process.

People sometimes use utility lines as planting guides. However, if the trees grow into the path of the lines, they may knock out utilities during a storm or become disfigured by routine pruning that is unsightly to everyone.

Today most utility companies provide guidelines for planting trees and lists of recommended trees that flourish in the right setting. With the proper selection and trimming, adequate water and mulching, the recommended trees will increase property values, reduce heating and cooling costs, and provide a natural habitat for birds and small animals.

For more information on planting the right tree in the right place or other tree care advice, call the Arkansas Urban Forestry Council at 501-625-3710 or the Arkansas Forestry Commission at 501-296-1940; or visit the council’s website at www.ArkansasTrees.org. AUFC is a non-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship of Arkansas’ urban and community trees.

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