Thursday
Mar282013

A Topped Tree: "A Billboard of Ignorance”

On my daily walk I’m often struck by an apparent disconnect between a property owner’s understanding of the relationship between their property value and the health of its trees. The 3 million dollar home in the photo above has been devalued due to the severe topping practice on its trees. The homeowners clearly don’t realize what they have done to the health of the trees, the safety of their outdoor spaces, the aesthetics of the street scene for their neighbors, and the overall value of their property.

I want to go up to their door, ring the bell and unleash a torrent of facts, literature, and advice, but I have long since learned that Information is only well received when it is sought out. I would probably be perceived as an intrusive busybody. No one wants to be told they are doing something wrong. Still, a sight like this gives me severe anguish, and I often walk away muttering to myself.

When lecturing on tree care, I try to simplify topping down to 3 main points for my students:

Tree Topping is Ugly. This is hard to deny and immediately clear to people, even if they know nothing about tree care. Topping is permanent for the rest of a tree’s life. That tree will never have a structure that looks natural, and the effects of the damage will never be resolved or reversed. Even though a new flush of water sprouts will hide some of the damage with greenery, the severe stubs left behind will always be visible, especially on a deciduous tree when it loses its leaves in the Fall.

Tree Topping is Expensive. After being topped, a tree uses its stored reserves to produce water sprouts which are fast growing vertical stems much different than the tree’s natural growth. This thick, bushy growth will require a new kind of maintenance. Instead of a branch that forks into 2 or 3 smaller branches, we now have a stub that is shooting 20 or more water sprouts from the topping cut. This new rapid new growth forces the owner into a frequent pruning regiment to control.  Now the home owner has set himself up for a cycle of regular yearly visits. A  much more expensive program is now in place.  And the trees will still be ugly! 

Tree Topping is Dangerous. This fact stops most naysayers when the other two reasons fail to convince. Two things happen when a branch is topped: the water sprouts grow out from the live wood of the stem which is the outer most ring of that branch. This new growth comes from the cambium layer. This means the vigorous water sprouts are connected to an extremely small layer of live wood just below the bark. Second, the rest of the wood of that topped branch or stub is exposed to disease, and subsequent decay starts to rot down inside the stem. This means the vigorous, straight, weakly attached water sprouts are on a stub that is rotting in the center. Initially, the decay is not apparent because it is high up in the tree branches.

3-4 Year old water sprouts surrounding a rotting topped branch

Topping begins the perfect storm. These water sprouts are prone to coming down in a wind, causing damage to people and property. 

Lesson:

The first impressions of a house is tightly connected to the trees in its front yard.  I’ve heard many claims from prospective home buyers that it was the trees that finally sold the house. Part of my job as an arborist is to assess and place value on trees. In some cases values can rise from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. This value can be attached to a property’s value. Topping a tree creates something ugly, expensive to control, and a potential liability for the homeowner.  It also reduces potential property value.  The only one who benefits from tree topping is the guy that charges a client anually to do this “work.”

 

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Reader Comments (1)

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February 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterProper Tree Trimming

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