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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

'Topping' not good for trees

Thursday, November 7, 2002

Harry Sharp of Sikeston stands in front of a recently "topped" tree, a practice he hopes area residents will put in the past.
(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
SIKESTON - When Harry Sharp received his September issue of the Missouri Conservationist magazine, the photos and article on tree topping hit all too close to home.

"They just finished the big oak trees across the street when I got the magazine," said Sharp, "and I had done it to a tree the year before thinking I was doing the right thing."

The result of tree topping - large trees with spindly top growth sprouting from short, thick, stubby lopped-off limbs - is a common sight in Missouri.

Sharp believes that most tree services that top trees probably do so with the best of intentions as before reading the article he shared many of the misconceptions that keep this practice popular in the area.

Many people mistakenly believe you can control the size and shape of a tree by topping it, Sharp said. "The trouble is, it doesn't do that."

Ultimately it is genetics that determine shape of tree, he explained. "If you try to change that you are damaging the quality of the tree and are really not ending up with a smaller tree as a result.

Topping immediately injures the tree, making it "more susceptible to disease," Sharp said, and weakened by the loss of its foliage.

Additionally, the thin limbs that replace those hacked off by tree topping are vulnerable. "The problem is all those thin limbs in an ice storm start snapping off like broomsticks," Sharp said.

What does work is properly pruning a tree. "What you do is cut off bad limbs," said Sharp. "If you're going to take a limb off, take it all the way back to the trunk; or if it forks, cut it off at the fork."

Sharp said he understands that it is necessary for utility companies to keep their lines free, but hopes that the word will get out and people will stop contracting for unnecessary tree topping on their own.

"You're not doing the tree a favor, you're not doing yourself a favor, and you're wasting your money," said Sharp. "I encourage people to keep the city beautiful by being properly informed on taking care of their trees."