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Missouri Community Forestry Council Anti-Topping Campaign

You've seen them. Trees with large limbs lopped off, leaving the tree looking like a hat rack. The procedure is called topping, and it's expensive, mutilating and obsolete. Yet it still occurs widely throughout Missouri and the Midwest.

Myth and lack of public understanding about proper tree care are two major reasons why Missourians pay to have their trees destroyed by topping them.

Experts Agree: Don't Top Your Tree


This statewide campaign was created by the Missouri Community Forestry Council and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri to inform the public about the hazards of tree topping and to provide wiser alternatives. The campaign is funded through grants from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Society of American Foresters. Call toll-free for more information: 1.877.40.No.Top (1-877-406-6867).


What is Tree Topping?

The Missouri Community Forestry Council defines tree topping as the drastic removal, or cutting back, of large branches in mature trees, leaving large, open wounds that subject the tree to disease and decay. Topping causes immediate injury to the tree and ultimately results in early failure or death of the tree.


Tree Topping Myths

Myth: Topping a tree reduces storm damage and makes the tree easier to maintain.

Truth: Topped trees can regain their original height in as fast as two years. The fast-growing, extremely long and loosely attached shoots caused by topping are 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.

Truth: 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 starves the tree, which weakens the roots, reducing the tree’s structural strength. While a tree may survive topping, its life span will be significantly reduced.

Myth: Topped trees will add value to your property.

Truth: Topped trees lack natural beauty and may reduce your property values. A topped tree can become hazardous and cause property damage, making it a liability.


Alternatives to Topping

Homeowners must educate themselves and make wise choices to protect their homes and property — including their trees. A tree is a valuable asset and a long-term investment.

Here's what you can do to protect your trees:

• Hire only competent, insured and certified tree-care professionals.
• When seeking a tree service, check the company's topping policy. If they say they “top,” don’t let them near your trees.
• Find out if the individual or company carries professional certification, particularly through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The ISA conducts extensive courses and certifies those who pass an industry-based exam.
• Most importantly, never let yourself be pressured by bargains. The old saying, “you get what you pay for” truly applies here.


Right Tree, Right Place

Every species of tree has different height, width and spacing needs in order to grow into a healthy, mature tree. Carefully matching your tree selection with site conditions can prevent problems before they occur and will eliminate the need to take harmful, drastic measures. Many utility companies and the Missouri Department of Conservation provide guidelines for planting trees and recommendations of tree species to fit your needs. Trees are a long-term investment. You have the ability — and the responsibility — to prevent future problems by applying the practice of “the right tree in the right place.”