Tree-butchering season is well under way | Evergreen Arborist

Sadly, the annual tree topping or “butchering” season arrives each spring. Realistically, most victimized trees never should have been touched in the first place.

Sadly, the annual tree topping or “butchering” season arrives each spring. Realistically, most victimized trees never should have been touched in the first place.

Who does it? Everyone from homeowners to landscapers and tree service companies that often do not understand the impacts on the long term health, safety and appearance of trees. The 2012 January ice and snow storm demonstrated that Mother Nature can also do her share of topping.

What is topping?

On deciduous trees, it is the removal of a major portion of the leaf-bearing twigs and branches. This results in a tree with short, unattractive stubs that remain after most of its canopy has been removed. A topped conifer, like a fir or hemlock, will look like its head was chopped off.

Topping is often done to reduce the size of a tree or to remove a perceived hazard. Unfortunately, just the opposite will generally result over time.

How do trees respond?

When most of the leaves and twigs are removed from a deciduous tree, it will often attempt to restore the lost food manufacturing plant as fast as possible. Consequently, heavy pruning or topping actually stimulates sprouting as a tree enters a survival mode. Some common species, such as flowering plums, produce massive numbers of sprouts that will grow much faster than normal – up to 5 feet or more versus the usual 1 foot or less per year.

Since these new sprouts are weakly attached, they can become more susceptible to breakage during severe storms or heavy snows as they increase in size and weight over the years. Consequently, such trees may eventually become more hazardous than if left alone or properly thinned.

Conifers will generally attempt to form a new top. The branches closest to a cut or broken top will slowly begin to turn upward. Usually one branch will dominate, but sometimes multiple tops will develop over a period of several years. Such new tops are more weakly connected than a tree that still has its original top. As they become taller and heavier, many of these new tops become more susceptible to breakage and consequently more hazardous.

Topping stresses trees

Some topped trees may die because of a lack of food reserves. Others may no longer be able to defend themselves against insects or decay that find weakened trees or open wounds to enter. These trees often will die a slow death.

Topping is ugly!

Normally, trees form branching structures that are natural and pleasing to the eye. Topping destroys that natural form and does not go unnoticed by the public. The skeletons of abused trees are all too visible during the fall and winter months when leaves are absent.

Examples are plentiful along streets and in large parking lots. Many of the trees did not need pruning because there were no nearby structures or overhead wires. Butchered trees detract from the value of a landscape and can negatively impact the appearance of an entire neighborhood or a business.

Topping is expensive

Heavily pruned ornamental trees may require trimming every year or so. Following each pruning, the prolific sprouting repeats itself and further stresses the tree. Repeated prunings cost dollars and may continue until either the tree or a homeowner or business gives up.

Proper tree pruning

The best pruning jobs on ornamental trees are generally not obvious because the work is barely noticeable.

This is accomplished by careful thinning of branches that are crossing, pointing inward, are dead or that cause the shape of a tree to be out of balance. The offending branches can be cut out or carefully shortened by a knowledgeable individual.

Proper thinning retains a tree’s natural shape, avoids stimulating massive sprouting and minimizes any stress.

Conifer trees should never be topped if possible. A better option may be to remove an objectionable tree and replace it with a more appropriate one.

The bottom line is that topping or aggressive pruning should be discouraged. Usually the outcome is unattractive, expensive and can eventually shorten the life of the victimized trees.

Dennis Tompkins is a certified arborist, certified hazard tree assessor, Master Gardener and urban forester from the Bonney Lake-Sumner area. He provides renovative pruning of small trees, pest diagnosis, hazardous tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners and businesses. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at Website:

More in Life

Get your fill of winter activities on Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier’s landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation in winter.

Bonney Lake, Sumner gear up for holiday festivities

Plateau holiday festivities are right around the corner.

Enumclaw, Buckley busy during the holidays

What’s going on during the holiday season on the Plateau? Here’s a list of activities you and your family may enjoy!

Giving Trees help kids with Christmas

Nexus Youth And Families Enumclaw is asking local residents to help a child in need this Christmas by participating in the organization’s Giving Tree program.

Art display by local teachers, students

For the next month, the city of Enumclaw, 4Culture of King County and Arts Alive! will present an exhibition of current works by students of local art class teachers.

Surplus van benefits Enumclaw seniors

A surplus Metro Transit van was donated last week to the Enumclaw Senior Center to assist the facility in meeting a variety of transportation needs.

Preventing a Hepatitis A outbreak | Public Health Insider

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a highly contagious virus. A large outbreak in San Diego, along with outbreaks in Los Angeles and in Salt Lake City has Public Health officials concerned that a hepatitis A outbreak could occur in King County. Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s Health Officer, explains who’s at risk and what can be done to prevent an outbreak.

Rescue group aims to save dogs’ lives; Saturday fun run will benefit the cause

All great dogs end with a tail, but this great tale begins with a dog.

Annual quilt show coming to Expo Center

The Crystal Quilters are preparing for a return to the Enumclaw Expo Center, getting ready for their 22nd annual quilt show.

Scottish Country dancers return to Enumclaw for 23rd year

For more than two decades, this group of dancers — now led by Jim and Pat McDonald — has been encouraging people from all over South King County and East Pierce County to learn more about their Scottish heritage or, barring a clan bloodline, to just get out and try something new.

Learn to compost with some red wrigglers

The Dinkelman Worm Farm is hosting a vermiculture demonstration — or the cultivation of earth worms — at the Delvin Farms Good For All Plants event next weekend to help people create compost in their own homes to help benefit their gardens or farms.

Free series provides insight from expert on death, dying

As a funeral home director in the 1980s, Duane Weeks began wondering why people weren’t dealing with death very well.