Going Topless

This weekend we were in West Tennessee attending a friends wedding and took a side trip to visit some of my wife’s relatives. While there I saw a horrifying site. At my wife’s grandmother’s house is a wonderful old oak tree that casts a welcoming shade on hot summer days, or at least it used to. On the right is the tree as it stood in 2005. Unfortunately I don’t have a wider angle shot to show you but I think you will agree that it is a beautiful tree with nicely proportioned branch angles.

Typically on trees branches that extend outward from the trunk at a horizontal angle are strong branches. Vase like shapes (like those in my least favorite tree the Bradford pear) tend to have weak branches since the branches are exerting more force where they join up with the trunk. They also peel away large pieces of bark along the trunk when they get damaged in storms.

Just wait until you see the way the tree looks now.

Yes this is the very same tree four years later. The important thing to notice in this picture is not the ugly mangled stubbiness left behind by a tree topper’s chainsaw, it’s all the new growth emanating from every possible bud. This tree will regain much of its lost foliage within 2-3 years, which is very fast. All the roots are still there and the tree will work overtime to reestablish what it lost. (How would you like to lose over 1/3 of your total body?) Fast growth means weak growth, and lots of it. But that’s not the only issue of concern when a tree is topped. The wounds are gaping holes just waiting for diseases. Consider what happens when you limb up a small tree or a small tree gets a wound. The smaller the wound the faster it heals but it can only heal as far as the current seasons growth will allow it. That small tree will grow over most wounds in a single season but many of the branches on this tree were 10-16 inches in diameter, they won’t heal anytime soon and could be several years if ever which opens the door to disease and decay.

I understand why the tree was a concern. It was planted very close to the house and had large limbs that extended over the roof. The fear of a large branch coming through the house is definitely no laughing matter, but think of what happens now. The new branches are significantly weaker than the ones that were on the tree for the last 20 years and will eventually grow over the house. If diseases, insects, and rot don’t fester in the wounds of the tree and it survives long enough those branches will again be a concern. Then it will need to be pruned again, oh wait this wasn’t pruning. Pruning is what should have happened. A licensed arborist should have been hired to determine what branches should be taken out. The arborist would not have pruned out more than 1/3 of the branches at any one time and it would not have resulted in the stubby giant oak that you see in the picture. If you need an arborist to take a look at your trees please call your local county extension agency, they are there to help you…use them!

The other option would be to remove the tree completely and plant a new smaller tree in its place. One that wouldn’t extend branches over the roof of the house or pose any threat of damage. A redbud might have been a great one to place there. This is why it is so important to plant trees in the right spot. You may not be concerned with it today when it’s an elegant little sapling but when it becomes a graceful giant you will be!

12 Replies to “Going Topless”

  1. Here in Arkansas, there was a horrific ice storm in January. All trees sustained damage. An irresponsible and uneducated tree service immediately blew into town, seeing a chance for big bucks from unsuspecting homeowners. They went door to door asking the homeowners if they could top their trees. Homeowners, not knowing any different, said yes.

    What is left is a town full of tree stumps. I am horrified and sickened. Decades of healthy growth, gone and replaced by weakness and ugliness. I tried to get the word out, to no avail.

    I could rant for days about this, thank you for taking time to get the word out here.

  2. I'm always horrified when I see trees amputated like this. What a wrong-headed decision. Yes, let's get the word out.

  3. How awful, I really felt for that poor tree. It just shows how important it is to go to the experts

  4. Oh I hate when beautiful trees get mangled in this fashion.

  5. What a terrible shame. It was such a grand tree.

  6. What a horrible thing to do to a beautiful tree.

  7. I hate to see when pple have this done to their trees! It is not attractive at all. It is all really just not knowing how a tree is "suppose" to be pruned. I would have never known if I hadn't started reading books about how to care for my plants and trees. If only more ppl would do the same. They just don't know! Sad.

  8. This is just disgusting!

  9. It sure makes the tree most ugly now. And forget about shade. Such a shame as this tree will need to be taken down at some point. When will folks learn? Great you gave options because there are tons instead of topping.

  10. Even to an uneducated eye that is ugly and makes me feel ill. Thank you for the photos and explanation that goes with it.

  11. I just want to say that it is the ingratitude to the nature. Such trees make gardens beautiful. I think home gardens should grow such trees. Thanks

  12. I agree with all of you. As much as it pains me the tree should have been taken down if it's a danger. I had an arborist come and tell me my oak was healthy as could be and it came down in Sandy and the trunk was rotted out. I really don't think an arborist can tell anyone definitively that a tree is safe or not from just staring at it.

Comments are closed.