Tree Pruning: Resist Topping Trees

Tree Pruning: Resist Topping Trees

Weak growth results from this sycamore (left) and Oak (right) trees being topped

Weak growth results from this sycamore (left) and oak (right) trees being topped

Here in southern California, and especially in our city of Redlands, which is bestowed with 100+ year old trees, we have an epidemic of terrible tree trimming. Also, tree topping or pollarding — where main branches are trimmed to stubs — seems to be rampant.

Here are two good references on what topping is and why you shouldn’t do it. Don’t Top Trees and Why Topping Hurts

Case in point: A neighbor of ours had his 3 foot diameter lemon bark eucalyptus tree topped a year ago, leaving one sorry dangling branch of leaves (see photo below). When I had asked the tree trimmer during the process (the neighbor was not around) why he was doing something so detrimental to the tree – he replied that if he didn’t take the job, someone else would.

Last month another tree trimmer was taking down the tree, which had struggled to survive.  The neighbor might have saved some money a year ago, but he certainly didn’t in the long-term.  And topped or over-trimmed trees never recover.

Here is a photo about 6 months after the trimming – it didn’t get any better. In contrast, our neighbor next to us had his similar sized tree trimmed correctly.

Don’t take off more than 20% of a tree’s live growth in mature trees, and no more than 10% in slower growing ones such as native oaks.”   -common tree guideline in city policy manuals

I chatted with tree trimmer, Bill Walters with Strong Scape Services,  as his crew was taking down the tree, and he shared story after story of poor tree trimming and/or topping or pollarding. His advice:

  • ask tree trimmers for photographs of their work.
  • get more than one bid, and be prepared to pay a little more for a better job.
  • Remember a general guideline (which is in many city manuals): Don’t take off more than 20% of a tree’s live growth in mature trees, and no more than 10% in slower growing ones such as native oaks.
About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.


  1. I shared this post on my Facebook, because of the good information! Thank you.

    I lived in south Redlands for many years. Now I live in Mentone; the trees here are young and have a very difficult time getting established due to our rocky soil. I miss the trees of Redlands and the habitats they provided for all the birds. Yes, I miss the sounds of birds singing….

  2. Jeanne Schuster says:

    The same kind of over-pruning, topping, and pollarding is happening in West Covina. I don’t know where the tree pruners get their ideas and methods. One guy said he could make my tree look like an umbrella, which explains a lot of what I see, but at least that is the more careful kind of tree shaping. And there isn’t much tree-planting going on either. I don’t see the bad pruning in Claremont or Pasadena. It’s like a fashion that’s catching on.

    • Linda Richards says:

      Yes, it’s quite terrible. That’s my next mission – to get our city (and hopefully the other cities b/c the same tree people go to them). And you’re right – Pasadena and Claremont have strong tree protection programs led by dedicated certified arborists

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