Just what are those things that make your house a home? Most Ohioans would put trees something outside the house near the very top of their lists. A green, tree-filled landscape is the very picture of the American Dream. Trees beautify our homes, benefit the environment and in so many ways make our lives more enjoyable.
Yet every day in backyards and front lawns across Ohio, homeowners are unknowingly destroying that dream. In their never-ending drive for the manicured, trim and tidy, they are putting the lives of their trees at risk with a practice known as "tree topping. It's one of the very worst things you can do to a tree!
A tree's natural form is the source of its beauty. Topped trees appear disfigured and mutilated. Once topped, a tree will never return to its natural shape.
But what is tree topping? Sadly, its the indiscriminate removal of major limbs and branches from the tops of mature trees. It's a practice resulting in large, open wounds that shock the tree and leave it unable to nourish itself. Unprotected from the elements, a topped tree is vulnerable to disease and insect infestation.
Even worse, topping gives the tree a bad case of sunburn. Yes, just like humans, trees are sensitive to the sun, and can suffer from burns if not protected. Just as we are cooler when we stand in the shade of a tree, so are the branches of the tree made cooler from its own leaves. Without its protective crown of leaves, a trees remaining branches and trunk have no defense against the summer suns intense heat and damaging light. Tissue beneath the bark suffers from sunburn, leading to cankers, bark splitting and death of some branches.
The question is: If tree topping is so bad why do people do it? Some homeowners mistakenly believe it revitalizes a tree. And, sometimes, a less-than-professional tree care company will recommend it as an option for a tree that has reached an undesirable height.
Another misconception is that topping reduces the storm hazard of falling branches. In reality, topping retards healthy growth. In response, a tree sends out multiple shoots that provide food to survive. These shoots grow rapidly, as much as 20 feet in one year in some species. Because these new branches do not occur as a result of normal growth, they are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions. In the end, the effort to make the tree safer has instead made it a hazard.
A tree may survive topping, but it will significantly reduce the life span of a tree.
Trees are more than landscape accents. Deep roots reduce soil erosion and the leaves filter the air we breathe, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Trees are a habitat for wildlife. They cool the hot summer winds and make life more comfortable for us.
If a large tree in your yard needs some attention this year, here are some tips from foresters with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:
- Never top your tree!
- Prune trees properly every three years for health and longevity.
- A trees canopy should never be reduced by more than 25 percent at one pruning, and not more than one-third in any one growing season.
- Avoid fertilizers and other chemicals that "force" a tree's growth. The healthiest trees are those that are allowed to grow at a natural rate.
- Hire only experienced, insured tree care companies, with certified arborists on staff. Check the companies topping policy and if they say they agree to top your tree, dont let them anywhere near your yard!
- If planting a new tree, choose a tree that is a good "fit" for the yard or area. Keep in mind the size it will be at maturity.
If you have any questions or concerns about the harmful effects of tree topping, contact a local arborist or the Urban Forestry program at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at (614) 265-6694.
Mature, urban trees are not easily replaced, so its important that we do our best to keep them healthy. In doing so, we are helping provide a natural harmony right in our own backyards.