The discord surrounding topping doesn't elude Angie's List members. Seven percent of members responding to a recent online poll said they're fine with topping while 31 percent say they are OK with it in certain circumstances.
Twenty-eight percent condemn the practice, 24 percent are indifferent and 10 percent don't know what it is.
"Topping completely destroys the shape of the tree from which it doesn't recover," says member Judy Roberson of Charlotte, North Carolina. "Taking care of the trees on your property is almost as important as caring for children and pets. Trees add significant value to the property."
Member Dianna Minson of Tucson, Arizona, says she plans on having a palo verde tree topped because it's blocking her view of the surrounding mountains.
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"I've had a number of other trees topped previously with no ill effects," Minson says. "Those trees are all thriving."
Member Kate Switzer of San Jose, California, says she felt topping her liquid amber tree was the only option aside from removing it completely.
"I topped it 10 years ago, then again in 2009," she says. "My neighbor sleeps better knowing it isn't going to crash-land on his roof during a storm."
Experts say topping a tree to prevent storm damage is one of many misconceptions surrounding the practice.
"It's hard to change learned habits," says ISA-certified arborist and TCIA member Phil Ping, owner of highly rated Ping's Tree Service in Indianapolis. "For decades people have said 'you got to get that tree cut back or it's going to crush your house.' But as the tree regrows, it's structurally weaker and the risk becomes greater."
Topping destroys the balance between the roots and crown of a tree. Removing too many branches and leaves can starve trees because without foliage, trees cannot make enough food to maintain their strength.
"A tree knows what it needs to produce the amount of food for it to survive," says ISA-certified arborist Mark Wisniewski of San Diego.
As a defense mechanism, a tree will quickly grow food-producing shoots — up to 20 feet in one year — that are weak and prone to breaking, resulting in a more hazardous tree. In addition, bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop disease cankers.
Large stubs left behind from improper cuts can't heal or seal, inviting decay to enter and spread.