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Mukilteo, WA 98275
Phone: 425.263.8000

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 / Planning & Community Development / Tree Topping

Alternate Approaches to Tree Topping - Don't Top Your Trees

In Mukilteo, trees are a natural and beautiful part of the scenery.  They play a significant role in creating the high quality of life we enjoy.  Trees are also a valuable resource that provide a variety of public benefits to the community such as stormwater retention, improving water quality, stabilizing slopes and creating wildlife habitat.  
However, because trees often compete with views, property owners often want to top them to open up the view.
That's a bad idea.
Tree topping is the practice of cutting large branches in mature trees into stubs or lateral branches or the entire removal of large branches.  Other names for topping include “stubbing”, “heading”, “tipping”, “hat-racking” and “rounding over”.  Whatever the name, it’s still a bad idea.
Here’s what tree topping looks like.

Topped Tree

Topped Tree

According to the International Society of Arboriculture, topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources believes so strongly that tree topping is a bad idea they are conducting an educational campaign to help promote public understanding of proper tree care .  For more information click:
Tree topping:
  • Causes stress, which makes the tree more vulnerable to insect and disease infestations;
  • Leads to decay;
  • Allows trees to be sunburned which causes cankers, bark splitting and death of some branches;
  • Creates hazards from the newly grown shoots which are prone to breaking, especially during windy conditions;
  • Is expensive because topped trees require frequent high-maintenance pruning practice (as often as annually while untopped trees only require infrequent pruning); and
  • Destroys the natural form of the tree which creates poor aesthetics for the neighborhood.
If your valuable and desirable view is threatened by a tree consider these alternatives to tree topping:
Thinning: Retaining the natural form of the tree by removing foliage evenly throughout the canopy to create a filtered view through and beyond the foliage. Care must be taken not to remove too much foliage (less than ¼ of the total canopy) in order to avoid sucker growth.
Windowing: A pruning technique that involves selectively removing branches to allow a full view through the tree, similar to looking through a keyhole to a view beyond.
Skirting: A pruning technique where the lower branches of a tree are removed in order to achieve a view looking under the foliage. In order to make sure the tree remains healthy, it is important not to over-do branch removal. No more than 1/3 of the tree’s total height in branches should be removed.
Removal:  If thinning, windowing or skirting won’t provide the view you want then it is better to remove the tree completely (or snag it leaving the trunk and stump to provide wildlife habitat and slope stability) than to top it.  If you choose this option, consider replacing the tree with a species that won’t grow into your view corridor.  Tree removal is not an option if the tree is located in a Native Growth Protected Area (NGPA), critical area or buffer area.

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