How to top a tree?

will a tree die if you cut the top off

Do you have a pine tree that’s grown far too much outside your house?

If you’re among those who are facing trouble with mature trees getting too heavy at the top, then you might think about topping them off. Despite some controversies around this method, it is still the method of choice to clear treetops with heavy growth. This is because when the tops of the trees get too dense, they can create trouble for telephone wires and houses.

In addition to that, if the tree breaks due to unpredictable weather like thunder and wind, then it can cause damage to things around it.

So, is there a way to top a tree off without causing any damage to it or others surrounding it? Yes, there is! In this guide, we’re going to talk about how to top a tree most safely and easily.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

What Is Tree Topping?

Tree topping is when the entirety of treetops are separated from the body of the tree by cutting them off. In addition to that, it could also mean removing larger branches from the trees, which leave behind small stubs. These stubs are far too small to give rise to new branches, so the tree growth is effectively controlled.

Some other names for the practice include heading, hat-racking, tipping, and rounding over. Moreover, some species of trees are more likely to benefit from this process than others.

Items Needed For Tree-Topping

Tree Saw

We recommend using a tree saw that has been purposefully designed to cut healthy trees. This is because other kinds of saws will probably be ineffective since most of them are made for thinner objects and might even be hazardous if used on a tree.

In addition to that, also ensure that the tree saw you get is long-lasting and durable.

Moving on, if you’re not a fan of climbing trees for topping them off, then you can try getting a pole saw or a telescoping saw. These tree saws will reach an elevated height and don’t require you to make a lot of effort in climbing the tree and topping it off.


Using a ladder to top a tree is much safer than using the rope and harness method. This is because you can maintain a safe distance from the tree while topping it, which ensures that it doesn’t injure you in any way. We recommend getting a ladder that is sturdy and can remain stable on the ground, as well as reach high treetops.


Wearing a helmet is essential for your safety, irrespective of whether you’re on top of the tree or standing firm on the ground. If, accidentally, lower branches were to fall off and strike you, wearing that helmet might just save you from a nasty injury.

Tree Pruners

If there are thin and small branches on the treetop, you can use a tree pruner to lop them off instead of using a large-sized tree saw.

How To Top A Tree

You Should Have Prior Experience

Topping a tree can be a difficult task, which is why we recommend not to do it unless you’ve got prior experience of doing so.

There are some important things to keep in mind before you trim trees. For instance, you must be aware of the structure, how to get rid of the branches safely without taking off any more or less than the requirement and keep a distance for safety purposes.

This is why we suggest getting a professional to remove any excess growth at the top. We understand that it feels like a burden to pay for such services again and again. But there is nothing more important than safety, and additionally, there’s no better teacher than a professional!

Choose The Branches Strategically

If you’ve got lots of experience when it comes to topping trees, you can proceed with it without calling in a professional. However, firstly, you must decide about which branches to slice.

For this, keep in mind that thin branches that are about to die or have already withered away should be removed first. In addition to that, if you see any decaying branches, lop them off too to prevent the decomposition from reaching the remaining branches of the tree.

Moreover, if any branches meddle with satellite signals and interrupt power lines or any plants that can’t receive adequate sunlight, then they should be cut off. Doing this would keep the tree in great shape and prevent any potential safety hazards.

Check The Alignment

Take note of the direction the tree is leaning in, whether it is because of its natural bent or the direction of the wind. This will help you gauge where the best position is to cut the branches off, so if the tree tilts to the right, you must stand on the left.

Maintain Enough Space

While it’s essential to have enough room to lop the treetops down, it’s even more important to clear up space for a drop zone (a.k.a. “lay”). To do so, you must measure the area around the tree by estimating where the branches might fall after being cut down.

This process will ensure that your surroundings and you are safe from the danger of falling tree branches.

Start With Smaller/Thinner Branches

While beginning to top the tree, begin by felling the smaller branches before you make your way to the bigger ones. By doing this, you can clear a path to the bigger branches and adjust their size according to the remaining branches.

Use the Three-Way Cut On The Collar Of The Branch

This method is a specialized way to effectively cut down large tree branches:

Step 1

Firstly, figure out where the collar of the branch is located. It is usually in the crook, the intersection, or even where the two offshoots meet.

Step 2

Slice a notch into the bottom of the branch, which is approximately two feet away from the trunk of the tree. However, make sure to cut only one-fourth of an inch into the trunk.

Step 3

Repeat the same process from the branch top, taking care not to slice directly through the collar.

Step 4

Lastly, slice the branch off entirely right outside the collar, and then proceed to the other branches and repeat the process with them.

Carefully trim off as many branches as you can manage, but ensure that you don’t go overboard. That is because a multitude of bare spots can lead to excess sunlight and other similar issues for the tree.

Clean Up

This is probably one of the hardest things to do after the tree has been topped, but it’s also one of the most important because leftover debris can cause accidents.

You have the choice of either throwing the branches into the trash/recycling bin or using them for a bonfire at home. Irrespective of the option you pick, it’s good for the environment.

Is There A Specific Time For Tree Topping?

Although tree pruning and trimming is a round-the-year job, most trees need to be pruned during a particular period only. These include:

  • You must prune Spring-flowering trees after flowering.
  • Fruiting trees must be pruned while dormant to ensure abundant fruit production.
  • Prune oak trees only during winter dormancy to prevent wilting.
  • Sap-producing hardwoods like maples must be pruned when the sap isn’t flowing to heal the pruning wounds.
  • If you’ve got birds living in the trees, take care not to prune until the babies have flown and the nest is empty.

Things To Keep In Mind

Consult A Professional

Topping can be potentially dangerous and requires aggressive methods to complete. We strongly advise going ahead only after a professional consultation. So, before you attempt to top a tall tree, speak to someone offering special tree services or a landscaper. There might be other options available that could be better suited for you.

Topping Should Be a Last Resort

Typically, topping isn’t recommended for trees because new branches that grow after can be quite weak. In addition to that, topping decreases the lifespan of the tree substantially. Topping may sometimes not even help since new unwanted branches may grow instead of the older ones that you just got rid of.

Try Thinning

Thinning is a significantly less invasive method, which removes unwanted branches without much harm. To thin a tree, you must remove the obstructive, individual branches. This makes it possible to remove the problematic branches without chopping the tree top off.

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that there are many critics of tree topping, it can prove useful to treat an overgrown tree. Though it can be hazardous to the health of the tree, if done in a professional and safe way, you can minimize the environmental damage.

Moreover, topping might seem like a daunting task initially, especially if you’ve got no experience or equipment. However, once you do some research and get professional consultations, it isn’t that difficult anymore. By the third time around, you’ll be a veteran yourself!

Need professional help when it comes to tree services in Hesperia CA? Contact us and get a quote now.