Tree topping is very bad for a tree. The best way I can explain it is to ask this question:
Do you want to look at this in your front yard all summer?
Topping is the amputation of limbs to nubs. Other names for topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking,” and “rounding over.” Topping accomplishes two things, either you kill the tree or you have a tree that magnifies the reason you amputated it, to reduce the height and width. Pictured is a tree that was topped two years ago along with two of its siblings on the west side of the house. All three are now dead. Another side effect from the lack of afternoon shade on the house is increased cooling costs.
If the tree does survive, it is extremely weakened as usually over 50 per cent of the leaf production is removed which temporarily starves the tree. The amputation triggers a survival instinct in the tree and causes it to produce several weak water sprouts like branches coming out of the edge of the cut at odd angles. These sprouts may grow up to twenty feet in a year. Since these are holding on by the edge of a nail, they are susceptible to breakage from wind damage and become bomb like when they fall.
The open cuts expose the tree to insect and disease damage and allow water to get into the openings causing the heart of the tree to rotten. A stressed tree is a magnet for attacking insects. Next you hear the owner complaining the wood peckers are killing the tree.
Removing all the leaf cover can cause the lower branches to get a sun burn which will cause bark splitting and cankers and as in the above photo, a dead tree.
Check out my GRIT magazine blog post on some of the Christmas activities around the Shoals.