Trees blocking your view? Prune, don’t top

Pruning allows trees to frame, instead of block, views of the landscape. Photo: DNR.

Is a tree blocking your view? Try pruning instead of topping it. It’s a win-win for you and the tree… and the community. Trees are part of the beautiful landscape around us here in Washington State. When trees compete with our views, we might want to top them to open up the view. However, this does NOT work in the long run.

Topping is severely and indiscriminately cutting back or removing large branches in a mature tree.

When a tree is topped, it responds with rapid, vigorous re-growth in order to replace the loss of leaf area. The regrowth is very dense and will typically grow back to the original height and beyond within a few years. The dense regrowth ends up blocking the view you wanted and now will have to be removed again and again. It’s costly for the property owner and damages the tree.

There are alternatives

Short of removing the tree entirely, there are several alternative techniques that can help open views. Often the presence of trees enhances a view by framing the vista, adding visual interest, bringing distance into perspective, and focusing the view on the landscape beyond.

Professional arborists can assist in pruning a tree to help frame a view with techniques like thinning, windowing or skirting, while keeping a tree healthy.

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.

If a tree has been topped repeatedly, it might be better to start over. If you remove a tree, make sure the species that replaces it is appropriate for the site (a small-maturing tree) or select a different planting site so the tree frames a view as it reaches its mature height.

Trees provide many benefits to communities. If they are thoughtfully planted and carefully maintained, they will continue to provide those benefits for us and for those who follow. Check out the resources that DNR has for the Anti-Tree Topping Campaign.

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