Topping a Cedar Tree

Topping a Cedar Tree

Cedar is a native Lebanese tree with a blackish brown back, dark green leaves, and monoecious flowers. Cedar is well adapted to the mountainous climate where they receive winter precipitation. In the UK, they are also planted in parks and gardens of large estates. It is also common to find cedar in nearly every stately mansion from the 1740s onwards.

Currently, cedar is mainly used for its hard, durable wood which maintains its strong sweet fragrance for a long time. An oil similar to turpentine is another byproduct of the cedar wood. In it’s homeland Lebanon, Cedar is used as an insect repellent. Ironically, it is profoundly affected by honey fungus and aphid attacks.

Does Tree Topping Hurt?

Tree topping is the act of haphazardly cutting large tree branches to stubs at the top, or removing the entire top. Topping mainly occurs to reduce the size of a tree. Tree topping can have many negative effects on your tree including:

  • Stressing your tree
  • Ruining the appeal of the tree
  • Leading to sunburn
  • Causing risk to infection
  • Expensive maintenance


Trees may provide too much shadow or pose a risk owing to their height, in this case, topping is conducted to keep it at the desired height. Topping, also known as heading, leaves damaged stubs that are unable to perform their role effectively. It is not the best approach to height reduction and can actually pose more risks and damage the tree.

cherry picker tree surgery

How to Prune a Cedar Tree

Step 1:

Determine the type of cedar tree you have; this determines how you’ll top your tree. The common types are pyramidal cedar, columnar cedar or a globe cedar. Globe cedar have difficulties growing back after trimming. As such, before you begin, ensure they have grown past your desired size. Cut your globe cedar precisely the size you want because if you fail, the tree might not grow to the desired height.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 2:

It is recommended you prune your cedar during the spring before it creates new growth. Be careful not to excessively take off too much green of the outer branches so that they repopulate efficiently and not stay bare. It’s recommended that you start pruning your tree from a young age so it naturally grows into the desired shape rather than needing excessive trimming in the future.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 3:

For pyramidal and columnar cedars, you must prune the top not more than ¼ inch off the tree’s height. Always ensure you only top branches that are part of the main tree trunk. For topping off more than ½ inch, ensure the branches are placed in an upright position. doing so will not only help the cedar fill itself again but also promotes uniform growth.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 4:

Always maintain your topped cedar regularly by pruning preferably once to thrice a year. Pruning must be done between June and July. Pruning after this may affect the subsequent year’s growth since the cedar will already be developing buds. You can remove all the brown leaves but always be careful to keep enough of the green leaves to  limit it from growing too tall.

Pruning a cedar tree
When should I consider Tree Topping?

When should I consider Tree Topping?

Despite clear evidence, some of the population maintains that tree topping can stimulate the growth of a tree, lessen the cost of pruning, and generally manage the size of a tree. However, topping a tree is more damaging than helpful and far riskier than most are aware of.

What is Tree Topping?

To put simply, topping is a method of severe pruning which removes the entire top out of a healthy tree, removing the oldest and heaviest stabilising branches, leaving behind a wound in more ways than one. Topping a tree removes the heart of the tree’s branches so to speak. This leaves a tree vulnerable to wind damage, weakened by taking away the main growth that supported its weight, stunting the growth of the branches and leaves a gaping wound at risk of infection.

Other terms for this practice of severe pruning are: 

  • Topping
  • Tipping
  • Dehorning
  • Heading
  • Rounding over
  • Stubbing

Tree topping poses a huge risk to a tree in several ways. Trees require a large amount of leaf surface for photosynthesis; tree topping eliminates too much leaf growth on the branches that are removed. This creates a huge hindrance on the tree gaining nutrients for healthy growth.

Wounds caused by tree topping are commonly more than most trees can take. It is true that a healthy tree can usually survive a wound, however, tree topping leaves a large number of stubs that on the whole are too much wound to close and or recover from.

Tree Topping
Tree Topping

This method of pruning puts the tree’s bark at risk for severe damage from the sun. It also creates weak stubs that are vulnerable to heavy wind and storm damage as they become weak and often decay and eventually die. Some mistakenly believe that topping a tree is cheaper than hiring a tree expert to properly maintain their trees. The drawbacks prove otherwise.

When you top your trees they may not recover from it. If they recover, they will more than likely require years of corrective pruning. The trees may be left disfigured and scarred, lowering property value and present an ongoing risk of possible damage caused by weakening and very possibly decaying or dying branches. This method of pruning removes a tree’s heart, removing their natural beauty and leaving behind scarring and disfigurement.


What are the reasons for a topping?

The most common reasons for doing this is when a tree is overgrown and the owner considers it undesirable. Perhaps the tree is casting excess shade on a garden, or branches are overhanging or coming in contact with utility lines.

Tree topping can cause a tree to become a liability. However, proper trimming keeps a tree healthy and strong by eliminating the dead wood and encouraging new growth while allowing as much of the leaf surface to remain allowing for water and nutrients. The tree’s heart is the branches that stabilise it in wind and hefts its weight in the sunshine. Healthy trees are beautiful and create oxygen.