City Offers Proper Tree Maintenance Guidelines

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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City Offers Proper Tree Maintenance Guidelines

Posted: 05/05/2010
With spring in full bloom the City of Knoxville's Public Service Department and the City Tree Board want to let neighborhood groups and residents know that tree topping is an outdated practice which will actually harm trees in the long run.

City crews, for example, do not use tree topping as part of their maintenance of publicly-owned trees in city parks, along sidewalks and in right-of-ways. The once widely-used method is also highly discouraged by members of the City Tree Board, a mayor-appointed board dedicated to maintaining and improving the city's trees.

"The practice of topping," said Sam Adams, an ISA Certified Arborist and new member of the City Tree Board, "involves lopping off large parts of a tree and is the tree care equivalent to amputation."

Tree topping is the practice of cutting off the crown and branches of a tree above a certain height and was considered for many years to be the easiest and cheapest way to make mature trees safer and reduce their size. The practice, however, makes trees more susceptible to insects, disease and decay and can ultimately weaken them and make them a bigger safety hazard than before they were topped.

Adams noted that topping should not be confused with proper crown reduction pruning, which will safely reduce a tree's size and redirect its growth.

"Tree topping," says Adams, "creates numerous problems for trees and solves none." 

He believes consumers today are more knowledgeable and increasingly refuse to allow their trees to be topped. Unfortunately, some landscape and tree care businesses still urge their clients toward tree topping.

David Brace, deputy director of Knoxville's Public Service Department, believes most tree topping incidents are based on misinformation.

"We feel strongly that the City's Public Service Department should serve as an example for citizens as we plant and care for our tree resources," says Brace. "Tree topping damages trees and is something we strongly discourage in our role as tree care professionals." 

The Knoxville Tree Board recommends against the tree topping because it:

leaves large exposed wounds that the tree can't readily close
ruins tree structure
removes too much foliage and disrupts the tree's energy storage for future growth
stimulates vigorous new growth, which is weakly attached and prone to breakage increases tree maintenance costs
destroys the tree's appearance and value

There are alternatives to tree topping including corrective pruning by a professional arborists, which can make trees more attractive, safer and smaller. Pruning encourages growth, improves flower and fruit production, improves plant health, repairs damage and helps add aesthetic appeal to a tree.

Among steps property owners can take to ensure the health of their trees are finding a local landscape or tree care professional familiar with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a 67-year old public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture. TCIA includes more than 2,000 member companies who recognize stringent safety and performance standards, and are required to carry liability insurance.

More information about the TCIA, its accreditation program and membership is available at and at 1-800-733-2622.

The City of Knoxville Tree Board was created in the early 1990's to protect, conserve, establish, and manage trees on public property within the City. The board is an 11-member volunteer citizen committee which also oversees the master street tree plan for city property, disseminates information regarding the selection, planting and maintenance of trees and advises City Council about issues relating to the City's tree planting and maintenance program.

For more information about the Tree Board or tree maintenance and care, please visit