Oak trees are out of control #285108 - Ask Extension


Oak trees are out of control #285108

Asked October 16, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

My community has oak trees, planted 8 years ago that reach above our two story homes. We asked for estimates on bringing the height down and shaping them but some companies refuse to top them. They say it against the rules. Do we have to let them keep growing taller?

Osceola County Florida

Expert Response

Topping and/or "shaping" of trees is a practice that is detrimental to the health and structure of trees. Topping and shaping makes haphazard cuts without consideration of how the tree will respond to the cuts. Haphazard pruning cuts result in the rapid growth of numerous watersprouts that are weakly attached. The result is the tree canopy will be back at the same original height or higher within just a couple of years. With time, as the weakly attached new growth becomes bigger and heavier, you will be more likely to have branch failure than if proper pruning techniques are used. Also, topping and other haphazard cuts leave the tree much more prone to extensive decay that can spread throughout the tree and leave parts or all of the tree more prone to failure. As such, best management practices for pruning recommend against the use of topping or shaping of trees.

Instead, there are reduction cuts that can be used to reduce the overall height of the top of the tree canopy, but reduction cuts can only reduce the size to a certain extent. New growth after reduction cuts will be more controlled and will maintain a smaller canopy size for a longer time than topping will. Oak trees are a large stature species that grow upwards of 100 feet tall, so it is not realistic to try and keep the size of these trees to a height of 25 feet while also not severely impairing the health and structure of the trees.

Whether or not there are laws or ordinances against topping in your community or Florida, I do not know. You can check with your local municipality regarding ordinances that regulate tree work.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has a nice fact sheet on why not to top trees, and included diagrams showing the different results of topping versus proper pruning. That fact sheet can be found here:

Also, since you are located in Florida, I would highly recommend this website from Dr. Ed Gilman at the University of Florida. Dr. Gilman is considered an expert in the science of pruning trees
and this page on reducing tree canopies:
and this article on why not to top trees:

Brian Wolyniak Replied October 16, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT

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