Topping Norway spruces?

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TonyGTrees

TonyGTrees

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Bedford Hills, NY
Hello

I live on a property in which two different landscapers over the years have recommended that my landlady/friend top at least some of her Norway spruces. And she now plans to top them further to reduce their size and perhaps to top some that have not yet been topped. The landscapers told her in the past that this should be done because the trees can become top heavy and fall over. This has created very odd looking trees (see photos), to say the least. I was curious about this because I have not seen a single topped spruce tree any where else in town (Bedford Hills, NY) or an surrounding towns. For example, the elementary school at the end of the tree has two huge spruces right next to the building, and those haven't been topped.

I checked 10 different sources online, including Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources, all of which say that you should never top a Norway spruce or any evergreen for that matter and that doing so risks disease, insect infestation and shortened life (as well as leaving a very odd-looking tree). Two days ago, I asked a landscaper whom I saw working at the estate across the street. He looked at the trees, laughed and said he never even heard of topping Norway spruces. He pointed to the remaining non-topped spruces , which call he called "magnificent", advised me to tell my landlady not to touch them. I told her, and now she's confused about what to do. (The large branch from a non-evergreen fell on her house some years back, and she's now concerned about damage from trees).

One of the spruces she topped many years ago has seemed to spread two side branches that have grown upward, recreating the pointed top. But the other, topped ones look deformed. I'm wondering what the experts here have to say on this subject.

Many thanks for your help.

Regards,
Anthony Giorgianni
 

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capetrees
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Safety concerns? Take them down and start over. I've topped hundreds of trees over the years at the owners request but never a norway spruce. Even the owners agree that they'd look foolish.
 

ATH

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Don't top any trees. It increases likelihood of failure over time. Whoever did that simply doesn't know what they are doing. Or maybe they do know what they are doing...setting her up for increased maintenance costs over time. So they either don't know what they are doing, or their crooked. I thought it was being nice saying they don't know what they're doing.

Besides reducing or removing double leaders and pruning for clearance, Norway spruce should need very little maintenance.
 
EchoRomeoCharlie
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Don't top any trees. It increases likelihood of failure over time. Whoever did that simply doesn't know what they are doing. Or maybe they do know what they are doing...setting her up for increased maintenance costs over time. So they either don't know what they are doing, or their crooked. I thought it was being nice saying they don't know what they're doing.

Besides reducing or removing double leaders and pruning for clearance, Norway spruce should need very little maintenance.
+1 to all of this

Topping is almost never the right answer.
 
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Greaser007

Greaser007

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If that were my house, I'd get them out of there and start over.
In the event of _ _ _ _ a heavy localized rain and severe wind, I'd be nervous of those old mature trees being so close to a charming old home. :)
 
TonyGTrees

TonyGTrees

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If that were my house, I'd get them out of there and start over.
In the event of _ _ _ _ a heavy localized rain and severe wind, I'd be nervous of those old mature trees being so close to a charming old home. :)
Thanks for your reply, Greaser007. Would you really cut down this tree? It's so majestic. And it's been there through lots of bad weather, including hurricanes. I'm not familiar with the Norway spruce root structure or trunk strength. Is it common for these to break or fall over?
 

ATH

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Thanks for your reply, Greaser007. Would you really cut down this tree? It's so majestic. And it's been there through lots of bad weather, including hurricanes. I'm not familiar with the Norway spruce root structure or trunk strength. Is it common for these to break or fall over?
No... Yes, they can. That makes the front page news when it happens.

When people suggest cutting down trees without other indicators besides (it is near my house) I ask if they ever drive on the highway. About 100 people PER DAY die in a car accident. It takes about 3 years to reach that number from trees falling in storms.
 
ElevatorGuy

ElevatorGuy

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I’ve seen you say that before @ATH . After having a tree crush my shed and truck and our friends have 2 trees about 5 years apart crushing their house I’d cut down everyone of them that could reach my house. I’ve dropped 150+ already from my property, unfortunately a lot of them left that could touch my house are not mine. The perfect house is one dead center in property without a tree for 2-300 feet.
 
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ATH

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@ElevatorGuy I get it. I can and does happen. What was the condition of those trees before they failed? It is certainly worth looking/having an expert review the trees. Even then they can fail, but MOST tree failures are predictable.

I wouldn't want to be in a neighborhood with 1/2 acre lots (or smaller) that have no tall trees within 200' of the houses... FWIW, quick search says 52% of the US population live in "suburban neighborhood". My guess is most of those neighborhoods have trees in them.

If it was a huge/frequent risk, insurance companies would change rates based on tree/house proximity. I've had a few clients that say their insurance agent said they need to remove tree branches that are breaking the plane of their roof. A couple of those accepted a letter from me stating that the branches over the roof have a low risk of failure (and it would have mutilated the tree to remove all branches over the roof).
 
Dave1960_Gorge

Dave1960_Gorge

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+1 to all of this

Topping is almost never the right answer.
What you can do is a crown reduction -- views in my area are fought over and valued like gold. However, I do it to younger pines and firs, and limit cuts to 4 in. diameter on the main leader, and then tip branches (and side branches) about a third of the way down the crown. It is a lot of work but the tree looks more or less normal. Will need to be touched up every 3 - 5 years. Some neighborhoods have view ordinances, unless the tree predates the ordinance.

If they want more gone on a big tree, I suggest thinning the crown to leave gaps where the water or ridgeline of the mountains are; this in effect ages the tree so it looks natural, and your eye fills in the rest of the view. I walk away if they just want me to just cut it in half.
 
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ElevatorGuy

ElevatorGuy

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@ATH the oak that crushed my shed and truck had been dead for around 2 years. I know that because as soon as I noticed it I wanted the neighbor to remove it. The owner of the property didn’t care and when it fell my insurance company paid us and sued the owner. Our friends right down the road we’re not as lucky, Both oaks and both alive. Both were storm and wind related. This first one snapped about 30’ up and the top 70 some feet crushed the roof from front to back on the right side of the house. They rebuilt and then a few years later a massive oak to the left of the house uprooted and crushed the house dead center from left to right. The whole house was torn down the second time and they lived in a hotel for months and a rental for a year while it was rebuilt. I’ll see if I can find some pics.
 
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ATH

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Ouch!

Dead trees are certainly "easy" to call high risk of failure. I try too look at as many failures as I can... Most I think would have been predictable. For example, on the uprooted tree, was there any indication of rot? If so, which species of fungus?

In the one that snapped off, was there a codominate leader or rot where it broke?

Not always....nasty storms do nasty things so there are certainly trees that looked great, but still failed.
 
softdown

softdown

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I’ve seen you say that before @ATH . After having a tree crush my shed and truck and our friends have 2 trees about 5 years apart crushing their house I’d cut down everyone of them that could reach my house. I’ve dropped 150+ already from my property, unfortunately a lot of them left that could touch my house are not mine. The perfect house is one dead center in property without a tree for 2-300 feet.
Your trees grow to be 200-300' tall? Wow. Here in Colorado not many get over 50'.
 
Dave1960_Gorge

Dave1960_Gorge

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I’ve seen you say that before @ATH . After having a tree crush my shed and truck and our friends have 2 trees about 5 years apart crushing their house I’d cut down everyone of them that could reach my house. I’ve dropped 150+ already from my property, unfortunately a lot of them left that could touch my house are not mine. The perfect house is one dead center in property without a tree for 2-300 feet.
Hey Guy:

While I don't know much about your property, the risk of trees uprooting or breaking somewhere between the root crown and the top are tied to multiple factors. These could include soil depth and water saturation, lean, species of tree, structural defects like decay and weak trunk forks, and local prevalence of storms that bring high wind or snow and ice loading. Plus, when a stand is opened up, the edge trees are more at risk of failure by even typical weather, even in the absence of defects. The less dominant trees, when often have minimal taper, a high crown, and minimal roots because they were once surrounded by trees, and so are more likely to fail when exposed to storms. A hurricane will essentially override all of these factors, and yet trees that survive will tend to be shorter or ones with a lot of taper (although most limbs could be broken off).

I am sure you are aware of all of the above. Not wanting to start a fight, and this has nothing to do with politics -- its science. Please don't condemn trees just because they are near a target. There would be very few trees at all in urban areas or town centers if everyone assumed that any large tree was out to get them. Life means accepting some risk, and I accept some risk from trees -- but in offering my opinion to a homeowner, I say that risk is approximately "x", but the decision is yours for what level of risk to accept.

I sometimes joke that the only "safe" tree with no risk is a stump, but then again, you might trip over it!
 
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