When a tree overgrows to the point it no longer fits in its space, many homeowners consider topping off a tree. However, while tree topping is controversial to many tree care specialists, there is a time and place for cutting tree tops. 

This controversy stems from safety concerns and the possibility of permanently damaging or even killing the tree. However, for huge trees where thinning isn’t an option, sometimes topping off a tree is the better alternative. We’ll explore how to top a tree safely.  

how to top a tree

What Is Tree Topping? 

The answer to “What is topping a tree?” is that this action removes the top of the tree’s central stem alongside its main upper branches. Cutting tree tops results in small upper limbs called water sprouts. 

Besides making more space, topping a tree can promote new growth in a dying or mature tree. 

Things You Need for Tree Topping

Knowing how to top a tree without killing it starts with gathering the right equipment: 

A Ladder

Make sure your ladder can remain steady on the ground and is long enough to reach the tree’s upper branches. 

A Tree Saw/Chainsaw

You may already have a saw lying around. However, you should opt for a tree saw designed to cut trees. Only use a chainsaw if you have plenty of operating experience. 

Tree Pruners

Tree pruners work wonders at eliminating small branches at the top. 

Safety Gear

You’ll want plenty of safety gear, including: 

  • A helmet
  • Work gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Ear protection 
  • Chainsaw chaps 

Be sure to have a first aid kit ready, too. 

Step by Step Instructions to Top a Tree

We’ll now explore the steps of topping a tree: 

  • Put On Safety Gear

Start by putting on all your tree topping safety gear. It’s better to wear long sleeves and pants.

  • Clear the Surrounding Area

Remove nearby items like birdhouses, toys, benches, chairs, dog houses, fences, cars, etc. You’ll also want to plan an escape route. 

  • Know Which Branches to Cut Off

For sure, dying or dead branches require tree top trimming. Additionally, eliminate branches growing too close to powerlines or obscuring sunlight or views. 

  • Start Your Chainsaw

Always start your chainsaw on a flat surface while you stand in a stable position. 

  • Check Where It Leans

Knowing where your tree is leaning can help you determine where you should make your cuts. 

  • Give Yourself Enough Space

You need enough space to make your cuts and for tree-topped branches to fall. This space is what arborists call the drop zone. 

  • Start with Smaller Branches

Always start by dealing with the smaller branches first. Doing so will give you more space for larger branches. 

  • Clean Up

Finally, end the day by cleaning up your branches. Recycle them, use them for firewood, put them in a woodchipper, etc. 


Knowing how to top a tree without killing it is an important skill to have. However, our Lineage Tree Care team can help if you’re not feeling confident. 

For Expert Tree Topping Services in Seattle, WA, call Lineage Tree Care today at (425) 800-8023!