The season is upon us, so watch out. Any day now, some unemployed, middle-school graduate with a borrowed chainsaw and a mud-caked pickup is going to knock on your door and say you have a problem that needs fixing. Those big trees of yours need shortening bad. If you say yes, not only will you be fleeced of a couple of hundred bucks, but your trees will be ruined forever.
The idiotic practice of drastically cutting back the main limbs of large shade trees and leaving thick stubs is called topping. The name says it all. You find yourself a beautifully shaped tree, turn off your brain, close your eyes, and cut its head off.
Don't think only hayseed amateurs do this. "Topping" is a service advertised by "professional" tree companies as well. They know it's a terrible thing to do. But when you can talk some elderly homeowners into parting with their cash for something they don't need, why, it's a thing of beauty.
Here are some arguments tree toppers often use to convince you your trees need maiming. 1. The branches are "out of balance" with the roots. 2. Long branches are going to fall on the house. 3. Shortening branches makes the tree less likely to fall in storms.
Lies, lies, lies. No tree cutter can tell whether the branches and roots of a tree are out of balance without employing X-ray vision to see underground. And balance isn't important anyway. Long, healthy branches aren't predisposed to fall on the house more than any others. (If you have a problem branch, just remove that one.) Shortening branches does not make a tree less likely to topple in a storm. By causing the tree to grow a thicket of thin, weak, long sprouts from the end of each stub (see top photo), it actually makes storm damage more likely.
To sum up, there is no legitimate reason to top a tree. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The end result is a weakened, less healthy tree that's uglier than Dear Leader's haircut. When somebody asks, just say no.