More credentials required to cut hair than the 80-foot tree by the house

It’s common for nervous homeowners to hire a service (a truck full of guys with chainsaws) to whack back trees after a major windstorm. But this practice is part of what makes trees prone to fall, not the solution.

So says Cass Turnbull, the tells-it-like-she-sees-it leader of PlantAmnesty, a nonprofit, Seattle-based organization devoted to better pruning practices.

After the last windstorm, Turnbull — a certified arborist herself — talked with arborists about this practice, and wrote about the subject in the organization’s spring newsletter. What the arborists said might surprise you: Topping is one cause of hazardous trees, not the cure. It causes the trunks to rot and the new limbs that grow are weaker and prone to breaking off years later.

Plus, it’s really ugly. I inherited three topped Japanese maples from the previous owner of my house. These trees now look like they sprouted a Medusa head full of whippy branches.

Although more people in the tree business are qualified, Turnbull says, many more have no formal training. All that’s needed to start a tree business is an $80 business license; more credentials are required for a hairdresser to cut your hair than for someone to assess the safety of an 80-foot, 200-year old tree, she says.

Worried homeowners should get a qualified arborist to perform a risk assessment of potentially dangerous trees. PlantAmnesty provides a free referral service: 206-783-9813. You can also contact the International Society of Arboriculture, which can provide a list of certified arborists in this area (

More on the evils of tree topping:

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