Tree Topping Watch

Excessively pruned street trees

Topped trees on the 500 block of Grove Street at Market Street.

Too often we see trees around the city that have been “topped” by bad tree trimmers, meaning they have been cut back so severely they look like hat racks instead of trees. Not only does this reduce the environmental benefits provided by those trees, but it also causes the trees to die (resulting in large removal and replacement costs) or to sprout wildly (resulting in weak, hazardous branches that require frequent and costly reconstructive pruning for many years to follow).

Topping is also illegal in San Francisco, and is punishable by a fine of at least $1,489 (Article 16, Sec. 811 of the Public Works Code). Street trees are a public asset, and belong to all San Franciscans.

This beautiful Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’) in Westwood Park was 10 years old when it was “topped.” Fortunately, someone reported it to the city (dial 311) and the property owner was fined. Thanks to the Westwood Park Association for this information.

If you see a tree that is being topped, or has already been topped, please report it to the city (call 311, or write to Provide the address of the tree, the name of the company or individual responsible for the topping (if you know), and a digital photo (if possible) of the tree. Please also contact Michele Palmer, our education coordinator, by phone at 415-268-0780 or by email with our contact form.

NOTE: Some trees around City Hall, on California Street and on the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park are pruned back to the same node or branch each year. This form of pruning is called pollarding. When pollarding is properly done, it’s not fatal to the trees, and it’s legal.

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