There should be no question of whether one ‘tops’ a tree. Trees should first be selected based upon a horticulturally educated basis. That is the right tree for the right place rather than a choice based on price. In practice generally – the shorter time a tree must spend growing in nursery to become a saleable plant the cheaper it is. Cheaper does, particularly in the case of trees does *not* mean better value.
However, when that tree you bought comes back to haunt you, the oirish thing to do is to ‘top’ the tree. No! I say.
The problem with this is that the auxins or the growth hormones will not not push to the growing point [tip] of the tree but down and then out the sides. Thus one ends up with a tree that takes up too much space and results in the appearance of an overgrown bush. That’s not bad practice, if you own the Phoenix Park…
When trees are quite young – I start pruning them early because I want movement of light through them. I want them [in theory] like a telegraph pole and then to start to produce foliage above that point. For fruiting trees this would be extremely different but they generally should not grow so tall and you also need to be able to reach the fruit. For a while they will look a little ‘scrawney’ but long term wise – it is the best thing to do.
The reality is also that if the mass/ weight above which the branches start – is greater than that below – then eventually it will not be supported by that below; the branches therefore will shed weight [more a theory of gravity] and the tree will naturally drop limbs. Imagine giving a ‘jockey back’ to ten people and trying to walk – they will start to fall off or you will be brought down! So in ‘crown raising’ early on, a thicker girth [the width of the stem] is encouraged; one which will support the branches above and inevitably less work of a chainsaw like nature will be required later on. It is I suppose training a tree rather than solving an issue.
I should therefore need nothing more than my secateurs for the first few years. Mine is a felco no. 30. The swiss [made] army knife of the horticultural world. Very deserved of a mention because with these you can replace every single piece individually – when the spring goes – one replaces only the spring. I have this one about eight years now… as you can see!
My advice: choose the right tree for the right place with a good idea of what type or style you like. Buy good healthy disease free stock ensuring that it has its plant passport where necessary. Take good sound advice – don’t mind Mary Maginity and the book she bought that says…. Garden Centres and gardening groups [et cetera] will give more relevant free advice that is probably more specific to you and your exact requirement.