What Is An Arborist, What Do They Do, And When To Hire One

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What is an arborist?

An Arborist, sometimes known as a tree doctor or tree surgeon, is a dedicated professional skilled in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining trees, shrubs, and other woody plant life.

Arborists champion the growth and health of trees, and they have committed themselves to mastering the intricacies of tree care, from planting to removal.

The Role of Arborists

what do arborists do
Arborists often use small top handle chainsaws

Arborists provide an array of services that center around the health and well-being of trees:

  • Diagnosis and Treatment: They assess the condition of trees, diagnose diseases, and offer actionable recommendations to treat and maintain them.
  • Tree Planting: Proper planting involves understanding the best species for a region, selecting the optimal location considering the tree’s eventual growth, and providing care during its early development.
  • Tree Pruning: Whether it’s due to disease, storm damage, aesthetic appeal, or safety concerns, there are specific techniques for tree pruning, and a skilled arborist can determine the best approach.
  • Tree Care and Maintenance: Trees require regular upkeep. Arborists ensure that trees are prepped for changing seasons, especially the harsh winter months, and can help trees recover from any resultant damage.
  • Tree Removal: While it might seem straightforward, tree removal is a complex process that benefits from an arborist’s expertise. They can safely and efficiently remove trees when necessary.

When To Use An Arborist

when to use an arborist
Arborists wear specialized climbing boots

The average homeowner might require the services of an arborist in various situations related to trees and woody shrubs on their property.

Some of the most common scenarios include:

  1. Tree Health Assessment: If a tree appears unhealthy, shows signs of disease, has fungus growth, or exhibits unusual leaf drop, an arborist can diagnose the issue and recommend treatments.
  2. Pruning: Proper tree pruning can be complex. An arborist can ensure that trees are pruned correctly to maintain their health, safety, and aesthetic appeal. This includes removing dead or diseased branches, shaping the tree, and promoting strong growth.
  3. Tree Removal: If a tree poses a risk due to decay, disease, or instability, an arborist can safely remove it, especially in tight spaces or near structures.
  4. Planting: When planting new trees, an arborist can advise on the right species for the location, considering local soil, climate, and space constraints. They can also provide guidance on proper planting techniques.
  5. Preventative Maintenance: Before storm seasons or harsh winters, homeowners might seek an arborist’s expertise to ensure their trees are resilient and less likely to cause damage.
  6. Pest and Disease Management: If trees or shrubs are infested with pests or show signs of disease, an arborist can identify the problem and suggest treatments or preventive measures.
  7. Emergency Situations: After storms or other events that cause tree damage, an arborist can assess and handle hazardous situations, such as dangling branches or partially uprooted trees. Chainsaw accidents most commonly occur in these situations.
  8. Consultation: For homeowners planning landscaping or construction projects, an arborist can provide insights on preserving tree health during the project and advise on potential impacts to existing trees.
  9. Value Assessment: Trees can add significant value to a property. An arborist can provide appraisals for insurance claims, disputes, or sale considerations.
  10. Tree Preservation: In areas with tree protection regulations, an arborist can help homeowners understand and comply with local ordinances, ensuring that protected trees are not unlawfully damaged or removed.

In essence, any time a homeowner has concerns, questions, or needs related to the trees on their property, consulting with a certified arborist can be beneficial. Their expertise ensures that trees are cared for in a manner that promotes their health, longevity, and safety.

Certified Arborists

A Certified Arborist isn’t just someone who loves trees. They have achieved a high level of training and knowledge in arboriculture, passing rigorous exams to earn their title.

To remain certified, they continuously hone their skills, updating themselves with the latest advancements in tree care.

A certified tree care specialist can also be expected to have a lot of experience, something that can’t be replicated by simply reading books or watching videos; hands-on practice in the field is invaluable.

Arborists Vs Other Professionals

names of tree care forestry workers
Arborists most often work in pairs or larger teams

Forester Vs Arborist:

While both deal with trees, a forester primarily manages forests, focusing on the overall health and productivity of a large group of trees, often for timber production.

An arborist, on the other hand, deals more with individual trees, ensuring their health, safety, and aesthetic value within urban settings.

Horticulturist Vs Arborist:

A horticulturist is concerned with the cultivation of plants, flowers, and vegetables. They deal with a broader range of plants, whereas arborists specialize in trees and woody shrubs.

Logger Vs Arborist:

While both professionals engage with trees, a logger’s main objective is to harvest timber for commercial purposes, often operating within expansive forested areas and using machinery to cut down vast numbers of trees.

An arborist, conversely, is more focused on the care, health, and maintenance of individual trees, typically within urban or residential settings, employing specialized techniques and tools to ensure the well-being of each tree.

Qualifications of an Arborist

What makes a good arborist?
Training and experience make a good arborist

To ensure you’re working with a top-tier arborist, it’s essential to check for certifications.

In the USA, the gold standard is the ISA Certified Arborist, awarded by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). These arborists have completed ISA training, passed their exams, and typically have several years of hands-on experience.

The journey to becoming a certified arborist varies depending on the specific route an individual takes.

Here’s a general breakdown:


There are formal education programs, such as a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree in arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, or a related field. However, a degree is not strictly necessary to become a certified arborist.


The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is the primary body that certifies arborists in the U.S. To be eligible for the ISA Certified Arborist exam, one of the following is required:

  • A 3-year work experience in arboriculture.
  • A 2-year degree in arboriculture and 2 years of work experience.
  • A 4-year degree in a related field and 1 year of work experience.


After fulfilling the education and experience requirements, candidates must pass the ISA Certified Arborist examination, which tests their knowledge in various areas of tree care.

Continuing Education:

Once certified, arborists must engage in continuing education to maintain their certification. The ISA requires certified arborists to earn a certain number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or retake the certification exam every three years.

In summary, the time it takes to become a certified arborist in the U.S. can range from three years (with full-time relevant work experience and no formal education) up to seven or more years (with a four-year degree and the required work experience).

The process can be faster or longer depending on an individual’s educational choices and the pace at which they gain relevant work experience.

Why Choose An Arborist?

Choosing a Certified Arborist ensures that you’re entrusting your trees to a knowledgeable expert.

While any individual can cut down a tree, an arborist understands the nuances, ensuring trees are removed or pruned without causing harm to surrounding trees, property, or individuals.

Remember, trees add value to properties and play a vital role in the environment. Hence, they deserve the best care possible. Whether you’re looking to plant new trees or care for the old ones, an arborist is your best bet.


Glossary of Tree Care, Arborial, Forestry, Logging, And Related Professions

How To Become An Arborist In The USA: Training, Certification, Work-Experience


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