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The Job of an Arborist

An arborist is a person who specialises in the care of trees. This includes planting, pruning, and removing dead or diseased trees. 

They are also responsible for maintaining healthy tree populations, and they often advise communities on how to create good urban forest management plans. 

Arborists work in many different environments, such as private estates or public parks. They may also work with schools to teach children about caring for trees! 

The job of an arborist is to care for trees. They can be hired by a property owner or the municipal government to provide care for public trees and often work in forestry departments at universities. 

The term “arborist” comes from Latin, meaning “tree doctor.” Arborists will study how plants grow, identify specific species of plants, diagnose diseases or issues with a plant’s health and recommend appropriate treatments on the basis of their findings.

The job of an arborist is a difficult and challenging one. However, it’s also rewarding in many ways. The beauty of the trees that they are caring for is always there to bring happiness and joy into their lives. It’s not just about taking care of the trees; it’s about preserving nature as well.

Arborists vs. Tree Trimmers

It’s a common misconception that tree trimmers and certified arborists are one in the same, but not all tree care services are created equal when it comes to planting, pruning, and caring for your trees. In fact, there are several important distinctions between certified arborists and tree trimmers that every property owner should understand. 

While both typically offer tree pruning and planting and removal services, only arborists are actually trained and educated to protect tree health and properly care for and plant trees.

Advantages Of Working With An Isa Certified Arborist 

Education: Tree Health & Local Species

Certified arborists must complete a rigorous certification program with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and pass a demanding exam. As part of their training, they receive education in tree biology and an understanding of proper growth patterns and ideal climates for optimal tree health. 

Unfortunately, treelimited local species knowledge trimmers without an ISA certification often lack formal tree biology and disease training and have limited knowledge of local species.

Training: Tree Pruning & Planting Techniques

The health, appearance and lifespan of a tree depends largely on how it is planted and pruned. Certified arborists are trained to plant trees at correct depths and provide ideal growing conditions for saplings. 

They also receive extensive training in proper tree pruning techniques and use ANSI A300 tree cutting standards to remove dead branches, stimulate growth and promote tree health.

Tree trimmers without an ISA certification may not know the proper depth for planting trees of different species, or they may over-prune, both of which can damage and even kill otherwise healthy trees.

Safety: Tree Hazard Assessment

Certified arborists are trained in tree hazard assessment and can often identify signs of disease or decay even before they are visible. In addition, they are qualified to assess the risk potential of personal injury and property damage and are trained to wear personal protective equipment and perform all work under strict safety guidelines. 

Tree trimmers without an ISA certification may not be able to identify risk factors, or they may fail to use proper safety procedures, potentially causing injuries and damage. As a result, many commercial property owners now require that only certified arborists handle their tree care services in order to reduce liability issues.

Certification: Tree Protection Plans

Only certified arborists have the ability to guide the protection of trees during land development. In fact, many municipalities now require that a certified arborist is consulted during construction projects. 

Certified arborists are trained to evaluate existing trees on a job site and work with the developers, civil engineers and landscape architects to create a tree protection plan. 

Unlike tree trimmers without an ISA certification, certified arborists can also make site-appropriate tree planting and pruning recommendations that add beauty, value and economic benefits to a site.


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An arborist, tree surgeon, or (less commonly) arboriculturist is a professional in the practice of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants in dendrology and horticulture.

Arborists generally focus on the health and safety of individual plants and trees rather than managing forests or harvesting wood (forestry or silviculture). An arborist’s scope of work is therefore distinct from that of either a forester or a logger.

Scope of work

In order for arborists to work near power wires, either additional training is required, or they need to be certified as a Qualified Line Clearance Arborist or Utility Arborist (there may be different terminology for various countries). There is a variety of minimum distances that must be kept from power wires depending on voltage, however, the common distance for low voltage lines in urban settings is 10 feet (about 3 metres).

Arborists who climb (as not all do) can use a variety of techniques to ascend into the tree. The least invasive and most popular technique used is to ascend on rope. There are two common climbing methods, Single Rope System (SRS) and Moving Rope System (MRS). In addition, when personal safety is an issue, or the tree is being removed, arborists may use ‘spikes’ (also known as ‘gaffs’ or ‘spurs’) attached to their chainsaw boots with straps to ascend and work. Spikes wound the tree, leaving small holes where each step has been.

An arborist’s work may involve very large and complex trees or ecological communities and their abiotic components in the context of the landscape ecosystem. These may require monitoring and treatment to ensure they are healthy, safe, and suitable to property owners or community standards. 

This work may include some or all of the following: planting; transplanting; pruning; structural support; preventing, or diagnosing and treating phytopathology or parasitism; preventing or interrupting grazing or predation; installing lightning protection; and removing vegetation deemed as hazardous, an invasive species, a disease vector, or a weed.

Arborists may also plan, consult, write reports and give legal testimony. While some aspects of this work are done on the ground or in an office, arborists who perform tree services and climb the trees with ropes, harnesses, and other equipment. Lifts and cranes may be used too. 

The work of all arborists is not the same. Some may just provide a consulting service; others may perform climbing, pruning and planting, while others may provide a combination of these services.


Arborists gain qualifications to practice arboriculture in various ways, and some arborists are more qualified than others. However, experience working safely and effectively in and around trees is essential. 

Arborists tend to specialise in one or more disciplines of arboriculture, such as diagnosis and treatment of pests, diseases and nutritional deficiencies in trees, climbing and pruning, cabling and lightning protection, or perhaps consultation and report writing. 

All these disciplines are related, and some arborists are very well experienced in all areas of tree work, but not all arborists have the training or experience to properly practise every discipline.

Arborists choose to pursue formal certification, which is available in some countries and varies somewhat by location. An arborist who holds certification in one or more disciplines may be expected to participate in rigorous continuing education requirements to ensure continuous improvement of skills and techniques.

In Australia, arboricultural education and training are streamlined countrywide through a multi-disciplinary vocational education, training, and qualification authority called the Australian Qualifications Framework, which offers varying levels of professional qualification.

Government institutions, including Technical and Further Education TAFE, offer Certificate III or a diploma in arboriculture as well as some universities. There are also many private institutions covering similar educational frameworks in each state Recognition of prior learning is also an option for practising arborists with 10 or more years of experience with no prior formal training. It allows them to be assessed and fast track their certification.

In France, a qualified arborist must hold a Management of Ornamental Trees certificate, and a qualified arborist climber must hold a Pruning and Care of Trees certificate, both delivered by the French Ministry of Agriculture.

In the UK, an arborist can gain qualifications up to and including a master’s degree. College-based courses include further education qualifications, such as national certificate, national diploma, while higher education courses in arboriculture include foundation degree, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.

In the USA, a Certified Arborist (CA) is a professional who has over three years of documented and verified experience and has passed a rigorous written test from the International Society of Arboriculture. Other designations include Municipal Specialist, Utility Specialist and Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA). 

The USA and Canada also have college-based training, which, if passed, will give the certificate of Qualified Arborist. The Qualified Arborist can then be used to offset partial experience towards the Certified Arborist.

Tree Risk Assessment Qualified credential (TRAQ), designed by the International Society of Arboriculture, was launched in 2013. At that time, people holding the TRACE credential were transferred over to the TRAQ credential.

In Canada, there are provincially governed apprenticeship programs that allow arborists’ to work near power lines upon completion. These apprenticeship sprograms have to meet the provincial regulations (for example, to practise every discipline properly in BC WorkSafeBC G19.30), and individuals must ensure they meet the owner’s requirements of the power system.

Cultural practices

Trees in urban landscape settings are often subject to disturbances, whether human or natural, both above and below ground. They may require care to improve their chances of survival following damage from either biotic or abiotic causes. 

Arborists can provide appropriate solutions, such as pruning trees for health and good structure, for aesthetic reasons, and to permit people to walk under them (a technique often referred to as “crown raising”), or to keep them away from wires, fences and buildings (a technique referred to as “crown reduction”).

Timing and methods of treatment depend on the species of tree and the purpose of the work. To determine the best practices, a thorough knowledge of local species and environments is essential.

There can be a vast difference between the techniques and practices of professional arborists and those of inadequately trained tree workers who simply “trim trees”. Some commonly offered “services” are considered unacceptable by modern arboricultural standards and may seriously damage, disfigure, weaken, or even kill trees. 

One such example is tree topping, lopping, or “hat-racking”, where entire tops of trees or main stems are removed, generally by cross-cutting the main stem(s) or leaders, leaving large unsightly stubs. Trees that manage to survive such treatment are left prone to a spectrum of detrimental effects, including vigorous but weakly attached regrowth, pest susceptibility, pathogen intrusion, and internal decay.

Pruning should only be done with a specific purpose in mind. Every cut is a wound, and every leaf lost is the removal of some photosynthetic potential. Proper pruning can be helpful in many ways but should always be done with the minimum amount of live tissue removed.[citation needed]

In recent years, research has proven that wound dressings such as paint, tar or other coverings are unnecessary and may harm trees. The coverings may encourage the growth of decay-causing fungi. By cutting through branches at the right location, proper pruning can do more to limit decay than wound dressing.[citation needed]

Chemicals can be applied to trees for insect or disease control through soil application, stem injections or spraying. Compacted or disturbed soils can be improved in various ways. Arborists can also assess trees to determine the health, structure, safety or feasibility within a landscape and in proximity to humans. 

Modern arboriculture has progressed in technology and sophistication from practices of the past. Many current practices are based on knowledge gained through recent research, including that of the late Alex Shigo, considered one “father” of modern arboriculture.

Do Tree Surgeons Work In The Rain?

Tree surgery is a hazardous profession at the best of times and entails considerable danger however, adverse weather of any kind can increase this risk. So do tree surgeons work in the rain?

The health and safety of our tree surgeons and customers is a top priority for Prince Tree Surgery, and so if bad weather is likely to affect the ability of our employees to undertake their work in the proper manner, then a decision will be made to curtail work until the weather improves.

Generally, our tree surgeons will make a decision on whether it is safe to work on the day the work is due to take place. So, for example, if the weather is damp but not raining – or raining lightly with a chance of clearing up – then work will go ahead as planned. 

Similarly, if there are intermittent downpours but some periods of dryness, then generally, we will perform all ground-based work such as hedging and felling as normal.

Most tree surgeons will postpone any work if the downpours are continuous and there is little chance of the weather clearing. Some will carry out hedge trimming or finish off jobs that don’t require any climbing, but any work which involves limb walking or significant technical skills will definitely be abandoned.

As weather conditions go, snow is one of the most disruptive to tree surgery businesses as it’s too dangerous to climb and too cold to operate handheld tools effectively. Clearing up is also impossible due to ground-level snow cover. In these situations, we only ever perform emergency work.

Strong winds or gales are equally as troublesome for business as, again, the conditions are too risky for most tree surgery duties. In the event of lightning, all climbing and limb walking must stop for obvious health and safety reasons.

The unreliable Australian summer can disrupt tree surgery work, but we will do what we can when we can to complete jobs on time. In the unlikely event that the forecast is clear and it’s hot and sunny, all we need is a nice cup of tea to get us started!

List Of The More Common Positions You Will Come Across In The Tree Care Industry

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Grounds person – is where the majority of people start out, people coming into the industry with no prior knowledge and those that come from college programmes.

A general job description would be: Working with a crew to help undertake the pruning or removal of trees and shrubs, operating a range of machinery including chainsaws, wood chipper, hedge trimmer, as well as hand tools used for pruning. 

Assisting in rigging operations by understanding the systems, controlling the rigging ropes and pull lines. Learning and have an understanding of compartmentalisation in trees and correct pruning practices to minimise exposure to decay.

Even if you have had some kind of tree climbing and pruning training, it is the kind of job where there are so many different aspects to learn about safety, machinery, techniques both on the ground and in the canopy, everyone needs to learn through experience.

Climbing Arborist – is a position that the majority of Arborists will do at some point in there career and is the most rewarding. Becoming an efficient climbing arborist definitely takes time, commitment, dedication, and listening and learning from others. This position will vary greatly from day today. 

As a climber, you will be required to undertake various types of pruning, e.g. deadwood removal, crown thinning, crown reduction, specific branch weight reduction, crown raising and clearance pruning, you will also perform tree removals of all sizes and degrees of difficulty that could incorporate various rigging systems.

There are also more specialised work specifications such as installing lightning protection in tall and/or important trees and implementing bracing/supporting systems within the canopy to reduce failure. As a climbing Arborist, you may be required to lead the crew if you are the most knowledgable or experienced.

Plant healthcare technician – this position focuses on keeping plants in the urban environment as healthy as possible due to most trees and shrubs having poor environments in comparison to their natural habitat.

Plant health care technicians will need to have a good plant identification, a knowledge of soils science, and an understanding of pests and diseases in their part of the world. 

This knowledge will then help them diagnose tree and shrubs issues and help put together a program to deal with these issues through various means, e.g., fertilisation, root invigoration, pesticide application, and identifying problems such as girdling roots.

Arborist Representative – this is often a position that those working on the tools will move into as their career progresses and they move into a less physically demanding role.

An Arborist Rep jobs is to meet with the companies clients, whether residential or commercial, listen to their tree care needs, or provide professional advice and come up with suggestions and maybe tree care management plans. 

This position is about having a great arboricultural knowledge and knowledge of the practical side (e.g. how the jobs are undertaken) and good communication and people skills.

Tree consultant – this position is much less practical and far more theory-based. As a tree consultant, you would be called out to inspect certain trees at your clients’ request for various reasons, e.g. their own personal worry, insurance companies, pre-development/construction. 

It is the consultant’s job to go through all aspects of the environment and the tree itself to ascertain its health and if it poses a potential risk, and if so, how high of a risk. From there, the consultant will recommend any work based on their results.

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