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What Is the Work of an Arborist?

If you are considering hiring an arborist for your property, it is important to know what they do. Read on to learn about the work of an arborist and how it can help improve your home or business. 

Arborists are experts in trees and other plants that grow above ground, working with them throughout their life cycle – from planting new ones to care during different seasons, all the way through pruning and removal when necessary. 

They also provide advice for homeowners on how trees can protect buildings from storms or flooding as well as keep landscapes healthy by providing shade. Arborists use a range of tools, including chainsaws and climbing equipment like ropes and harnesses – so be sure that you have permission before contacting one!

The best way to learn about the work of an arborist is to experience it. At first glance, you might consider the work of an arborist to be tedious and repetitive, with little variety in what they do day-to-day. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth; every day is different for an arborist because each tree has its own unique needs that require a specific approach.  

As such, there are many aspects of the job that must be considered before undertaking any tree care task. Whether it’s pruning, fertilising, or treating diseases with injections, all these tasks require careful consideration on behalf of the professional performing them (and now you know why).  

What Is An Arborist?

An arborist studies the structure and function of trees. Things like growth, cultivation, reactions to pruning, diseases, de-compartmentalization of decay, and all the various aspects of tree surgery.

Arborists are also interested in managing and studying individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other woody plants. Their job is more generalised than a tree service technician, as arborists care for the health of the entire tree, much like that of a family doctor.

What Does An Arborist Do?

Trees are everywhere and provide people with many benefits. They offer shade, produce oxygen, and provide food. They keep streets and cities cool and prevent soil erosion. They are also very pleasing to look at – people love having trees around them.

And just like a person, trees need proper care and nutrients to stay healthy. An arborist provides this kind of care. While trees provide a lot of benefits to people, if left untouched, they could cause damage. For example, they may overgrow onto power lines or people’s homes. They could also cause damage in severe weather which can lead to power outages and harmful collapses.

Here are some of the main ways that an arborist can maintain and care for trees: 

  • Tree Pruning – Arborists can determine what type of pruning is needed for individual trees. Pruning promotes healthy growth, rids the tree of any dead wood, and naturally protects the tree from insects. 
  • Tree Removal – As a last resort, an arborist may recommend that a tree is removed, though it is always carefully considered. An arborist has the proper skills and equipment to remove a tree safely and efficiently. 
  • Tree Planting – Planting a tree in the right place is important for the tree’s long term health. An arborist can determine the appropriate location for a tree and assist with planting. 
  • Emergency Tree Care – Storms and heavy winds can cause major damage to trees or individual limbs. If a tree is felled or its branches cause damage to houses or power lines, an arborist is called to make sure the situation is handled properly. 

An arborist provides other services such as insect control, fertilisation, cabling, aeration, and lightning protection. They can also identify any diseases or parasites, ensure trees have sufficient support and remove any damaging plants. An arborist can give consultations that will help determine when these services are necessary.

Proper tree care is an investment, as trees that are well cared for can add considerable value to a property. On the other hand, poorly maintained trees can be a liability, and pruning or removing large trees, in particular, can be dangerous work. As a result, many people work with and around trees. However, arborists are trained, certified and qualified in all aspects of tree maintenance and care, and adhere to the recommended Australian standards. 

Arborists offer professional advice on trees to ensure a safe and aesthetically pleasing result. They consider where trees are positioned, the surrounding area, and how to maximise their health. They are also knowledgeable about tree species and how they will react to different types of pruning. 

Arborists will evaluate the tree from all angles and ensure that anything they cut won’t jeopardise the safety of the tree, homes, property, or people. They will also ensure regrowth will be strong and healthy and not require constant maintenance.

Depending on their qualifications, arborists offer a variety of services, including:

  • Selecting and planting trees appropriate to the environment
  • Pruning young trees to ensure they grow into healthy, well-structured, mature trees
  • Undertaking the pruning, trimming, cutting, lopping, stump grinding and mulching of trees
  • Protecting and preserving trees during construction and development projects
  • Diagnosing and treating pests and diseases
  • Assessing and managing tree risk and removing trees if necessary
  • Offering consulting services and preparing arborist reports if necessary

What Is The Workplace Of An Arborist Like?

tree pruning

Arborists spend most of their time outside, working in all kinds of weather conditions. However, they are sometimes called out to emergency situations, resulting in long working hours, for example, when storms knock down trees, causing transportation blockages or power outages.

Working as an arborist is not a seasonal job. In fact, there is a lot of work to do in the colder months when trees go dormant, as that can be the ideal time to prune or cut back trees. Therefore, being physically fit and enjoying physical work is an important part of the job.

Arborist Job Description

Arborists plant, maintain and remove trees and other woody plants using their knowledge of tree anatomy and biology along with climbing and trimming skills. Arborists can work for a wide variety of clients and organisations, ranging from landscaping companies to local or state governments. 

This is a hands-on role, requiring a high degree of physical strength and dexterity to climb and prune trees or remove diseased or potentially dangerous trees. While arborists may begin their careers with no formal education, most attend school to learn about botany and arboriculture in order to make informed decisions about tree maintenance, planting, and removal.

Arborist Duties and Responsibilities

Based on postings that we examined, most arborists share several core duties: human or natural disturbances

Trim and Prune Trees

One of the foremost responsibilities of an arborist is trimming and pruning trees, shrubs, and other woody plants. Arborists frequently need to climb to a tree’s upper branches using ropes, harnesses, and ladders, and they use hand and power tools to remove branches.

This aspect of the job requires thorough knowledge of how to trim trees to encourage healthy growth, along with the physical strength and dexterity to climb and move around a tree’s branches.

Apply Pesticides

Arborists also prevent infestations and pest-related issues by applying pesticides to trees and shrubs. For this part of the job, arborists need to understand the potential risks and benefits of a particular type of pesticide and ensure that the pesticide they are applying will not have adverse effects on the surrounding environment. In some locations, arborists need special licensing to use pesticides.

Remove and Plant Trees

In many cases, arborists also need to remove problematic trees. For example, a tree that is threatening structures or power lines may need to be removed rather than trimmed to prevent damage or property destruction. 

Arborists also supervise plantings, ensuring that new trees have room to grow without damaging neighbouring areas and that selected tree species will thrive in the surrounding environment.

Maintain Soil Conditions

In addition to caring for the trees, arborists also focus on maintaining soil conditions. This can include testing the soil’s acidity to ensure it is within an acceptable range for the tree type, maintaining moisture levels through regular watering, and ensuring proper drainage. If the arborist removes a tree, they may also need to backfill the area or prepare the ground for future planting.

Identify and Treat Tree Diseases

Arborists also use their knowledge of tree anatomy and biology to identify and treat tree diseases. In this aspect of the role, the arborist identifies symptoms such as blights and fungal infections and determines whether a particular tree can be saved.

 If the infection appears to be limited to a single tree, the arborist may remove it and treat the soil while also examining surrounding trees for indicators of disease.

Consult with Clients

Many arborists also provide consulting for homeowners, landscaping companies, and local governments on tree care and maintenance. These arborists prepare reports and provide advice and guidance on planting and tree placement, maintenance, removal, and disposal. They may also participate directly in the client’s tree maintenance, planting, and removal activities.

Arborist Skills and Qualifications

Arborists care for trees through regular trimming, pruning, and soil care. Most arborists have at least a bachelor’s degree and the following skills:

  • Tree trimming – arborists should understand how to trim trees to promote healthy growth and prevent trees from damaging surrounding structures or utilities
  • Soil management – soil health is central to maintaining healthy trees, so arborists should be familiar with balancing soil composition and maintaining correct moisture levels through watering and training.
  • Physical strength and dexterity – arborists frequently need to climb trees using ropes and harnesses, so they should have excellent upper-body strength and be dexterous enough to maneuver in and around trees.
  • Math skills – in many cases, arborists need to calculate trimming and tree removal activities to prevent damage or injury, so they should have some familiarity with math and physics.
  • Tree anatomy and biology – arborists, also help diagnose diseases in trees and shrubs, so they should be knowledgeable about tree anatomy and biology in order to identify issues.

Arborist Education and Training

tree care services

Although there are no formal education requirements for this role, many arborists have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as biology, horticulture, or botany. Some schools also offer programs specifically focused on arboriculture that allow students to focus on tree care. 

Arborists can also enhance their employment prospects by achieving certification through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). There are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role, but most arborists begin their careers with some level of familiarity with tree care and botany.

Arborist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorises arborists as tree trimmers and pruners, although the duties of an arborist often go beyond trimming and pruning. According to the BLS, tree trimmers and pruners earned a median annual salary of $36,460 as of May 2017. The highest-paid ten percent of workers in this role earned more than $58,910 per year, while the lowest-paid earned less than $23,180.

While the BLS does not provide employment outlook information for tree trimmers and pruners, data from O*Net suggests that this field will grow at a faster-than-average pace of ten to 14 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Is An Arborist The Same As A Tree Lopper?

No – tree loppers “lop” trees by removing their branches and limbs. Due to a lack of training, they often don’t consider a tree’s position, its overall health or how it will regrow. This can result in undermining a tree’s stability and overall structure or leave it exposed to disease and insect infestation.

Inefficient pruning can also leave tree limbs poorly attached with a higher risk of breaking. In addition, it increases the risk of trees “failing” in strong winds or storms, leaving homes and properties vulnerable to damage and occupants at risk of injury. If an accident happens and the appropriate insurance isn’t in place, a home or property owner may be sued for allowing the work to be undertaken and fined if the tree lopper is injured.

What Are The Typical Practices Of An Arborist?

An arborist’s work may involve working with large and complex trees to ensure they are safe, healthy and meet the needs of property owners or community standards.

Trees in urban landscape settings are often subject to disturbances, both human or natural, above and below the ground. However, there is a vast difference between professional arborists who abide by the correct practices and techniques and inadequately trained tree workers whose job is to trim trees, not realising that they may be disfiguring, damaging, weakening, or even killing the tree. 

Arborists can provide appropriate solutions such as pruning trees for health, structure or aesthetic reasons, but there should be a specific purpose in mind. This is because every cut is a wound and every leaf lost is the removal of some of the tree’s photosynthetic potential. 

They also perform “crown raising” to permit people to walk under trees or “crown reduction” to keep trees away from fences, buildings and wires. The methods and timing of treatment depend on the purpose of the work and the species of the tree. Best practices, therefore, involve knowledge of both botany and the local environment.

Arborists also assist in diagnosing, treating and preventing phytopathology or parasitism, prevent or interrupt predation, and remove vegetation deemed hazardous.

While some aspects of their work are done in an office, much of it is undertaken using specialised vehicles to access trees or by tree climbers who use ropes, harnesses and other relevant equipment.

What Legal Issues Are Involved?

Depending on the location, several legal issues surround arborists’ practices, including public safety issues, boundary issues, and the community value of heritage trees.

Arborists frequently consult the facts for tree disputes between property owners. This includes the areas of ownership, the obstruction of views, nuisance problems, and the impacts of root systems crossing boundaries. 

They may also be asked to assess the value of a tree for insurance purposes if the tree has been destroyed, damaged, vandalised, or stolen.

In cities with tree preservation laws, an arborist’s evaluation may be required before a property owner can remove a tree or to ensure the protection of trees in development plans and during construction operations. 

Who Do Arborists Assist?

Arborists are engaged by a variety of individuals, business, and institutions, including:

  • Schools and educational institutions—services include enhancing aesthetics and dealing with tree-related safety risks like hanging branches, falling deadwood, raised roots and stumps and impacts to buildings and school surroundings. 
  • Builders, landscapers and property developers—services include tree care and management services for landscaping and construction services and assessing the health and condition of trees. 
  • Residents—services include trimming hedges, removing damaged or diseased trees, and advice on keeping trees healthy and well cared for. 
  • Body corporates—services include ensuring all common areas like gardens are well maintained and pose no risks to occupants. 
  • Governments and local councils—services include tree report services and advice on local laws and vegetation protection orders. They may also offer diagnostic services like soil analysis, moisture testing, pH testing, microbiology, tree value appraisals, hazard assessments, disease and decay detection, and tree maintenance plans. 

Do Arborists Need To Be Qualified?

Arborists need to have qualifications to practice arboriculture and experience working safely around trees. In Australia, arboricultural training is streamlined through a multi-disciplinary vocational training, education and qualification authority known as the Australian Qualifications Framework.

Tree climbers should possess a Certificate III in Arboriculture or higher qualifications. Companies offering these services should also adhere to the Australian Standard Pruning of Amenity Trees AS-4373-2007 and hold Quality Assurance Accredited with full insurances, including Public Liability cover.

How Do Arborists Climb Trees?

trees services arborist

Arborists use a “work positioning system” to climb trees, which differs from the harness systems used in rope-access jobs or rock climbing. Every healthy tree can be climbed, however, some trees can be slippery, snappy or prone to releasing resin, making climbing a sticky job! Typical warning signs arborists need to look out for include cracks, termite or ant activity and unusual swelling on a tree’s trunk.

It is all about basic geometry and physics, particularly with rope angles, in terms of climbing trees. This means keeping a rope above their head (not out to the side), so their weight is on their harness rather than the tree. They also work off a high point, which is the highest part of the tree they can safely be attached to.

Arborists use a variety of ropes, pulleys, harnesses, throw-lines and even spurs, but the most common method of climbing is with a prussik. This is a knot or friction hitch used to attach a loop around a rope. Climbers then pull down on the working line and push up on the prussik using a “pull-down, push-up” technique. 

Why We Need Trees

It’s hard to imagine a world without trees. But the benefits of trees extend way beyond their beauty, and trees planted today will offer benefits for years to come, including:

  • Communal. Trees accentuate views, provide privacy, reduce glare and noise, and even enhance architecture. They also bring people together for activities like walking and bird watching and enable children to discover their sense of adventure through climbing.
  • Environmental. Trees slow the rate of global warming, provide habitats for wildlife, and reduce flooding and soil erosion. They also serve as windbreaks, provide protection from rainfall, and moderate temperatures by shading areas and reflecting heat upwards from their leaves.
  • Health. Trees improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and the calmness we feel when we’re near them can reduce fatigue, stress and even decrease the recovery time after an illness or surgery.
  • Natural. Trees host complex microhabitats and offer food and shelter to a variety of insects, birds, fungi and lichen. The trunks of older trees also provide hollow cover for bats, possums, owls, parrots, snakes and frogs.
  • Economic. Trees can provide shad,e which lowers the cooling cost of home and reduces heating costs by acting as windbreaks. Research also shows that organisations benefit from happier, more productive staff if trees and parks are located close to their working environment.
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