What Do Certified Arborists Do?

Photo Courtesy: BartCo/iStock

Arborists are caretakers of trees. Their certification requires many different levels of study, training and relationship building with the land and the diversity of the forest. Their work requires a much deeper knowledge and understanding of tree science than one would expect. But what does a certified arborist really do? When would you need one, and where could you find one in your area? Here’s what you need to know about arborist basics.

What Is a Certified Arborist?

Arborist certification is a lengthy and in-depth course of study in the science of arboriculture (the cultivation of trees and shrubs). The ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) is a science-based worldwide network for the circulation and access of information in regards to tree health and the benefits of healthy trees in communities. To become a certified arborist is to become a qualified tree-care professional, to advocate for the crucial inclusion of trees in the development and sustainability of all societies. 

Just as humans need doctors, nurses and all other healthcare professionals devoted to the health of our bodies and minds, so too do trees. Arborists provide intentional, safe and science-based care to trees in order to generate healthy environments within which all other life on Earth can thrive. 

How to Become an Arborist

To become a certified arborist, one must embark on a lengthy and in-depth training program of three or four years with a recognized school for arboriculture. This training can be done through the ISA itself, but there are also several other options for arborist education in the U.S. as well as in many countries worldwide. 

Photo Courtesy: YinYang/iStock

There are several options within the training, depending on where your interests and goals lie. You can choose to move towards a more commercial, urban-based career as an arborist, or instead decide to work primarily in remote settings maintaining growth. 

There are also many options to choose from in how one plans to enter their career after completion of their training. The traditional “start from the bottom” path will have a student graduating their full course prior to working on-site. Others may opt for training programs that offer more practical experience along the way, such as a tree-climbing course being built into the framework of the initial education they choose. Of course, graduating with practical experience offers a fast track to an arborist’s career, but there are pros and cons to every program. 

The bottom line is that in order to succeed, one must be ready to get and passionate about getting very up close and personal with the trees, getting their hands dirty, and developing a close relationship with the inner workings of tree life as they relate to and complement human life in every community. 

What Do Arborists Do?

After certification, arborists offer a number of services that serve the relationship between trees and communities. Some of these include:

  • Cabling and Bracing, which adds support to trees with weak branches or ones that are growing in unstable conditions
  • Emergency Tree Care for trees subject to storm damage that may need pruning or removal
  • Planting with the goal that trees will reach maximum growth potential as well as create environmental, social and economic benefits to their surroundings throughout their lifetime
  • Preventative Maintenance defending against disease or unstable growing conditions.
  • Pruning to improve health, appearance and safety
  • Soil Aeration for improving root growth.
  • Tree Care to identify disease or threats to safety for trees or the environment
  • Tree Removal when a tree is dead or dying

When Do I Need an Arborist?

It is highly recommended to call an arborist to handle anything involving tree maintenance or care that seems beyond basic garden maintenance. 

Shredding machine being used to turn branches into chippings and sawdust in lumber yard

It is important to consult certified arborists in planting or maintaining trees in neighborhoods or urban spaces specifically, as heavily populated and built-up areas can have complex relationships with root systems underground. Pipelines, electricity, hydro-lines and many other facets of underground infrastructure need to be considered when planning city tree growth, as both the safety of the tree and of the building can be jeopardized without proper planning and awareness of curried networks. 

It is also important to consult an arborist when considering introducing new tree species to areas with established vegetation. Essentially, if you are not properly educated in arboriculture, it is always best to hire an arborist to ensure that these vital members of our communities are integrated effectively, safely and sustainably. 

How Can I Find an Arborist?

Regardless of whether you live in a large city or a small rural community, finding certified arborists should always be relatively easy. The Find an Arborist tool offered by TreesAreGood.org is useful worldwide, allowing you to add your country of residence into the search bar and then connect to all of the registered arborists in your area. 


They are often also easily searchable through many municipal websites. Rates may be different depending on geographical location, the size and nature of your project or needed service, the type of tree, the accessibility of the tree(s) in question, and other factors. Most websites offer the ability to send users a quote after a brief explanation of the requested work. Make sure to do some research as to the average rates and most respected arborists in your region.

Photo Courtesy: SolStock/iStock

Certified vs. Non-Certified Arborists

As always, the career of an arborist is determined by their passion for their work and their dedication to learning about their craft. In hiring a certified arborist, you can be much more confident your professional tree-caretaker has put in ample time and energy to developing a science-based and, most importantly, tree-safe approach to their services. Folks that have completed certification will have undergone many practical lessons and spent much time studying tree science and arboriculture.