How to Become an Arborist: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Become an Arborist: A Comprehensive Guide

I have always loved trees. As a child, I would climb the oak tree in my backyard and gaze out over the neighborhood from its branches. I felt a deep connection to that tree, and caring for the natural world around me brought me joy. As I got older, I knew I wanted to turn this passion into a career. That’s when I discovered the field of arboriculture and began exploring how to become a professional arborist.

Arborists, also known as tree surgeons, are specialists in the care of trees. They promote tree health, treat diseases, manage pests, and prune trees for safety and aesthetics. Arborists require a mix of education, experience, and credentials to gain employment in the tree care industry. With urbanization leading to more trees in developed areas, demand for arborists is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of arborists will increase by 10% between 2020-2030, faster than the national average. That presents exciting opportunities for those looking to enter this meaningful vocation.

If you also feel called to care for our arboreal friends, read on. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the step-by-step process of how to become an arborist. You’ll learn about education requirements, gaining work experience, earning key certifications, honing your skills with on-the-job training, and staying current in the field. I’ll also share tips to help you thrive as an arboriculture professional. Let’s get started!

How to become an arborist?

How to Become an Arborist: A Comprehensive Guide

Starting a career as an arborist takes dedication and hard work. Here are the key steps to becoming a qualified tree care specialist:

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Complete your education

Formal education provides a foundation of knowledge for aspiring arborists. Many entry-level jobs require a high school diploma or equivalent. However, earning an associate or bachelor’s degree strengthens your credentials and job prospects.

Relevant majors include arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, urban forestry, and landscape architecture. Coursework covers topics like dendrology (study of trees), woody plant physiology, pest management, pruning techniques, safety practices, and more. Hands-on learning out in the field is also invaluable.

Gain relevant work experience

Classroom learning is just the beginning. Arborists must have extensive on-the-job experience caring for trees. Most arborist roles require a minimum of 3 years full-time experience to qualify for ISA certification (more on this later).

Look for entry-level positions like ground worker, tree climber trainee, plant health care technician, or municipal tree trimmer. Volunteer opportunities, internships, and apprenticeships also provide valuable hands-on training under experienced professionals.

Obtain necessary certifications

Earning professional credentials demonstrates your competence and enhances your employability. The most recognized certification for arborists is the ISA Certified Arborist designation. To qualify, you must meet the experience requirement and pass a comprehensive exam covering all aspects of arboriculture.

Other beneficial ISA certifications include Board Certified Master Arborist, Tree Risk Assessment Qualification, and Certified Tree Worker Climber Specialist. Some states also require arborist licensing.

Apply for state licenses (if required)

Licensing requirements for commercial arborists vary by state. For example, in Connecticut arborists who wish to advertise or perform arboriculture work on private property must apply for a state-issued Commercial Arborist License. Check regulations in your target region.

Acquire on-the-job training

Even after initial certification, training should continue throughout an arborist’s career. Some large tree care companies offer apprenticeship programs combining paid on-the-job learning and supplemental instruction. There are also many short courses, seminars, and workshops available through ISA chapters, state arborist associations, and vendors.

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Stay updated with industry trends and safety practices

Like any profession, arboriculture continually evolves. Reading trade publications, taking continuing education courses, and attending industry events allows you to stay current. A commitment to safety is also essential, as arboriculture involves hazardous equipment and working at heights. Proper gear, preparation, and technique can help prevent injuries.

Benefits of becoming a certified arborist

Pursing ISA certification and licensure (where required) provides many advantages:

Increased credibility and professionalism

The ISA Certified Arborist status proves your competence to employers, clients, and the public. Certified Arborists agree to uphold the ISA Code of Ethics, further increasing trust. Homeowners are often willing to pay more for the expertise of reputable, credentialed tree care professionals.

Enhanced job opportunities

There is growing demand for trained, certified arborists to fill roles across the tree care industry. ISA credentials make you stand out, and can lead to quicker hiring, increased pay and responsibility. Advancement to management, sales, or consulting roles may also be easier for certified arborists.

Access to resources and networking

ISA membership provides access to research journals, career development tools, and discounts on education. Local ISA chapters facilitate networking with peers across the tree care profession. Trade shows offer exposure to new equipment, techniques, research and more.

Tips for success in the arboriculture industry

Besides proper training, certain skills and traits can help you thrive as an arborist:

Develop strong communication skills

Arborists must communicate effectively with clients, coworkers, and government agencies. Listening skills are also key to fully understand a client’s needs. Clear documentation and record-keeping is essential as well.

Maintain physical fitness and manual dexterity

From lifting heavy branches to climbing trees with ropes and saddles, an arborist’s work is physically demanding. Proper strength, endurance, balance, and agility keep you safe and productive on the job.

Cultivate a passion for trees and nature

Arborists don’t view trees as “just a job”. The most successful approach their work with contagious enthusiasm and a “green thumb”. Genuine concern for the health of urban and natural forests leads to conscientious service.

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Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about pursuing a career in arboriculture:

What is the average salary of an arborist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for arborists as of 2020 was $41,000. Salaries range from $28,000 for entry-level jobs to over $80,000 for experienced arborists in managerial roles.

What are the main responsibilities of an arborist?

Arborists are responsible for assessing tree health, preventing and treating diseases, safely pruning and removing trees, planting new trees, communicating with clients, operating equipment, supervising crews, and maintaining records of tree care. More specialized duties may include risk assessment, tree appraisal, or consulting services.

Are there any additional certifications for specialized arborist roles?

Yes, the ISA offers advanced credentials for Utility Arborists, Municipal Specialists, and Tree Risk Assessment Qualification. There are also certifications for arborist equipment operation and tree climbing/removal techniques.

How long does it take to become a certified arborist?

It typically takes 3-5 years of on-the-job training to gain enough experience to qualify for ISA Certified Arborist status. However, related college degrees can reduce the experience timeframe. The arborist exam itself takes several hours and is offered periodically throughout the year.

What are the most common tools and equipment used by arborists?

Arborists commonly use hand pruners, chainsaws, chippers, aerial lift trucks, cranes, rigging ropes, climbing gear, safety harnesses, pesticides, fertilizers,measuring devices, and other specialized arborist tools and equipment.

How can I find arborist job opportunities in my area?

Check openings with local tree care companies, municipalities, parks departments, utility companies and commercial landscapers. Websites like the TCIA Job Board and Green Industry Jobs also list arborist job openings by location. Your state arborist association may also share job postings.

What are the key safety practices for arborists?

Proper use of safety gear like harnesses, hardhats, and eye protection is crucial. Maintaining equipment, cautious chainsaw handling, and drop zone management are also essential. Training on electrical hazards, aerial lifts, CPR and first aid prepares arborists to handle emergencies.


I hope this guide provided a helpful overview of how to embark on an enriching career as an arborist. It’s a profession that allows you to work outdoors with nature while making a positive impact in your community. With the right mix of education, experience, dedication and passion, you can turn your love of trees into a fulfilling vocation. Remember to always keep learning, connect with mentors, and stay safe on the jobsite. I’m excited for you to join this noble industry of arboriculture professionals working to expand and protect the urban and natural tree canopy!

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