How to Become an Arborist
If you loved climbing trees as a kid, enjoy working with your hands, and appreciate the great outdoors, then a career in arboriculture might be for you.
Often referred to as tree doctors, arborists play an important role in caring for the health of our valuable trees. And as cities and municipalities look to develop more green spaces, the demand for arborists is set to increase by 7% over the next ten years.
If you’re interested in a career as an arborist—you’re in luck. Getting started in this promising industry is easier than you’d think.
What Does an Arborist Do?
From fighting climate change to providing clean oxygen, the benefits of healthy trees are virtually endless.
Arborists play an important role in caring for and protecting the earth’s greatest assets. They are tasked with both improving the appearance of the plant and caring for its overall health.
Some common tree service technician responsibilities include:
- Prepare soil, plant, and mulch new trees
- Use tools such as chainsaws or handsaws to prune or trim trees
- Climb trees to remove dead, diseased, or damaged tree limbs
- Identify sick, damaged, or dead trees
- Treat diseased trees and remove trees that are dead
- Improve a trees overall appearance with trimming and pruning
- Fertilize and spray trees with pest problems
- Trim trees that obstruct power lines
- Perform regular maintenance on equipment such as chippers, power saws, and sprayers
- Follow safe work practices
What is an Arborist’s Salary?
The mean annual salary for a full time arborist is $44,040.
For tree service professionals, their annual salary can range from $27,510 to $64,520.
4 Steps to Becoming an Arborist
Before you can start planting trees and start your tree service business, you need to know how to become an arborist.
There are no set requirements in becoming a tree service technician—you’ll have to find the career path that works best for you.
Here are a few ways you can get started on your journey to becoming an arborist:
1. Gain on-the-job experience
The easiest way to get started on your path to becoming an arborist is to get your hands dirty. Many lawn care companies, landscaping businesses, tree care companies, and even nurseries offer on-the-job training for aspiring tree service technicians.
You’ll learn how to use the right tools, prune and identify trees, and learn about tree maintenance.
2. Learn tree climbing techniques
Constantly climbing and pruning trees makes being a tree doctor a physically demanding job. Learning a few basic tree climbing techniques can prolong your career and help keep you safe.
Check out the Climbing Arborist online for free tree climbing tutorials, as well as knot tying, rigging, and rope splicing techniques. When you’re ready to start your career, visit the Jobs portal to search for open positions in your area.
3. Find a company or an association offering training or internships
Finding an internship is a great way to get hands-on, practical experience. You’ll learn the ins and outs of the trade and gain a great reference for future employment.
Here are a few options to get you started:
- The Bartlett Tree Experts offers 8 to 12 week paid internships to give students or graduates a hands-on introduction to a career in arboriculture.
- Seed Your Future provides a useful directory of Arboriculture internships across the United States.
- The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) offers a variety of training programs and webinars to further your industry knowledge and tree trimmer skills.
4. Get your Bachelor’s degree
While not required to become an arborist, some employers prefer hiring arborists with formal education. Attending college or university will help you learn both the theoretical and practical side of the industry.
Get a Bachelor degree in one of the following fields:
- Environmental Science
You’ll learn about soil science, plant pathology, and forest ecology which will only help you in your career as a tree care professional.
Getting Your Arborist License
Aspiring tree surgeons can get their arborists certification through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Although it’s not a requirement for most arborist roles, investing in an industry accreditation has benefits.
Before you can take the ISA certified arborist exam, you’ll need to acquire a minimum of three years of relevant experience. This could be from on-the-job training, formal education, or a mix of both.
The exam has a total of 220 scenario-based questions. To pass the exam, you’ll need to score a 76% or higher.
The ISA exam covers the following ten sections:
- Soil management
- Identification and selection
- Installation and establishment
- Safe works practices
- Tree biology
- Tree pruning
- Diagnosis and treatment
- Urban forestry
- Tree protection
- Tree risk management
Once certified, your ISA certification is valid for three years.
While becoming a certified arborist is the most popular ISA credential, other ISA certifications include:
- Board Certified Master Arborist
- Certified Arborist Utility Specialist
- Certified Arborist Municipal Specialist
- Certified Tree Worker Climber Specialist
- Certified Tree Worker Aerial Lift Specialist
- Tree Risk Assessment Qualification
A Board Certified Master Arborist is the highest designation an arborist can achieve. Just to qualify for the exam certified arborists need formal education, experience, and related credentials.
Recommended Licences for Arborists
There are no set license requirements to become an arborist. However, depending on the job description some employers may require additional certifications or licenses.
These may include:
- Restricted Use Pesticides Certification (RUPs)
If your tree service technician job requires you to apply restricted-use pesticides, you’ll need the right certification.
- Commercial Drivers Licence (CDL)
If your tree surgeon job requires you to drive a company truck to and from the worksite, you will need to get your commercial driver’s license.
Contact your state licensing bureau or local Department of Motor Vehicles to complete your CDL application and requirements.
Ready to Start Your Arborist Business?
If you’re ready to be your own boss, starting a tree service business may be your next big career move. With the right experience, a good arborist business plan, and the right arborist apps, you’ll be building your tree empire in no time.
But starting a business isn’t your only option, of course. It’s a great idea to get more experience in arboriculture by working for another established tree care professional first. That way you can learn the ropes and work your way up to opening your own business.