Climbing High: How to Become an Arborist

Unearth the secrets of tree care and climb towards a thriving career as an arborist, nurturing nature's giants.

If you are a true nature lover and don’t mind physical hard work, consider becoming an arborist.

An arborist is often referred to as a tree surgeon, and they play an integral part in our communities, managing and maintaining trees so that they do not pose a safety risk to buildings or people. Arborists are vital to our environment, ensuring the healthy growth and sustainability of our forests and urban green spaces.

Being an arborist is far from a leisurely stroll in the park. It necessitates a profound grasp of botany, a genuine concern for the environment, and a level of physical endurance seldom expected in other occupations.

What does it mean to be a professional arborist? How does one get started? What should someone expect from this fascinating career?

Let’s branch out and discover the answers to these questions.

An In-depth Look at the Role of an Arborist

Daily Duties and Responsibilities

Variety! No two days are the same. It depends on the season, weather, location, and types of trees or shrubs. 

Working on Tree Health

Some days, you will prune tree branches to shape or nurse the appearance of more mature trees. Often, you will diagnose and treat diseases or pests. This will preserve the tree’s life and assist the surrounding ecosystem.

Labor-Intensive Tasks

To accomplish these tasks, you may need to use ropes and harnesses to climb tall trees, or you may need to manipulate power tools to trim or cut trees. Lastly, it is crucial to prevent injuries and property damage by detecting dangerous tree conditions and implementing appropriate measures. 

The Importance of an Arborist’s Role in Conservation 

Becoming an arborist isn’t a profession but more of a calling. They are instrumental in uniting the love of the outdoors with a loyalty to nature’s symbiosis. Caring for trees contributes to a healthier environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Trees also provide shade, offering an escape from the heat.

Breaking Down the Types of Arborists

Residential Arborists

As the name suggests, a residential arborist primarily serves homeowners and residential properties. Planting and maintaining trees, pest control, or disease outbreaks are part of the job because the goal is to create aesthetic value and optimal tree growth.

Commercial Arborists

As with residential arborists, commercial arborists cater to business properties, such as office complexes, retail spaces, and more. It is often necessary to maintain these settings externally by maintaining their lushness, vibrancy, and inviting appearance.

Utility Arborists 

On the flip side, utility arborists often collaborate with energy providers and various utility firms. These positions are fascinating because they underscore the intricate relationship between the natural environment and human-built infrastructure. Individuals in this profession safeguard power lines from tree interference, necessitating routine pruning and proactive tree maintenance to prevent disruptions and harm.

Municipal Arborists

City arborists tend to trees in parks, city streets, and other public spaces. Moreover, it contributes to conservation efforts and enhances the city’s green spaces. 

Research Arborists

Arborists who conduct research contribute to a better understanding of tree biology and better tree care practices. A major focus of this field is studying the genetic makeup and health of trees and their resilience to disease. Arborists’ insights directly influence the decisions and practices of other types of arborists, making them vital to our profession. 

The Journey to Becoming an Arborist: Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming an arborist involves a thoughtful process, combining formal education, practical experience, and certification. 

Start with Basic Education

  • High school education – Emphasis on biology, geography, and chemistry
  • Obtain Higher Education – Earning a degree in forestry, horticulture, environmental science, arboriculture, or landscape design

By taking coursework in tree health, you will gain a deeper understanding of disease prevention and the impact of environmental changes on tree health.

Gain Practical Experience

Internships – Provides practical experience

Part-time work in a nursery or park – Real-world experience is priceless

Earn Certified Arborist Credential

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers six certification options depending on your specialization and career goals. They are:

  1. ISA Certified Arborist®
  2. ISA Certified Arborist Utility Specialist™
  3. ISA Certified Arborist Municipal Specialist®
  4. ISA Certified Tree Climber
  5. ISA Certified Tree Worker Aerial Lift Specialist®
  6. ISA Board Certified Master Arborist®

Continuous Learning

Stay current in arboriculture through workshops, webinars, and advanced certifications like ISA. Continuous learning sets you apart in the field.

Educational and Training Institutions for Aspiring Arborists

Recommended Schools and Programs

Consider schools that offer environmental science, forestry, or horticulture programs to get started on your educational journey.

Although each program has a unique focus, it will help students understand plants, trees, pests, and diseases and how they should be cared for and maintained.

Continuing Education and Training Programs

The arboriculture field requires continuous learning. Ensure you partake in training programs, seminars, workshops, or further education to maintain your skills and keep them up to date.

  • International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)

Several educational materials, webinars, online quizzes, and podcasts are available through ISA. To stay current on industry developments, research, and best practices, it’s an essential resource.

  • Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA)

Arboriculture-related courses are available through the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), including its Tree Care Academy. Furthermore, conferences and workshops offer valuable networking and learning opportunities, such as the ISA Annual International Conference and Trade Show.

Tracing the Career Path of an Arborist: Growth and Opportunities

Entry-Level Positions

Most careers begin at the entry level. It allows you to get your feet wet through basic tree care and maintenance. These positions are available at local parks, where your pruning and disease control skills can be perfected.

Potential for Advancement

Tree surgeons can take on more advanced roles, such as tree care supervisors and lead arborists, as they gain quality experience and pursue further education and training. 

Specializations and Niches

Based on:

  • Particular tree species
  • Specific diseases
  • Unique management techniques
  • Urban landscapes. 

The Working Life of an Arborist: Various Work Environments

City or Town Tree Departments

Do you have an interest in the public sector? Great because public trees and historic landscapes are cared for by city or town tree departments, parks, conservation districts, and botanical gardens.

Contractors or Utility Companies

It can be challenging to work in such fast-paced environments. Many arborists’ work involves “line clearance,” ensuring that trees do not interfere with power lines or pose a risk to people. 

Commercial Tree Care Companies

Tree planting, pruning, disease management, and safe tree removal are just some of the services these companies provide. By joining such a company, you can utilize your technical skills and participate in innovative pest control and disease management solutions. 

Self-Employment or Consulting Careers

Tree and landscape consultants provide homeowners, developers, and municipalities with valuable tree and landscape advice. Your work also benefits the environment by reducing carbon dioxide, conserving water, and helping to prevent soil erosion. Taking care of trees also helps to preserve wildlife habitats and provide important food sources for birds and other animals.

Decoding the Earning Potential: How Much Does an Arborist Make?

Your earnings as an arborist will be affected by several factors, such as your experience level, the region you work in, and the company and industry you work for.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • The range typically falls between $47,916 and $59,381

Many arborists start their tree service businesses. There may be higher earnings if an entrepreneur takes this route, but it may require additional business experience and business acumen.

Unraveling the Perks: The Benefits of Becoming an Arborist

Job Satisfaction

Being an arborist provides great job satisfaction because you are not only doing something you take pride in, but your work benefits the community through your conservatory efforts.

Your work directly contributes to making our world more sustainable and greener. You make a daily difference, improve communities, and safeguard the environment.

Opportunities for Growth

Professional growth and development are abundant in arboriculture, a dynamic and constantly evolving field. The possibilities are endless, whether you want to expand your knowledge through continuing education or branch into specialty areas like tree risk assessment, vegetation management, or urban forestry. 

Contributing to Conservation

Arborists also have the reward of contributing to conservation when making decisions that directly affect trees’ and urban forests’ health and future.

Peering Into The Future: The Job Outlook for Arborists

Arborist careers enjoy steady demand due to landscaping’s growing importance. Economic downturns don’t greatly affect this field, as tree care remains essential despite economic conditions. Demand varies by location, with densely populated or storm-prone areas requiring more arborists, like Florida after hurricanes.

Exploring Related Careers: Jobs Similar to an Arborist

Arboriculture may be your only passion, or you may be looking for a job to complement your work as an arborist.


Forestry is similar to arborism, except that you’ll manage entire forests instead of focusing on individual trees. In addition to developing plans for planting and growing new trees, you may monitor the trees for disease and ensure that wildlife, recreation, and wood products are conserved in the forest. Those who enjoy both science and trees can enjoy careers in forestry, and playing a frontline role in forest sustainability can be very rewarding.

Environmental Scientist

The love of the environment that motivates your interest in arboriculture might also motivate you to become an environmental scientist. Working on a broader scope in this role allows you to address the whole ecosystem. You can identify, reduce, and eliminate pollutants and other health hazards as part of your job. This is a great career choice if you want to positively impact local, regional, or global ecosystems on a large scale. 

Landscape Architect

Becoming a landscape architect could be a great choice if you are creatively inclined and appreciate the aesthetic value trees bring to landscapes. You would design beautiful outdoor spaces using your knowledge of trees, shrubs, and other plants, a skill that complements arborists’ work perfectly.

Conservation Scientist

You need a comprehensive understanding of science to work as a conservation scientist. You might be responsible for managing forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources. This career could be exciting for arborists who love the broader aspects of tree work and landscape conservation.

Final Thoughts

Embarking on the journey to become an arborist is a remarkable choice that nurtures our natural world and enriches our lives. As guardians of the earth’s green giants, arborists play a pivotal role in preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems, ensuring cleaner air, and enhancing the beauty of our surroundings. This noble profession offers boundless opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment, allowing individuals to cultivate expertise, foster connections with nature, and leave a lasting legacy for generations. So, if you’re passionate about trees, conservation, and making a tangible difference in the world, consider the path of an arborist—it’s a calling that both nature and your heart will deeply appreciate.

Next Steps

The journey to becoming an arborist deserves expert guidance. Our career coaches help you discover your potential and reach your goals. 

Contact us today to learn how you can make a meaningful impact as an arborist, grow your skills, and achieve your dreams.

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