How Do I Become a Certified Arborist?

Research what it takes to become a certified arborist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Environmental & Social Sustainability degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Arborist?

Arborists are experts in the health and maintenance of trees. These professionals possess an expansive knowledge base about trees and utilize this knowledge to ensure the health of individual trees. Related services might include cutting dead branches and other pruning procedures as well as diagnosing and treating diseases or parasites that afflict trees. If trees die or are felled by unexpected forces like heavy storms, the arborist may also remove the trees from properties.

The arborist can provide care services for a long duration, often planting trees and overseeing protective measures such as fertilization throughout a tree's lifespan. Arborists work in national parks, city streets, school grounds and conservation areas, among other locations.

Look over this table to learn about job duties and certification requirements:

Degree Required None
Certification Required International Society of Arboriculture certification; insecticide certification may also be necessary
Key Duties Tree care, including trimming, transplanting and shaping
Job Growth for Related Occupations (2018-2028) 9% (for all grounds maintenance workers)*
Average Salary (2018) $40,510 (for all tree trimmers and pruners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What's the Certification Process for an Arborist?

You can become more competitive as a professional arborist by obtaining voluntary certification from organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). To prepare for the ISA certification exam, you don't need formal education but you do need to review a list of topics covered on the test. The ISA publishes a booklet that helps get you started learning about the various topics covered on the test such as soil management, tree biology, pruning and urban forestry. The test consists of multiple-choice questions and you must score at least 72% to pass.

What Will I Do as a Certified Arborist?

As an arborist, you maintain, diagnose and monitor trees in public areas. You might remove tree branches, trim foliage or shape plants. You must know how to extract, transplant and move young saplings and bushes, as well as how to select appropriate trees for planting. You also improve the appearance, value and health of trees by preventing, diagnosing and helping treat common tree and shrub diseases. To perform routine tree maintenance, must have balance and physical strength; in particular, you need to be familiar with a variety of knots and rope-climbing techniques that help move you freely and safely at high elevations.

Once certified, you may be put in charge of advanced duties, such as preparing areas for routine maintenance work such as installing power lines, cables and roads. You may gain enough experience to oversee your own team, or take on additional administrative duties such as meeting with clients and creating contracts or completing paperwork for each job.

How Else Might I Improve My Career Prospects?

You may wish to become certified to spray insecticide on trees and bushes if your state or employer requires such certification to handle these poisonous chemicals. Since you often work in populated areas, you must be able to operate and prepare sprays and mist blowing equipment safely and in accordance to quality control methods. You must also learn about what bugs and insects are good or bad for the health of plants in order to correctly identify and treat infestation. You can learn more about these requirements through your state's agriculture department.

What are Some Related Alternative Occupations?

Landscaping and groundskeeping workers may execute many of the same tasks as arborists, including trimming, fertilizing, planting and ensuring the overall wellness of plants. While arborists primarily specialize in trees, the aforementioned workers' duties often involve a variety of plant types and grasses. If you are interested in the removal of harmful substances, consider that pest control workers perform some of the same parasite detection and treatment services as arborists; these individuals primarily work to remove threats from buildings and the surrounding environment, however.

In general, tree trimmers and planters are listed within building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, according to the BLS. Building cleaning workers like janitors and housekeepers also classify in this category. Each of these professions requires the development of sound skills but do not necessarily require a higher education. Certification may be desirable in some positions, though.

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