How to Become an Arborist? [Step-by-Step Guide]

Do you love working alongside nature? Are you fascinated with improving the condition of trees in backyards and gardens? If yes, then pursuing your career as an arborist can be a good choice. 

Whether you have a passion for working with trees and shrubs or you have researched the earning potential in this sector, you need to follow specific steps to be an ISA-certified arborist

If you want to start a tree care company as an experienced arborist, this is the perfect guide for understanding the basics of pursuing this career.

What is an Arborist?

A trained professional with certification and license to operate with arboriculture approaches is called an arborist. Arboriculture is the process of applying standardized techniques to offer complete tree care solutions. 

Apart from standard trees, an arborist treats and cares for shrubs, perennial plants, and vines. People often refer to arborists as tree trimmers or tree surgeons responsible for pruning, fertilizing, and bracing the trees. They eradicate the growth of diseases and insects in all types of plants. 

The organizations that hire arborists include park authorities, golf courses, utility companies, and universities. The landscaping or tree care companies also hire arborists as their employees to cater to the needs of residential and commercial property owners. 

The role of an arborist is very crucial in the urban environment. They plan out the specific techniques with which any particular tree can be treated and preserved to grow safely. One must understand the job and acquire sufficient knowledge and skills to become an arborist. 

What does an Arborist do?

Arborists take charge of landscaping and scientific duties to maintain the optimal health of trees. In case of adverse tree health symptoms, they collect samples and test them to diagnose the root cause of the symptoms. 

Later, they take ideal measures to treat those tree problems with specified arboriculture techniques. They use safe pesticides for treating some of the critical tree diseases. Apart from that, the landscaping companies hire an arborist to work on assigned public or private tree care projects. 

Arborists cut away the renegade or dead branches that pose a risk to the utility lines, sidewalks, or roads. There are different specializations that a certified arborist can choose to pursue a career in. Instead, one can achieve certification for all the specializations to widen the scope of earning in this profession. 

Arborists possess the necessary stamina and strength to climb trees and cut down large infected limbs. Among all of the skills, these individuals also work in teams to execute large-scale projects. 

For some specific public or private projects, they are given the duty to anticipate how the growth of a tree will impact the surroundings. Communities hire independent arborists to provide shrubs, trees, and plants to the residential and public properties around the space. 

A part of this job demands an arborist to use ropes and harnesses to climb trees to reach their upper limbs. They trim the branches starting from the top and provide guidance on the further growth of any specific tree. 

They are trained to use all types of equipment and tools regularly, including tractors, chippers, trucks, sprayers, and power saws. A tree climber arborist carries the necessary tools to the upper limb and cuts down the low-hanging, obstructive or dead tree limbs. 

After cutting the limbs, they safely lower them using ropes, blocks, and tackle. Arborists then get rid of these limbs by feeding them to the chippers to haul them away. 

To help you better understand what an arborist does, here are the job duties that they are signed to perform:

  • Plan and care for trees
  • Inspect soil conditions
  • Prepare a landscaping plan
  • Clean up debris from the land
  • Manage the growing turf of shrubs and trees
  • Use mechanical equipment with proper skills
  • Track the maintenance of specific shrubs and trees
  • Instruct the landscapers with valuable tree care routines

Often people get confused between an arborist and a forester. They both are different professionals with varying job roles. A forester is a professional who manages the trees and cultivation in an entire forest, whereas an arborist deals with individual trees. Both professions need different skills to be experts in their respective fields.

How to Become an Arborist in 6 Steps?

If you want to become an arborist to either work independently or start your own landscaping business, then here are the steps to guide you through the process:

1. Complete the formal education

The employers and the licensing authorities expect you to have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Degree as formal education. Some arborists have higher qualifications, such as a bachelor’s degree in horticulture/forestry or an associate degree in environmental science. 

Getting a college or bachelor’s degree is optional for aspiring arborists to pursue this career. But having the degree in hand will increase your chances of getting a high-paying job, even at the beginner’s level. 

2. Apply for the state license

Seven states of the US require you to obtain an arborist license to operate independently or as a business in the state. California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Hawaii have different arborist licensing requirements. 

Check with the respective state authorities if you reside in these seven states, and apply for the license accordingly to be legal on your operational terms. 

In all of the other states, you are free to operate without any state license, but local licensing might be essential based on your specific services. 

Apart from that, you must also have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) if your specialization involves driving heavy vehicles such as tractors or trucks. 

3. Acquire on-job training 

In some states, getting a high-pay arborist job might be difficult right from the start, even with degrees and licenses. Therefore, getting an entry-level job or an internship in some tree care company is better. Gain experience under the guidance of professionals will help you advance in your career. 

You can also join a tree care academy for a specialized training course in arboriculture. Irrespective of your choice, it is important for you to follow the leader’s instructions and obtain the necessary tree care skills to do the respective jobs. 

When you gain experience through on-job training, you can identify trees and diagnose diseases better. 

4. Understand the safety guidelines associated with an arborist’s profession

If you want to become an arborist, you should know a few more things other than the licenses and qualifications. Safety is of utmost priority when you are working in any profession in the tree care industry. 

Arborists, in specific, interact with many hazardous situations throughout their course of work. Therefore, it is advised that an arborist must learn the safety measures, risk-free working strategies, and first aid to deal with unwanted circumstances at the job site. 

Arborists must use all sorts of protective gear before using any power tools, machinery, or fertilizers. Such equipment and essentials might injure you or cause skin reactions, so using the right protective gear at work sites is important. 

Learn the safety protocols while you are climbing tall trees that are engaged with power lines. And in the end, study the poisonous plants and wild insects while working in the wild. 

5. Get your International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certification

To be a certified arborist and have the upper hand among the employers, you can obtain the ISA certification in different specializations. You will have to demonstrate your knowledge in a specific area of arboriculture. The arborist certification program by ISA is categorized into different aspects or specializations of arboriculture, which include:

  • ISA certification for arborist municipal specialist
  • ISA certification for arborist utility specialist
  • ISA certification for tree worker climber specialist
  • ISA certification for tree worker aerial lift specialist
  • ISA board certification for master arborist

The eligibility criteria to apply for this arborist certification includes:

  • At least three years of experience working in a natural environment as a tree consultant, plant healthcare technician, or landscaping professional. (OR)
  • Associate arborist degree with a minimum of two courses directly related to arboriculture and two years of work experience in the field. (OR)
  • Bachelor’s degree with a minimum of four arboriculture courses and one year of work experience. 

As per ISA, one year of experience is equivalent to 1795 working hours. So, do your calculations on the working hours that you need on paper to be eligible to apply for these certifications.

6. Work independently or start an arborist business

As you have all the necessary certifications, licenses, and work experience to operate as an arborist, you can either get employed by a high-paying organization or start your own business. 

If you are starting your own business, you can take up large or small-scale residential and commercial projects to earn big profits. As you have the expertise on what skills an arborist must have to offer quality service output, you can hire the best employees on your team. 

Along with arborist skills, you might also have to learn business management skills as an add-on to conduct your business operations seamlessly. 

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Jobs and Certified Arborist Salary 

Currently, there are more than 8,444 arborists working under employment in the US. The government industry pays the most to arborists as most public properties are under government supervision. So, maintaining trees and keeping the surroundings safe from accidental uprooting is quite important for the government to look after. Hence, they hire arborists on demand. 

The average annual salary for arborists is $36,645. San Francisco, CA’s arborists get the maximum annual average salary of $42,286. The beginner-level salary of an arborist is $25,000. 

The arborists are more likely to work in US private companies than the Government organizations, as they have more vacancies for arborists than what the Government offers. 

Apart from jobs, most arborists are now starting their tree trimming, landscaping, or tree care businesses to turn their skills into maximum profit. There are currently 125,065 tree trimming businesses operating in the US with a good profit cycle. 

Hence, this explains the potential of this industry for aspiring arborists to work as an employee or run a business. 


The arborists work mostly for tree nurseries, landscaping companies, private lands, government lands, and utility companies in rural and urban environments. You will be responsible for maintaining trees and promoting biodiversity in less-developed areas.

The skills you must have to pursue your career as an arborist include

  • Bachelor’s degree in biology, horticulture, or botany
  • Work experience as an arborist 
  • Advanced knowledge of tree anatomy and tree biology
  • Advanced knowledge of fertilizer composition and soil biology
  • Skills to use climbing equipment.
  • Skills to use power tools such as hand saws or power saws and operate heavy machinery
  • Must have a commercial driving license
It is a 3.5-hour-long examination with 200 multiple choice questions (MCQs). You will have to pass the examination to obtain the certification.

FieldCamp Can Help Streamline Your New Arboriculture Business

As an arborist, you have all the skills essential for executing tree trimming and care services. You are ready to take up any complex arborist job in the field, but when running a business, you must have optimal management knowledge to streamline business operations. 

FieldCamp is an arborist software that can help you streamline your business management tasks. When you receive any arborist job request on the portal, you can schedule the service and assign an arborist from your team within a few clicks. 

You can keep track of your employees’ availability and check the progress of a particular service they are assigned to. The customers will get immediate notification on an arborist being assigned to their project. 

You can send price quotes to the customers through their provided contact details and also send them invoices on the job site. Following that, you can store all the customer details on FieldCamp to offer a personalized service experience to repeat customers. 

To learn more about FieldCamp, we have a 7-day FREE trial with accessibility to all the features. You can test the full potential of FieldCamp and how it streamlines more than 90% of your business tasks. 

Author Bio

Gaurang Bhatt

Gaurang Bhatt is a techie in himself with an ability to solve problems technically and present solutions in the form of a product. He is one of the pioneers to curate FieldCamp with his 15+ years of knowledge and expertise in providing solutions to home service industries. Gaurang aims to overcome challenges faced by service business owners through software solutions and blogs.