Arborist Job Description
Arborists plant, maintain, and remove trees and other woody plants using their knowledge of tree anatomy and biology along with climbing and trimming skills. Arborists can work for a wide variety of clients and organizations, ranging from landscaping companies to local or state governments. This is a hands-on role, requiring a high degree of physical strength and dexterity to climb and prune trees or remove diseased or potentially dangerous trees. While arborists may begin their careers with no formal education, most attend school to learn about botany and arboriculture in order to make informed decisions about tree maintenance, planting, and removal.
Arborist Duties and Responsibilities
Based on postings that we examined, most arborists share several core duties:
Trim and Prune Trees
One of the foremost responsibilities of an arborist is trimming and pruning trees, shrubs, and other woody plants. Arborists frequently need to climb to a tree’s upper branches using ropes, harnesses, and ladders, and they use hand and power tools to remove branches. This aspect of the job requires thorough knowledge of how to trim trees to encourage healthy growth, along with the physical strength and dexterity to climb and move around a tree’s branches.
Arborists also prevent infestations and pest-related issues by applying pesticides to trees and shrubs. For this part of the job, arborists need to understand the potential risks and benefits of a particular type of pesticide and ensure that the pesticide they are applying will not have adverse effects on the surrounding environment. In some locations, arborists need special licensing to use pesticides.
Remove and Plant Trees
In many cases, arborists also need to remove problematic trees. For example, a tree that is threatening structures or power lines may need to be removed rather than trimmed to prevent damage or property destruction. Arborists also supervise plantings, ensuring that new trees have room to grow without damaging neighboring areas and that selected tree species will thrive in the surrounding environment.
Maintain Soil Conditions
In addition to caring for the trees, arborists also focus on maintaining soil conditions. This can include testing the soil’s acidity to make sure it is within an acceptable range for the tree type, as well as maintaining moisture levels through regular watering and ensuring proper drainage. If the arborist removes a tree, they may also need to backfill the area or prepare the ground for future planting.
Identify and Treat Tree Diseases
Arborists also use their knowledge of tree anatomy and biology to identify and treat tree diseases. In this aspect of the role, the arborist identifies symptoms such as blights and fungal infections and determines whether a particular tree can be saved. If the infection appears to be limited to a single tree, the arborist may remove it and treat the soil while also examining surrounding trees for indicators of disease.
Consult with Clients
Many arborists also provide consulting for homeowners, landscaping companies, and local governments on tree care and maintenance. These arborists prepare reports and provide advice and guidance on planting and tree placement, maintenance, removal, and disposal. They may also participate directly in the client’s tree maintenance, planting, and removal activities.
Arborist Skills and Qualifications
Arborists care for trees through regular trimming, pruning, and soil care. Most arborists have at least a bachelor’s degree and the following skills:
- Tree trimming – arborists should understand how to trim trees to promote healthy growth and prevent trees from damaging surrounding structures or utilities
- Soil management – soil health is central to maintaining healthy trees, so arborists should be familiar with balancing soil composition and maintaining correct moisture levels through watering and training
- Physical strength and dexterity – arborists frequently need to climb trees using ropes and harnesses, so they should have excellent upper-body strength and be dexterous enough to maneuver in and around trees
- Math skills – in many cases, arborists need to calculate trimming and tree removal activities to prevent damage or injury, so they should have some familiarity with math and physics
- Tree anatomy and biology – arborists also help diagnose diseases in trees and shrubs, so they should be knowledgeable about tree anatomy and biology in order to identify issues
Tools of the Trade
While arborists primarily work outdoors, they may also need to prepare reports using standard office equipment and software. While in the field, arborists need to use:
- Hand and power tools (pruners, chainsaws, trimmers)
- Disposal tools (mulchers)
Arborist Education and Training
Although there are no formal education requirements for this role, many arborists have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as biology, horticulture, or botany. Some schools also offer programs specifically focused on arboriculture that allow students to focus on tree care. Arborists can also enhance their employment prospects by achieving certification through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). There are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role, but most arborists begin their careers with some level of familiarity with tree care and botany.
Arborist Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes arborists as tree trimmers and pruners, although the duties of an arborist often go beyond trimming and pruning. According to the BLS, tree trimmers and pruners earned a median annual salary of $36,460 as of May 2017. The highest-paid ten percent of workers in this role earned more than $58,910 per year, while the lowest-paid earned less than $23,180.
While the BLS does not provide employment outlook information for tree trimmers and pruners, data from O*Net suggests that this field will grow at a faster-than-average pace of ten to 14 percent between 2016 and 2026.
We searched the web and found many resources if you’d like to learn more about working as an arborist:
International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) – The ISA is a professional and advocacy organization for arborists and other tree specialists, providing certification programs, industry news, and career development opportunities.
Arborists’ Certification Study Guide by Sharon J. Lilly – read this book to prepare for ISA certification examinations, with illustrated examples, key terms and concepts, and sample questions.
Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) – arborists can join the TCIA to find information on training, connect with other tree care professionals, and access educational resources.
The Tree Climber’s Companion: A Reference and Training Manual for Professional Tree Climbers by Jeff Jepson – this book focuses on standard and advanced tree-climbing techniques that arborists can use in their work, with additional information on throw lines, knots, and hitches.
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