What is an arborist and when and why do you need one?


When we bought our house last October, I couldn’t tell you much about the 12 trees that dot the property. Then, between the sewer side repair and a visit from the drainage contractor, a tree in our yard started distracting us from the pain in our wallets with its eye-catching sight. Its branches soon became covered with unfurled pale pink petals, exposing a bright center with multiple stamens. I gasped at the realization; sure, our house came with inglorious repairs, but it also had an apple tree!

I knew I needed a professional to help me keep this coveted asset and beneficial pollinating plant happy and healthy for years to come, but where do I start?

It can be difficult to know when to hire an arborist rather than a landscaper or gardener. But there are important distinctions between them.

Unlike landscaping professionals, arborists can obtain certification from an organization called the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). This credential ensures that ISA Certified Arborists are trained in the best techniques for disease prevention and diagnosis, proper pruning, insect control, tree removal, routine care and maintenance, and proper planting. While a landscape professional may make pruning decisions based primarily on aesthetic design, an arborist puts the long-term health of your trees and their surroundings at the forefront of their work.

Arborists certified by the ISA or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) must maintain their certification through continuing education courses and occasional workshops. As the ISA warns, the obligation to care for your trees rests entirely with the owner, and a trained arborist will know best when it comes to caring for your trees safely.

Why hire one?

There are a wide variety of reasons one may have for hiring an arborist, and your particular situation should dictate who you ask to help you with your trees. Here are some of the most common reasons to hire an arborist.

Routine maintenance. Trees require regular care and healthy trees add significant value to your property. An annual appointment with an arborist can ensure that your trees remain healthy for generations to come.

Emergency care or physical damage. Trees are damaged, and if handled improperly, a broken limb can put your home and tree at risk. Arborists are ready to respond to emergency care calls and can give your tree the best chance of survival.

Cultural issues. Common cultural practices, including lawn mowing, sprinkler systems, and application of fertilizer and mulch, can harm your trees. A certified arborist can identify problems in your regular landscape maintenance plan and set up your trees for success.

Topi Pigula/Wikimedia Commons

Certified arborists are required to undergo regular training.

Diagnosis and treatment of diseases or pests. Certified arborists have years of experience inspecting and evaluating trees. They can help control disease and pest problems before lasting damage sets in. If you notice major changes in any of your trees, be cautious and call a professional.

Tree plantation. Arborists can also prevent problems before they start by creating a plan for any new trees you hope to introduce to your property.

Tree removal. Tree removal can be a dangerous and messy job. Look for a licensed and insured arborist with experience in cutting down trees. Many offer free quotes.

How to find one

The ISA has created a user-friendly tool to help you find local certified arborists. Search by your location at treesaregood.org/findanarborist.

Ideally, you’ll cultivate a long-term relationship with your arborist, so it’s a good idea to spend time finding someone you trust to make the best decisions for your trees. Get quotes from several certified arborists upfront, and be sure to check their references and get all your agreements in writing before work begins.

Your relationship with your arborist can keep your property safe and healthy for years to come. And it can keep your neighbors full of apple pancake all fall long.

Sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension, the University of California Marin Master Gardeners provides scientific and research-based information to Marin home gardeners. Email your questions to helpdesk @marinmg.org. Attach photos for plant pest or disease inquiries. The office is now open a few days a week. Please call 415-473-4910 to find out when a master gardener will be in the office. There is a sample box outside the office so Marin’s gardeners can drop off samples 24/7. Subscribe to the Flyer, UC Marin Master Gardener’s free quarterly electronic newsletter, at marinmg.ucanr.edu.

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