What is an Arborist?

 In Tree Care Tips

 What is an arborist?


A specialist in the cultivation and care of trees and shrubs.


A professional in the practice of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants.

Tree Care Industry Association

A trained professional who cares for trees, shrubs and other woody plants.

International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)

An individual trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees.


While a horticulturalist cultivates fruits, flowers, vegetables and ornamentals (a ‘gardener’), and a forester harvests timber and manages forests (a ‘forest ranger’), an arborist cares for individual trees (a ‘tree doctor’). Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees, and are trained and equipped to provide proper care.

Probably, the most authoritative definition for an arborist would be ISA’s, which makes the distinction of ‘individual trees’, from a community of trees or a forest (cared for by foresters), and from shrubs and woody vines (cared for by horticulturalists).

What is a Tree?

Since arbor is Latin for ‘tree’, and an arboretum is where trees are grown for education and research, it stands to reason, that an arbor-ist’s focus would be trees.

A tree is a large, woody perennial, with a well-defined stem, and a mature height rarely under 15 feet. This would preclude shrubs, though a few shrubs native to South Carolina (such as rhododendron and azalea), can also be classified as a tree (in the forest, they can grow 15 feet or more). While some arborists plant trees and care for shrubs, usually, this is left to landscapers and lawn care professionals (especially horticulturalists).

What is a Certified Arborist?

Certified Arborists have achieved a level of knowledge in the art and science of tree care through experience and by passing a comprehensive exam by the ISA. Since certification requires ongoing education, Certified Arborists are more likely to be up to date on the latest techniques in arboriculture. While certification can attest to basic tree care knowledge, it cannot ensure that good ethics and performance are practiced.

Presently, the ISA offers 5 kinds of arborist certification.

A Certified Arborist is trained and tested in the basics of several areas of residential aboriculture, while not necessarily specializing in utility right-away, urban forestry, climbing and aerial lifts (a general practitioner).

A Utility Specialist is trained and tested in electric utility pruning, vegetation management, electrical lines and storm response (power line clearance worker).

A Municipal Specialist is trained and tested in public relations, administration, policy, planning and risk management (a city tree warden).

A Tree Worker Climber Specialist is trained and tested in aerial lift operation, aerial rescue, CPR, first aid and climbing trees (a tree climber/ bucket truck operator).

A Master Arborist is trained and tested in a broad scope of arboricultural management, science and work practices (a consulting arborist or tree expert).

Find a Certified Arborist in your area.

Hiring an Arborist

Hiring an arborist is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Proper tree care is an investment that can lead to substantial returns. While well-cared-for trees are attractive and can add considerable value to your property, poorly-maintained trees can be a significant liability.

-The Skinny-

Much of what passes for ‘professional’ tree care in the Upstate does more harm than good. Often, both ‘arborist’ and owner alike, are unaware of the long-term damage their practices may be causing. Poor pruning habits, such as flush cuts, stub cuts, rip cuts, topping, over-skirting (excessive crown raising), lion-tailing (leaving only branch tip foliage), and clean-outs (excessive, inner lateral branch removal), can significantly reduce the life of your tree (a mature shade tree that might have lived for another 50 years, can be reduced to 5 year or less!).

Most ‘dangerous’ trees do not require removal. Most sick trees are treated for secondary symptoms, while the primary cause goes unchecked. Most introductions are planted improperly (over 90%). These observations are not based upon a negative or competitive viewpoint, but rather, decades of careful, diligent research, and a love for trees, our profession and Upstate. 

Arborists have come to be known as Certified Arborists. But anyone trained in the art and science of caring for individual trees is an arborist. Not all arborists possess the same skills or degree of competency. Most are specialized in only a few skills (tree and stump removal is the most common).   

It’s one thing, if the arborist doesn’t know better. Quite another, if the ‘arborist’ does, yet is not ethical. All arborists should strive to become certified. But what if a Certified Arborist use their knowledge to take advantage of people? We hate to think that such things might happen. Our experience suggests otherwise.  

While, for many owners, price seems to be the primary factor in choosing an arborist, ethical standards, liability insurance, Workman’s Compensation, certification, reputation, professionalism, individual skill sets, and experience, should also be a consideration (the size of the company, its equipment and marketing, is not always a reliable indicator). While, at a distance, all arborists may seem the same, but often, up close, there are considerable differences.

If you don’t already have a good arborist, let us assist you. And if you’re not sure what needs to be done. we can impartially identify health and safety issues with your trees, and then recommend reputable arborists (minus the referral fee that most require) in your area that will do you right. Don’t allow just any Tom, Dick or Harry come into your yard!  




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