Tips for When You’re Hiring an Arborist

By Canopy Team on February 19, 2018

Image by evcabartakova via Flickr

Welcome to Canopy’s Ask the Arborist blog series that features tree care tips and expert advice from local certified arborists. 

Written by Jason Ash

Choosing an arborist

Choosing a contractor for any job can be quite challenging, and picking an arborist can be exceptionally tough. The first step is to make sure you’re familiar with what a proper arboricultural service looks like.

Anyone can put a company name on the side of a truck and go into business for themselves, and even legally so, but that does not always mean they are as qualified as a consumer may desire. Some arborists only give advice and are not associated with a company. While most other arborists will be associated with a company that will then carry out the recommendations made by the arborist. For this reason, the advice in this post will be geared towards the latter, but can usually apply to both.

Legal requirements for arborists

One of the most important boxes to check is that your contractor has workers compensation and liability insurance. This may seem like a no brainer, but it is a step skipped by many consumers. There can be exceptional liability taken on when assessing the health and structure of a tree, not to mention if physical work is actually carried out. The contractor should also have a business license to work in the municipality which you reside. A reputable contractor should be happy to answer these questions, so do not hesitate ask.

Credentials for arborists

This one is tricky because there are many credentials an arborist may carry and some apply more than others, depending on the situation at hand. The best place to start is to be sure you are meeting with a certified arborist. Anyone can call themselves an arborist but achieving this certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) shows a consumer that a basic level understanding of tree care has been successfully demonstrated.

The ISA provides arborists with the ability to obtain many other credentials, all verified through testing and sometimes even physical demonstrations. Your certified arborist may also carry a two or four year college degree in forestry, horticulture, or other related fields.

They may possess one of the multiple types of licenses that the state of California provides to those who have demonstrated proficiency in the use and application of pesticides. If they do not and will be doing any type of chemical application, be sure to check that their applicators are covered by certification. It is illegal for them to provide these services without doing so, and for good reason.

Remember this! Credentials alone, do not make a great arborist. Licenses, certifications, qualifications, and degrees are great, but personality and experience should not be overlooked. One of the most important features of an arborist is the ability to work with the human side of tree care.

Trees are long lived organisms and so are we. It is important to find someone who lines up well enough with your style of communication. This will allow you to better understand your trees issues and long term maintenance needs.

Much like with your medical provider, it pays to have a long term relationship with your arborist. It is common for a tree to suffer a structural failure or health issues, due to an event that occurred long ago. An arborist who knows the history of your landscape will have valuable information when it comes to assessing issues that can arise.

Additional tips when hiring an arborist

  • Certain aspects of tree care, like pruning, can be very subjective. There may also be certain considerations you do not want overlooked when the work is completed. For these reasons and more, always insist on a signed contract.
  • Don’t be tempted by a bargain. Try to focus your attention on all of the items above, instead of simply taking the cheapest price.
  • Do not rely too heavily on online reviews. Due to the complexity of tree care, this is not the best way to choose an arborist.
  • Become familiar with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). The TCIA exists to help arboricultural businesses advance themselves and prove to consumers that they are up to the highest standards in the industry. Businesses who are TCIA accredited must provide documentation on an annual basis to retain accreditation, and go through an in person audit every 3 years. This is a service, which groups like the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Checkbooks, will not provide. By choosing a TCIA accredited company, much of the information above has already been confirmed for you.


Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA): Visit this website for an in depth look at what a company must go through to become TCIA accredited and gain valuable knowledge regarding arboricultural services.

International Society of Arboriculture (ISA): Visit this website to verify an arborists certification number and to become familiar with all of the other certifications the ISA can provide arborists.

Canopy’s Arborist List: Find a certified consulting arborist or tree care company in the bay area, plus more tips for when hiring an arborist.

Jason Ash, has been working in the tree care industry for six years and is currently employed in the bay area by S.P. McClenahan Arboriculturists. He spent three years, during and after college, working on tree crews to become familiar with not only the science, but also the physical side of arboriculture. His credentials include a Bachelors Degree in Urban Forest Management, ISA Certified Arborist, QAL License holder (for pesticide usage), TCIA member, and a 2015 graduate of the Davey Institute of Tree Science. He also serves on the Tree Care Subcommittee for Canopy and volunteers for various events each year.

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