What Is An Arborist? And When Do You Need One?

Properly maintaining and caring for the trees on your property is a challenge. Sometimes you might need a bit of help with it.

Sometimes you need professional help, and that is where arborists come in.

What is an Arborist?

An arborist is sometimes called a tree surgeon or arboriculturalist. Arborists are more than “tree trimmers” and are specially trained professionals who devote their lives to the proper management of trees.

Arborists consider themselves to be defenders of trees. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to consider them the equivalent of a veterinarian for trees. They may diagnose diseases, apply preventive treatment, and advise on how to keep a tree healthy.

Why Call an Arborist?

The default answer is that you call a tree surgeon when you have a sick tree. However, just like calling the vet for your cat or dog, you might not want to wait until you see symptoms of illness on your trees.

You might call a certified arborist to:

  • Assess the condition of the trees on your property, check for diseases you might not have noticed, and give them an overall checkup.
  • Get recommendations on how to care for and maintain your trees.
  • Get recommendations on what kind of trees you should plant, bearing in mind your climate and soil type. Also, they will advise on how to properly care for saplings, including what kind of netting to use to protect them from browsers, etc. Some arborists may do the planting for you. Many tree surgeons encourage the planting of native trees, which tend to be better equipped to handle the climate and soil conditions and resistant to common pests.
  • Trim or prune a tree to keep it away from power lines, solar panels, etc, in a way that preserves the health of the tree. A landscaper or your own maintenance people can handle minor trimming or small trees, but it’s best to call in an arborist for large trees.
  • Trim or prune a tree purely to preserve its health. For example, a skilled arborist can reshape a tree such that its crown creates less wind resistance, resulting in a lower risk of storm damage. They may also remove diseased, dead, or insect-infested limbs.
  • Advise on drought mitigation and fertilization.
  • Perform insect or disease control, such as injecting fungicides to prevent the spread of certain infections.
  • Advise on the proper treatment of a diseased tree and assess whether a tree needs to be removed. Bear in mind that most tree removal companies will go for tree removal very quickly. A tree surgeon will do what they can to save your tree and resort to removal only when it is needed to protect your property or to, for example, prevent a contagious disease from spreading to your other trees. A certified arborist will be familiar with the pests that are common in your area.
  • Help repair and heal trees after a storm, removing dead branches, etc. Proper emergency tree care can save your tree, reduce the damage caused by falls, and reduce the amount you have to claim on your insurance.
  • Install lightning protection systems on large standalone trees, protecting both the tree and nearby structures.
  • Do soil aeration to improve root growth and encourage the health of your trees.

Basically, tree surgeons can help you with everything to do with tree maintenance, and once you have their advice, you can continue with proper maintenance. For example, you might ask an arborist about the best way to mulch around certain trees and then continue with that in subsequent seasons.

A certified arborist can also work with other woody plants, such as shrubs and hedges, to ensure their health and thus that of your entire landscape.

How to Find an Arborist

Not everyone who hangs out a shingle to do tree trimming and removal is a certified arborist. Make sure that the tree surgeon you hire is certified by the International Society of Arborists. ISA credentialed arborists have demonstrated their training and knowledge in a variety of tree care areas. They are required to keep up with continuing education and recertify every three years. They are also expected to live up to a code of ethics.

If you are calling an arborist because of a disaster or incident, such as a storm, then you want to make sure that you call one who has the ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (ISA TRAQ).

This is a specialist qualification in assessing the risk damaged trees might pose to persons and property. This means that the tree surgeon can look at your trees and establish what treatment they might need and whether any trees need to be removed. They can then advise you and help you move from there, whether it involves removal, pruning, or bracing and supporting of trees.

They might assess a tree based on things such as wind exposure, typical weather, soil conditions, the overall vigor of the tree, etc. While this is particularly important after a storm, you might want to get your trees assessed periodically, particularly if they overhang structures or roadways.

They will then provide you with mitigation options. Some certified arborists specialize in post-disaster work, working with other disaster response teams to assess your landscaping.

In addition to having these qualifications, make sure that your tree surgeon is somebody you feel comfortable with. Make sure that they know your plans for the site and your needs, so they can properly advise, especially if it appears likely that a tree needs to be removed and replaced.

Also, ask for proof of insurance and references. Look for a company that avoids hiring temporary contractors, especially after a storm when demand is high.

You may sometimes need to call in a specialist arborist in addition to the one you call to do regular health checks and pruning.

Essel has TRAQ certified arborists who are trained in disaster response. We can come in and tag hazard trees, marking them for removal or other mitigation, and then hand them off to your regular arborist or tree surgeon, who may not have this specialized training. Talk to us if you need your trees inspected after a storm or wildfire, and we can help with proper assessment and tagging for pruning or removal.