As an arborist, you maintain trees and woody plants to ensure their healthy, safe, and attractive condition. Most arborists specialize in a particular area of tree care, such as tree pruning, planting, or disease control.

Entry-Level Salary:
Senior-Level Salary:

At a Glance

Imagine being 15 metres off the ground in the basket of a cherry picker, staring at the upper branches of a young maple tree looking for signs of disease. As the city's chief arborist, you have been called to this neighbourhood after residents complained their trees were beginning to look sick and were losing their leaves. It is your job to investigate the complaints and look for clues as to the cause of the tree's sudden deterioration. This neighbourhood is depending on you to keep their trees alive.

As an arborist, you examine the sick trees and learn what is harming them. You start by looking for signs of insect infestations, which can often cause serious damage to trees. You examine the branches and leaves for signs of caterpillars or flies that might have munched on them. Then you take samples of the leaves and bark, which will be examined later in the lab. You also take soil samples from the base of the tree to determine if the problem is coming from the soil or roots. If the soil around the trees was contaminated, dangerous compounds might have been picked up by the roots and carried to the leaves, which could explain why the leaves have started falling off. You will examine all these factors to find an explanation for why these trees have become sick.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an arborist:

  • Plant and transplant woody trees, including preparing the site, backfilling, staking, watering, and mulching.
  • Prune trees for various reasons, and haul and chip brush.
  • Evaluate trees for disease and pest problems, and perform treatments as needed.
  • Support trees and breaking branches by securing cables and braces.
  • Remove trees and perform stump grinding as needed.
  • Manage nutrient and water supply and consumption.
  • Calculate the monetary value of trees.
  • Maintain records of work performed.
  • Identify potentially hazardous trees and other tree-related problems.

Work Environment

Arborists work in a variety of locations including but not limited to:

In the field:

  • Operating heavy machinery or hand tools
  • Working in private gardens and backyards, or public gardens and parks
  • Consulting on client’s property
  • Responding to emergencies, including during storms

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients and colleagues
  • Conducting research into tree and plant care

In the lab:

  • Processing and testing samples

Where to Work

There are a number of places arborists can find employment. They include:

  • Tree-care service firms
  • Landscape-management companies
  • Tree nurseries
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal parks departments
  • Golf courses
  • Utility companies
  • Self-employment

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an arborist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Physical Education/Outdoor Education

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an arborist is a technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an arborist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Botany
  • Forestry
  • Biology and Environmental Studies
  • Ecology
  • Horticulture
  • Soil Science

Many arborists also choose to become a Certified Arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture (http://www.isa-arbor.com). In addition, some choose to become a Registered Consulting Arborist with the American Society of Consulting Arborists (http://www.asca-consultants.org).

Role Models

Philip Van Wassenaer

I started climbing things when I was a young boy. My family rented a campsite for the summers and I spent a lot of time climbing trees and enjoying the outdoors. At fourteen years of age I learned to rock climb. Years later, in my fourth year of university, I was studying trees for one of my courses when a truck drove into my parent’s yard. The visitor was an arborist who my parents had hired to work on their trees. I went outside to see what this man knew about trees and I discovered a career.

The arborist that came to my parent’s yard hired me. I combined my interest in trees with my love of climbing to eventually become a certified arborist. My career path has given me experience in research, urban forest management, teaching, business ownership and consulting. I have always aspired to be more than just a tree cutter. I have to give credit to the arborist who gave me my first job in the field because he taught me to have respect for trees and a philosophy of tree care. By embracing these ideas I developed my skills and knowledge and eventually attained membership in the prestigious American Society of Consulting Arborists.

To raise the standards in our industry, practitioners need to focus on the professional elements of arboriculture. There are many new things happening in the area of urban forestry. To keep up with the changes I attend meetings, conferences and seminars. I also read trade journals and newsletters. One way I contribute to the knowledge base of our industry is by giving presentations and lectures on urban forest issues. By researching and preparing for presentations I also become more familiar with current arborist topics. Arboriculture is moving towards keeping trees and establishing them rather than being really good at removing them. As climate change and global warming effects increase, there will be even more need for a healthy urban forest.

Although there are very few professional urban foresters in Canada, the Canadian National Forest Strategy is starting to consider urban forestry in its planning. This will help to give much-needed recognition to arboriculture and open up employment opportunities for competent arborists. The advice I received from one of my university professors was «Don’t decide on your career until you are sure. Try to let life experiences lead you to your career.” While this strategy may sound like a lack of career planning, it is really emphasizing flexibility. You will also need a good education and a professional approach to the industry.

I recommend finding a knowledgeable person in the field to act as a mentor. Arboriculture is both physically and mentally challenging but provides the opportunity to work in many different locations and meet different people. I encourage you to consider an urban forestry career. I tend to be busy all year round while many arborists have seasonal patterns to their work. During the growing season, a typical arborist will work long hours engaged in pruning trees, assessing the health of trees and providing plant health care. Specialized equipment is used when stabilizing structurally compromised trees or in the detection of decay and insect damage. Preservation of mature trees during construction projects presents other challenges that require more thinking than physical skills.

The business aspects of arboriculture require excellent communication skills because many people have strong opinions about their trees. Trees are wonderful biological systems that humans depend on for a wealth of resources. In my career as an arborist, the best thing I have done so far to benefit the trees of our cities was to organize and co-chair the Fifth Canadian Urban Forest Conference held in 2002. We focused the conference on sustainable urban community forests and subsequently presented our information to the National Forest Strategy. As a result of this and other efforts, the new Forest Strategy will acknowledge and address urban forestry issues. By focusing on these issues now we can continue to enjoy urban living with healthy trees in our yards, parks and along our streets.