To work in the tree service sector and run your own business you need to become a certified arborist. To do that you will need to take a course in Arboriculture.

The minimum is a Certificate II, but Certificate III or a Diploma in Arboriculture is recommended depending on what capacity you wish to work in.

Below are the three main courses you can do. Everyone needs to start at the beginning, so to do the Certificate III course, you need to have previously completed Cert II in Arboriculture. By the same token, to do the Diploma course, you need to have the first two under your belt.

how to become a certified arborist

Certificate II – This will give you the basic skills to safely use a chainsaw, work safely on-site and some basic pruning and tree felling techniques. This is perfect for someone wanting the basic skills to work as a groundsman for a tree services company.

Certificate III – This is a big step up in your skill base from Cert II. You will learn climbing techniques and removing trees in confined spaces. You will gain a more in-depth knowledge of trees and how they function, identify pests and treat diseases. This course is perfect for someone wanting to work independently in the tree service industry and run their own business.

Diploma (Cert. V) – This is for the consulting arborist. This is less to do with tree pruning and removal and more to do with arborist reports, tree inspections, pests and diseases, etc. This is very intensive and not for the faint-hearted.

What arborists do and how they charge

Arborists perform a variety of tasks including

  • Tree trimming
  • Tree removal
  • Stump removal
  • Arborist reports
  • Tree inspections
  • Root pruning

Depending on the task they are performing will dictate how much they charge. As every tree is different the amount for removal and pruning will vary. We have a great resource for tree removal costs and also a tree trimming cost guide.

Arborist reports are normally around $400 depending on the requirements, but in most cases, they are in conjunction with a permit to remove a tree from your property or for a development application.

What tasks will you likely be doing when you start?

Removing a tree sounds easy enough, but there is a lot that goes into it. Just as important as it is to have a skilled arborist climbing the tree to dismantle it piece by piece, it is critical that the ground crew is able to support him by lowering branches as he ties them off and cuts them.

After the tree is on the ground. All branches need to be dragged to the front of the property to be chipped in the wood-chipping machine.

Depending on the equipment your employer has, you will then need to block up the tree log and carry it out the front to load it into the truck.

Other tasks you will perform as an entry-level arborist.

  • Dragging branches
  • Sharpening saws
  • Cleaning/ refueling chainsaws
  • Stump grinding
  • All-round hard labor

Is it better to be a climber or a part of the ground crew?

Both tasks are hard work and dangerous, but a climber will on average get paid two or three times more than the ground crew.

Some days are harder than others. Some days you won’t feel like climbing, but have to. The incentive is always there though because the pay is great.

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Difference between a Certified Arborist and a regular arborist

Essentially, they are the same thing. A Certified arborist means you have completed a certificate II or III in Arboriculture and now have the skill set to carry out tree pruning and removal work. A regular tree doctor or tree surgeon is still certified.

The reason the distinction is made is that there are a lot of tree services or garden tree maintenance companies who are not qualified arborists and should not be working on trees any larger than 10 – 15ft. Working at heights when you don’t know what you are doing is extremely dangerous and should only be undertaken by qualified professionals.

All qualified arborists should carry public liability insurance also. If you are not qualified, the insurance company will turn you down. So if you do hire someone who is not qualified or insured you really are leaving yourself wide open to a litigation disaster if they injure themselves on your property.

What are my career opportunities once I graduate?

Graduates may find a career as a:

  • Head arborist
  • Crew leader
  • Arborist climber
  • Apprentice climber
  • Consulting arborist
  • Ground staff member

There are employment opportunities in a wide variety of areas such as:

  1. Commercial tree service companies
  2. Public utility companies
  3. City, county, and other government agencies
  4. Landscape maintenance firms
  5. Nurseries
  6. Garden centers
  7. Industrial complexes
  8. Theme parks/ resorts and private estates
  9. Botanical gardens
  10. Golf courses

ISA Certified Arborist Exam

The International Society of Arboriculture is one of the most popular Arboriculture schools for gaining your certification, but it is not the only one.

Normally you will take the final exam once you have completed the course, but there are cases where tree workers have been working in the industry before there was any formal training and they are allowed exemptions from courses.

In those cases, they will be assessed on-site as well as sitting for the exam. If they pass in both cases, they will not require any further training to become certified.

Now let’s take a look at some logistics of this test.

The arborist exam is 3.5 hours long and it’s made up of 200 multiple-choice questions. If you’re a member of Isa as well as a member of your local chapter, the exam costs $170.

For non-members, the exam is $280. If you wish to take the computer-based exam, that is an additional $125. The exam covers a broad range of topics, so knowing which ones it covers will help you to narrow down your study. So here is a breakdown of the topics.

  • Pruning. There will be 32 questions.
  • Safe work practices. There will be 30 questions
  • Tree risk management, there’ll be 26 questions.
  • Soil Management, 24 questions
  • Tree biology, 16 questions
  • Identification and selection. 16 questions,
  • Diagnosis and treatment. 24 questions.
  • Urban Forest Street, 14 questions.
  • Tree installation and establishment. 10 question
  • Tree protection. 8 questions.

Should I do the ISA course?

The International Society of Arboriculture is the most widely known training center, but is also one of the more expensive options. I would have a look around at all the options available in your area.

Different institutions have varying timetables and prices, so after some research, you will find a course that fits your schedule and budget.

The training and qualifications are the same at the end of the day. There is no benefit to going through the ISA course.

What specifically will I study in Arboriculture?

You will be educated on a wide range of topics The arboriculture course overlaps quite a bit with the horticulture course, but there are a lot of practical skills to do with handling a chainsaw and other industrial equipment that sets the course apart. A lot of the theory is similar.

  • Tree climbing using the Single Rope Technique
  • Tree pruning in confined spaces
  • Tree removal in confined spaces
  • Tree fertilization
  • Tree planting
  • Tree identification
  • Diagnoses and management of tree diseases
  • Safely handling chemicals
  • Chainsaw safe use
  • First aid
  • Hazard identification on the worksite

These are just a few of the subjects you cover in the first course. Once you get into Certificate 3 and the Diploma course, there is a lot more information to cover.

Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.