Arborist

An arborist is a professional responsible for cultivating, caring for, and managing trees and shrubs. Their primary focus is maintaining the health and safety of trees and shrubs in urban and suburban settings. This involves various tasks such as pruning, planting, fertilizing, and pest management. Arborists may also conduct tree risk assessments and diagnose and treat tree diseases. They often work outdoors in various weather conditions and must know about proper climbing and rigging techniques and safety procedures for operating chainsaws, chippers, and other equipment.

At a Glance

As an arborist in Canada, the workday typically involves outdoor physical labour and technical analysis. Days usually start by assessing the trees that need attention and determining the best approach to care for them. This involves examining the tree's structure, checking for disease or insect infestations, and evaluating potential safety hazards.

Once the best course of action is determined, various tools and techniques will be used to maintain the health and safety of the trees. This might include pruning branches, applying fertilizers or pesticides, or installing support systems to protect against structural failure.

It is also common for arborists to interact with clients and stakeholders throughout the day, providing advice and recommendations on tree care and maintenance. This involves explaining technical information in a way that is understandable and relatable to non-experts.

Safety is always a top priority while working, and great care must be taken to properly follow safety procedures; this includes the use of protective equipment when operating heavy machinery or climbing trees. arborists must keep up to date with the latest safety standards and best practices to ensure that work is as safe and effective as possible.

Overall, an arborist is both challenging and rewarding. The work can positively impact the environment while providing valuable service to clients and the community.

Job Duties

Job duties vary significantly from one position to the next, but in general, arborists are involved in the following job duties:

  • Examine trees and shrubs to diagnose problems and diseases, and apply various treatments such as pruning, spraying, repairing damaged areas and injecting with treatment solutions
  • Assess trees for risk
  • Treat split or broken branches by securing cables and braces
  • Clear branches away from power lines in urban and forest settings
  • Install lightning protection on trees
  • Plant and fertilize trees
  • Offer advice on tree care
  • Protect trees from any construction happening nearby
  • Remove trees, sometimes from tight spaces
  • Appraise trees’ monetary value
  • Plan and develop budgets for tree work
  • Provide information to the public
  • Supervise tree crews or contractors
  • Inspect work to ensure high standards

Provide related consulting services like inventory, appraisal, or tree forensics

Work Environment

Arborists work in a variety of locations, including:

In the field:

  • Operating heavy machinery or hand tools
  • Working in private gardens and backyards or public gardens and parks
  • Monitoring forests in various stages of health
  • 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 several places where 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


Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills

Education

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

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

Education and training requirements vary. In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an arborist is a technical diploma. Employees without experience or related education may start as labourers or grounds workers and learn on the job.

Arborists should be skilled in using ladders, ropes, knots, and climbing harnesses. Employers may send arborists to 1- or 2-day safety training courses, such as aerial rescue and climbing techniques.

Arborists may choose to become Certified Arborists through the International Society of Arboriculture or Registered Consulting Arborists with the American Society of Consulting Arborists.

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.

Skills

Technical Skills

  • Knowledge of how to operate heavy machinery
  • Risk assessment
  • Knowledge of varying types of trees
  • Knowledge of workplace safety standards

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Physical strength, stamina, and agility
  • Manual dexterity
  • Confidence to be in high places
  • Team-oriented

In addition to technical skills, an arborist should possess strong communication and customer service skills, as they will regularly interact with clients and other stakeholders. An arborist must also be committed to safety and sustainability, as they play a critical role in maintaining the health and longevity of trees and shrubs in the community.

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Education and Skills

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.

Your Impact

Arborists play a critical role in promoting environmental sustainability in their communities. Trees and shrubs provide numerous benefits, including improved air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and energy savings. By properly caring for trees and shrubs, arborists can help maximize these benefits and reduce the environmental impact of urban and suburban development.

One way that arborists promote sustainability is through the proper selection and planting of trees and shrubs. They consider factors such as site conditions, tree species, and desired benefits to ensure that the trees are well-suited to their environment and will thrive long-term. Proper planting techniques, such as mulching and watering, also help ensure the success of new trees.

Arborists also play a critical role in tree maintenance and health care, which can help prevent tree loss and reduce the need for costly and environmentally damaging removals. Regular pruning, fertilization, and pest management can help keep trees healthy and reduce the risk of structural failure, which can be dangerous to people and property.

Another way that arborists promote sustainability is through their work in urban forestry planning and management. By developing and implementing plans for tree planting and maintenance, arborists can help communities maximize the benefits of trees and minimize the negative impacts of development.

Overall, the work of arborists is essential to promoting environmental sustainability in urban and suburban areas. By caring for trees and shrubs, arborists help ensure that these valuable natural resources continue to benefit people and the environment for generations to come.

Occupational Classification

Arborists are classified in the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 22114 – Landscape and horticultural technicians and specialists

NOC Code: 74205 = Public works maintenance equipment operators and related workers

What is an NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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