How To Become an Arborist

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: September 20, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Science
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If you’re looking for a career that allows you to work outside, learning how to become an arborist might be for you. This type of career will have you working in the natural environment. You will serve a very important role in the urban landscape.

Arborists work with all types of trees, including older, historic trees. They help to ensure specific trees can grow safely. If this type of career is interesting to you, it’s important to know what an arborist can do.

Before you choose to go down this career path, make sure you understand the job. Let’s look closer at the job duties and how to become an arborist.

How To Become an Arborist

Job Duties of an Arborist

As an arborist, you might be referred to as a tree surgeon. This career will come with job duties of all sorts. You will spend time studying, maintaining, and cultivating trees and shrubs. The goal of an arborist is to help trees remain healthy in their environment, specifically with man-made structures.

You will likely serve a community and help keep it healthy and beautiful. Arborists work with communities to provide shrubs, trees, and other plants throughout cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

As a part of your job, you will likely use harnesses and ropes to climb trees. It’s common to spend time near the upper limbs of trees, trimming branches and helping to guide the growth of the tree. Some of the common job duties of an arborist include:

You will spend most of your time working outside. These job duties are just some of the things you will likely have to take care of as an arborist.

How to Become an Arborist in 6 Steps

Step #1 – Finish High School

You will need at least a high school education to work as an arborist. Some arborists don’t have any formal education past high school, while others have a college degree. Getting a degree can help you land a better job as an arborist.

Step #2 – Get a College Degree (Optional)

You can get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to give you a better chance of finding a job as an arborist. It’s common to get a degree in horticulture, forestry, or environmental science. With the right degree, you will gain the right foundation to enter a career as an arborist.

Step #3 – Consider Moving to an Area with a Warm Climate

Arborists work outside and may need to relocate to find a good job. Most arborists work seasonally during the warmer months. If you relocate to an area with a warmer climate, you can work longer each year without having to travel as much.

Step #4 – Learn about Arborist Safety

You will encounter many hazards when working as an arborist. However, learning basic arborist safety can help mitigate the risk. You will need to know how to work safely with heavy machinery, power tools, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Studying the protective gear you will use and learning how to climb safely can help. It’s also important to learn about wildlife, insects, and poisonous plants you might encounter.

Step #5 – Complete On-the-job Training

You will likely need some experience before you can become an arborist. Applying for an entry-level job will help you gain the necessary experience. You can also consider an internship with a tree care company.

Any type of job that allows you to work with trees and the tools you will use will give you the necessary experience. When you’re working from the bottom up, you will likely perform hard labor. Many new arborists will climb trees and take the instruction of a team leader.

Step #6 – Become Certified

Once you have gained three years of experience working with trees, you can become certified. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)provides an Arborist Certification you can consider. The requirements for each will be a bit different.

An associate degree will allow you to get certified after two years of experience. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you will only need one year of job experience to become certified. Once you earn your Arborist Certification, you can gain additional certifications including:

These certifications can help you specialize and earn a higher salary.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being an Arborist

How much can I make as an arborist?

Your salary, as an arborist, will likely be about $24 per hour, according to This salary can vary based on your employer, location, and experience level.

Some top employers will pay well over $30 per hour with a few paying more than $40 per hour. Arborists can also make more as they gain more experience. If you work in Sacramento, Reno, or Denver, you will likely earn a higher-than-average salary, as well.

What type of employee benefits do arborists receive?

Depending on your employer, you will likely get a benefits package with several options. Most employers provide health insurance options with dental and vision insurance. You will also get paid time off and a 401(k) as an arborist. Many employers offer matching for your 401(k), as well.

Some employers will offer fuel discounts, employee stock ownership options, free massages, and a referral program, as well.

What is the environment like for an arborist?

An arborist will likely work outside most of the time. You will work for a tree nursery, part department, landscaping company, or a utility company. It’s common to work in a rural environment or in an urban environment. This may depend on your specialty.

Do arborists encounter dangers?

Yes, this career will put you in harm’s way. However, you will use specific equipment for better safety. Arborists use power tools and often work near power lines. The correct training will help to ensure you stay safe when working as an arborist, as well.

Will I work in the winter as an arborist?

Winter doesn’t offer the best conditions for tree care to be performed. It’s common for arborists to work part-time or switch to a different career during the winter.

However, it’s also common to work overtime during the summer and the autumn. This overtime can help make up for the slower winter season.

What are some of the common skills you will need as an arborist?

You will certainly need tree care skills to work as an arborist. It’s also common to learn how to operate a bucket truck and a bucket. Crane operating experience can be helpful, as well.

Any training in horticulture is helpful when you want to be an arborist, as well. You will also become skilled in climbing and rigging.

Do I need a degree to work as an arborist?

A degree can be helpful, but it’s not required to become an arborist. About 74% of arborists have a high school diploma or GED. The other 26% have a college degree with about 7% holding an associate’s degree and 19% holding a bachelor’s degree.

What type of certifications are common for arborists?

Becoming a certified arborist is the most common certification for this career. You may also get certifications in first aid and CPR. Some arborists will also get a CDL to help operate the equipment they use daily.

You may also get a hoisting licensed, pesticide applicator’s license, spraying license, or another type of certification.

Can I join a professional organization as an arborist?

Yes, there are two main organizations you can join as an arborist. The International Society of Arboricultureprovides resources with online professional development courses, and much more.

The Tree Care Industry Association provides training called the Tree Care Academy. They also offer the Certified Tree Care Safety Professional (CTSP) program.

What are some of the common careers found in the tree care industry?

There are several careers you can go into when it comes to the tree care industry. Some of the common options include:

If you want to work outside with trees and plants, becoming an arborist is a great choice. This career can be very rewarding. Use the steps above to learn how to become an arborist and enjoy this career.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.