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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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October 2002

Choosing an arborist

Richard Rideout


A tree professional, or arborist, can assist you with tree planting, pruning, fertilization, repair, disease and insect control, removal and other services. Arborists understand the physiology of trees and base their recommendations and practices on that knowledge. Here are a few things to look for when hiring an arborist:

  • Credentials: A certified arborist has passed a rigorous exam and keeps up-to-date on the latest research and information through continuing education. Certification through the International Society of Arboriculture is one measure of knowledge. Membership in a professional organization such as the Wisconsin Arborist Association, the International Society of Arboriculture, the National Arborist Association, or the American Society of Consulting Arborists indicates an interest in professionalism.

  • Insurance: Ask for certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and worker's compensation. Then call the insurance company to make certain the policy is in force.

  • References: Look at jobs the arborist has done and talk with former clients.

  • Estimates: Have more than one arborist look at your job and give estimates. Arborists are professionals. Some charge for the first consultation, others don't: ask!

  • Contracts: Ask for a written contract, which should include: exactly what work will be done; how it will be done and when; what cleanup work will be done; who gets any firewood; whether removal includes stump grinding, backfilling and seeding; the method of pricing the job and the total dollar amount you will be charged. Read it carefully and get your questions answered before you sign it.

Finally, keep these points in mind before you make any decisions:

  • Don't choose an arborist solely on price. Getting the job done properly and safely is more important than a low bid.

  • Beware of arborists who recommend topping a tree. Topping is appropriate only in extremely rare circumstances.

  • A conscientious arborist will never use climbing spikes unless a tree is to be removed.

  • Beware of door-to-door "arborists" offering a bargain, especially after storms.

Find an arborist to suit your needs – visit the Wisconsin Certified Arborist Directory at Wisconsin Arborist Association or if you are close to the Minnesota border, visit Minnesota Society of Arboriculture then click "Certified Arborists."