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How to hire a tree care professional

Quick facts

  • A professional arborist should be certified through one or more international, national or local organizations.
  • Consulting arborists are especially trained and experienced in the assessment and diagnosis of tree problems, including pest issues.
  • Ask for certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and worker's compensation.
  • Ask the tree care company to create a specific contract for work.
  • Not all tree care companies employ professional arborists. Always make sure to ask for credentials.

There are many insects, diseases and other problems that can threaten your landscape trees.

Professional arborists are trained to provide proper care, help maintain healthy trees and provide management when necessary. Their expertise may include planting, transplanting, fertilizing, pruning, tree removal and pest management, especially proper diagnosis of problems and pesticide application.

A man in hard hat and harness saws a tree branch in a tree.
Experienced and skillful tree workers work safely and reduce the risk to property damage during the tree care activity.

Where can I find a professional arborist?

Online

  • The Urban and Community Forestry site has a variety of tree-related resources, including tree care companies in your area.
    • This site primarily lists companies in Greater Minnesota.
  • Company websites provide more detailed information about their services. Check for their credentials on their sites.

Other sources

  • Many community municipal offices provide a list of licensed tree care companies that service the city and private residences.
    • Contact the parks and recreation department or public works offices in your city for recommendations.
Fallen tree branches from a storm on roof of house
Removing storm damaged trees from homes to prevent additional damage is one of the jobs of a professional arborist.

What qualifications should an arborist have?

Look for companies whose arborists are certified by or are members of professional organizations. A professional arborist should be certified through one or more international, national or local organizations.

  • Many arborists in Minnesota are certified through ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) and MSA (Minnesota Society of Arboriculture).
    • An ISA/MSA certified arborist has a minimum of three years’ experience in some aspect of tree care and/or a college degree in horticulture, forestry, landscape architecture or urban forestry, and has passed an exam covering all aspects of tree care.
    • You can search for certified ISA/MSA arborists on the International Society of Arboriculture website.
  • Professional arborists may also belong to the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA), the Minnesota Nursery Landscape Association (MNLA), or the Minnesota Turf and Grounds Association (MTGF).
  • They may also possess the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) accreditation as a professional arborist.
  • Most cities in Minnesota require arborists to be licensed by the respective city if the company wishes to perform tree work within the city limits.
    • Licensing only means that the various tree care companies have paid an annual licensing fee and have shown proof of insurance.
    • Licensing in Minnesota does not imply proficiency.
    • Many communities require that tree care companies working on publicly owned trees employ ISA Certified Arborists in addition to registering with the community as a licensed tree care company.
  • Membership in these and other professional organizations does not guarantee quality, but does show professional commitment.
Arborist doing a tree consult on a tree that has bark removed.
Hire an experienced, licensed and certified tree care professional to evaluate and treat your trees.

Consulting arborists

If you need to talk to someone about what is wrong with your tree, there are several options.

  • Consulting arborists are especially trained and experienced in the assessment and diagnosis of tree problems, including pest issues.
    • Consulting arborists may be private individuals or be affiliated with a tree care company.
  • Many cities employ city foresters or tree inspectors who are often certified arborists.
    • They typically work in the parks and recreation or public works departments.
    • They can help diagnose a tree's problem and will offer advice on tree care and management.
    • Contact your city local services to determine whether your city employs a city forester.
    • Tree inspectors are certified by the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources). They must pass an exam covering certain aspects of tree care and management.

Pesticide applications

A professional arborist that applies a pesticide to a tree for hire needs to be licensed by the state of Minnesota. They are required to have a category E, Turf and Ornamental license issued by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

All pesticides that can be applied to trees need to be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and with the state of Minnesota. All applicators must follow the label and only apply the pesticide at sites and plants listed on the label. Only licensed applicators can use restricted use pesticides.

CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Remember, the label is the law.

Arborist with special truck sawing tree on the University of Minnesota mall.
Specialized equipment and skillful workers are absolutely essential when large trees in urban spaces must be removed.

General guidelines for selecting a professional arborist

Ask for certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and worker's compensation.

  • Contact the insurance company to make sure the policy is current.
  • Under some circumstances, you can be held financially responsible if an uninsured worker is hurt on your property or if the worker damages a neighbor's property.

Experience, education and a good reputation are signs of a good arborist.

  • Ask for local references.
  • Take a look at some of their work, and if possible, talk with former clients.

Be sure you understand what work is to be done and at what cost.

  • Do not rush into a decision just because you are promised a discount if you sign an agreement immediately.
  • Do not feel obligated to pay in full until the work is completed, but keep in mind that terms for residential tree work are usually "due on delivery.” Work might not proceed unless the contractor has been paid up front.
  • A reasonable down payment may be expected if materials are part of the contracted work. Examples of material expenses could include tree preservation fencing and signage, mulching, transplanted or purchased trees.

Ask the tree care company to create a specific contract for work, including all costs and tasks associated with the work.

  • For pruning, use current language that is consistent with industry standards. Consult the Forest Service publication "How to Prune Trees," for those standards.
  • The contract should include the responsibility for clean-up and disposal of tree wood residue.
  • It should also include any issues that apply to timing of the work and the potential to contract or spread tree diseases or insect pest problems.

If possible, get more than one estimate.

  • Good work is not inexpensive.
  • A good professional must carry several kinds of insurance as well as pay for specialized equipment.
  • You are also paying for their experience and understanding of how to care for trees and their ability to provide long term value to your landscape trees.
  • Beware of estimates that fall well below the average. There may be hidden costs or the person may not be fully insured or trained.

Jeff Hahn, Extension educator and Gary Johnson, Extension forester

Reviewed in 2018

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