The Small Business Times

Arborist and Tree Surgeon: What’s The Difference?

When discussing tree felling, pruning, or the like, you’ve probably heard people talk about arborists or tree surgeons. But there’s often a great deal of confusion when distinguishing between the two.

In fact, many use the terms arborist and tree surgeon interchangeably, assuming they are the same thing. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Arborists and tree surgeons both work in the field of arboriculture. This line of work is all about managing, studying, and cultivating trees, shrubs, and other woody plants.

While their duties may overlap, they perform very different roles in the industry. 

If we use the medical field as a parallel, an arborist would be the equivalent of a general practitioner. On the other hand, a tree surgeon would be more like a surgeon.

Both require a great deal of skill and experience to execute their jobs effectively. However, we must differentiate between the two to avoid confusion.

What is an Arborist?

To become an arborist, one would have to complete a series of courses and practice exams. Subjects covered include tree risk assessment, biotic and abiotic disorders, tree anatomy, lightning protection, and more.

Would-be arborists must then complete a minimum of three years of full-time working experience in arboriculture. After that, they qualify to take their final exam to obtain certification through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

It’s an arduous process, spanning a minimum of four years. But with this qualification, the arborist can monitor and assess the well-being of trees. 

Their knowledge allows them to detect potential diseases in trees and recommend an appropriate treatment. They’re also able to advise on which types of trees grow best in specific conditions.

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The role of an arborist is vital to the health and vitality of woody plants. And part of keeping those trees healthy might involve the cutting or uprooting of trees. This is where the skills of a tree surgeon come in.

What is a Tree Surgeon?

While a tree surgeon does not need to obtain ISA certification, they must undergo extensive training. This is because a tree surgeon’s job requires a great deal of skill and experience.

Some of the core duties of a tree surgeon include tree trimming, pruning, felling, and removal. And to execute these tasks safely, they must exercise a tremendous amount of precision and control.

Tree surgeons often work at heights and handle heavy-duty saws and other dangerous equipment. As a result, working as a tree surgeon is considered a high-risk job. 

Safety is, therefore, a priority. A tree surgeon must know how to cut or remove a tree without any negative impact on the immediate environment. The ability to understand and control the outcome when dealing with different trees in various circumstances is essential.

For instance, a tree surgeon must ensure that surrounding trees aren’t harmed when performing their duties. They must also eliminate the risk of damage to nearby property and make sure the people in the area are safe.

This is why tree surgeons are required to go through hours of supervised practice and safety training. And it’s not until they are deemed competent that they’re permitted to operate independently.


Arborists and tree surgeons share a common interest in the welfare of trees and woody plants. 

A qualified arborist requires formal certification and examines trees to maintain their well-being. While a competent tree surgeon carries out the necessary treatment to keep the tree healthy, which requires considerable training. 

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But their respective duties are entirely different. This is why we cannot use the terms arborist and tree surgeon interchangeably.