Advice for choosing a professional arborist

Jeff Iles, Horticulture Specialist
Iowa State University Extension

Spring storms can pose a serious risk to trees, which have the potential to damage property and even cause injury if left untended.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture specialist Jeff Iles suggests best practices for hiring an arborist who will safely tend and manage trees to protect property.

When contemplating whether to hire an arborist, Iles recommends prioritizing safety.

While homeowners may be able to easily prune a younger, smaller tree themselves, as trees get larger and limbs get heavier, the work becomes riskier. Pruning larger trees often requires special equipment and training, which the average homeowner may not have access to.

Iles recommends hiring an arborist for any work that requires a ladder.

An arborist has equipment and tools to prune large trees that the average homeowner most likely lacks.

“If it’s something above your head, hire an arborist,” explained Iles, who is also professor and chair of the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State.

According to Iles, hiring a properly trained arborist has no drawbacks. However, he warns that not everyone claiming to be a professional may have the experience and certification needed to do this potentially dangerous job.

“A qualified arborist will always do a good job for you, but an unqualified arborist is someone to be careful of,” Iles warned.

A qualified arborist should be certified through the Iowa Arborist Association, or IAA, as well as the International Society for Arboriculture, or ISA.

Professional certifications and affiliations indicate not only that the arborist is reliable and experienced, but also that they are committed to continuing education, and staying up to date on the best practices. Qualified arborists should also have proof of insurance, as well as references.

For any professional arborist, safety should be a top priority.

Iles recommends asking candidates to explain their safety protocols.

“It might be good to ask that question. It’s dangerous work, you don’t want any mishaps on your property,” he encouraged. Safety protocols are essential to protect homeowners, property, trees and arborists alike.

While arborists do offer expert knowledge and experience, Iles explains that a good arborist will also consider the wants and needs of the homeowner.

“A good arborist should get your opinion about what they’re removing or how much they’re removing,” Iles said.

Finally, Iles recommends consulting multiple arborists for big jobs. Consulting multiple arborists allows the homeowner to get a range of perspectives, as well as a range of quotes.

While price may be an important factor, it should not be the only factor a homeowner considers.

“Price is a consideration, but qualifications and your comfort level with who shows up is more important,” Iles said.

Hiring an arborist serves as an important investment in maintaining trees and protecting property.

For more information, Iles recommends the ISU Extension and Outreach publication "Choosing an Arborist", which explains the factors that homeowners should consider.