Hiring an Arborist

(Note: The information and guidelines contained on this page, while written for Nebraska, apply to the entire country.)

Hiring an arborist deserves careful consideration. A qualified arborist will do tree work properly and safely. An unqualified person may actually damage the tree. Unqualified persons may not have proper insurance, leaving a liability burden to the customer that could run into the thousands of dollars.

Do Not Top Your TreesRemember the following points when hiring or contracting with an arborist:

  • Check your telephone directory's yellow pages under "Tree Service" for a listing of those businesses which do tree work in your area. While anyone can list themselves in the phone book, a listing at least indicates some degree of permanence. Be cautious of any arborist that advertises "topping" as a service. "Topping" is not an approved tree maintenance practice under normal conditions and will seriously damage the tree. 

  • Ask if the arborist is certified. The International Society of Arboriculture maintains a list of ISA Certified Arborists throughout the entire country and you can search the database by state, city or even zip code. The Nebraska Arborists Association also maintains a list of Nebraska state certified arborists. Certification is not required but it does indicate that the arborist has a high degree of knowledge.

  • If the arborist you are considering is not certified, determine if he/she is a member of any professional organizations, such as the Nebraska Arborists Association, the International Society of Arboriculture or the National Arborists Association. Membership in these and other professional organizations does not guarantee quality, but does indicate professional commitment.

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

  • Ask for local references. Take a look at some of the work, and if possible, talk with former clients. Experience, education and a good reputation are signs of a good arborist.

  • Don't rush into a decision just because you are promised a discount if you sign an agreement now. Be sure you understand what work is to be done for what amount of money. It is not generally a good idea to pay in full until the work is completed.

  • Most reputable tree care companies have all the work they can handle without going door to door. People who aren't competent arborists may solicit tree work at your door pointing out a condition that needs "immediate attention" or the "tree will die." If a tree is that close to death there is probably nothing that you or anyone else can do about it. These kinds of people are most active after storm disasters.

  • If possible, get more than one estimate.

  • A conscientious arborist will not use climbing spikes except when removing a tree. Climbing spikes open unnecessary wounds that could lead to decay.

  • Good tree work will not be inexpensive by any means. A good arborist must carry several kinds of insurance as well as pay for expensive and specialized equipment. Beware of estimates that fall well below the average. There may be hidden costs or the arborist may not be fully insured or trained.

  • A good pruning job is often one that cannot be noticed after the work has been done.

  • Some communities require that arborists be licensed in order to do tree work within city limits. If you are unsure contact the city office to see if such a license is required.