Path to Becoming An Arborist — What, How, and Why?

by Snousha Glaude (TREE Research Associate, Snousha’s Instagram)


Snousha (author of this blog) climbing trees.

“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — The Lorax, Dr. Seuss.

According to the Merriam Webster definition, an arborist is “a specialist in the care and maintenance of trees.”

In practice an arborist is a person who is committed to stewarding trees, pedestrian safety, and evolving landscapes. Parks, retention ponds, sidewalks, state parks — you name it, an arborist is most likely involved. Although the natural environment is quite simple. Humans are quite complex. Therefore, arborists are brought in to design, implement, and adapt trees for pedestrian use.

Tree Climbers Training featuring Arborists Alisha Amundson (right) and Snousha Glaude (far right)

Arborists work in all types of environments. We clear brush in view of right-of-ways; we test soil pH and diagnose mineral deficiencies causing tree decline; we support mature trees, we encourage right-tree right-place for seasonal planting; we monitor state park tree populations; we build retention ponds in cities; we account for visitation by birds, butterflies, mammals who pollinate even more trees! The field of arboriculture is vast and ever expanding. New opportunities arise as human interaction with trees increases. There is enough work to go around for everyone who is willing to learn.

But where to start?

We respond to a tree’s needs from an investigative perspective. We ask questions such as, “what is the site history of this tree?” “what is the utility of this tree?” “what are drought resistant options for this ecological zone?” To answer these questions we refer to a few key resources.

Photo by LaRon Rosser on Unsplash


Becoming accredited as an arborist requires a minimum of 3 years first-hand professional experience, technical education, and examination. Although these qualifications vary based on the certifying board and certification (i.e. Municipal Arborist, Utility Arborist, Certified Tree Climber, ISA Arborist, etc.) the point is that first-hand experience and by-the-book continued education are critical to working safely and efficiently. A few credentialing institutions include TCIA, ISA, Tree Climbers International. They train and administer exams which help aspiring tree-workers maneuver safely and current on evolving science of trees. Most, if not all, certifications require at least a few years of documented experience before being allowed to seat for exam.

Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash

Hands On Experience (Sweat Equity)

The most common question people want to know is how to gain experience to become an arborist? Experience can begin at an early age. Learning tree anatomy, identifying neighborhood trees with a tree ID guide, learning local ecology and pests, visiting botanical gardens and shadowing tree stewards is how I began my path to arboriculture long before I even knew what an arborist was. Like many, at an early age, I held a fascination with trees. I gained my first true taste of arboriculture the summer of senior year when I interned for the City of Orlando Streets and Storm water Division. Each week, we had an arborist present data on trees within city limits.

Young adults interested in gaining experience can apply to internships, work at nurseries, volunteer at local gardens, and work over the summer at groundsmen. The work is hard, especially in the beginning. Pack a decent lunch. Over time you will learn the ropes, literally. Knots, do’s and don’ts of field work, herbivory, understanding trees beyond textbook explanations, and climbing techniques and gear.

Most importantly, ask questions! Questions, humility, and commitment is how you get from Point A to Point B. Get all the experience you can.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Gender In the Workplace

The reality is that the field is growing and becoming more inclusive. However, many in positions of authority are inexperienced when working with female arborist, and unfortunately, like all humans, can jump to conclusions. For example, a barrier to gaining experience in community settings can be misunderstanding of woman as weak and frail. Girls are denied opportunities to work with tools based on that assumption. But do not be discouraged, this happened to me, yet I made it through! Practice what you can and play up your strengths — knowledge is a great equalizer.

To gain more experience, be relentless in communicating your aspirations! Someone will be willing to train you or connect you with someone who can. It might not come through a manager. But perhaps a family member or neighbor. There is a lot of machinery to learn — saws, loppers, mallots, measuring tape, ph sticks, the list goes on. But under zero circumstances should you try dangerous tools unsupervised.

Likewise, communicate your limitations! If your harness is too tight, say something. When you need a water break, go for it. Do not swallow inordinate levels of pain to prove a point. Arrive rested and ready to work.

Photo by Mapbox on Unsplash


Biology, chemistry, botany plant physiology, and classes of the sort are recommended. Many seasoned veterans have not officially taken collegiate level science courses, however through hard work continued education and individualized learning have paved a way in the field. Universities offer degrees in forestry, ecology, aboriculture, etc. However, much of the learning happens outside of the classroom. Exposure is key. Maximize exposure to principles, terminology, and region specific phenomena (for example, educate yourself on hurricane season vs. windstorms vs. wildfires based on your area). Social media sites such as Youtube, tiktok, and Instagram from City, State and County can be good supplements. An app-friendly way to maximize exposure is tuning into UF/IFAS extension office social media profiles, university forestry seminars on youtube, and podcasts. Nature and Science Direct are good resources too. But excellent websites include organizations, science direct, Nature are good resources.

Embracing perspectives and building community

Collaboration is key. You will work with people of different generations, values, beliefs, race, gender, ability, health history, and level of education. It can be a point of contention or a point of celebration. The choice is truly yours. Trust me, as a black woman I have experienced the gamut of awkward conversations in the break room. But, the world needs more love and understanding today. Everyone has a unique story — different states, passed down legacies of tree work, military backgrounds, academic researchers, internationally employed tree workers, etc. We can glean tremendously from one another when we identify our commonalities: tree care. All it costs is patience.

Likewise, when working with customers, you soon learn that they are always right (even when they are wrong). Observing veterans in the industry is a good way to learn how to manage consumer expectations and provide the best service possible (this applies to research as well).

Photo by Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash

A Word of Advice

In a world of topped crepe myrtle trees, be the seed-bearing oasis cardinals and golden-finches rely on. Be the solution to species decline, habitat loss, and clean air. Even though the 21st century is rife with information and technology, tree care still has catching up to do. From the private sector to public county and city landscapes, a trained eye may notice the shocking truth that trees desserts in urban areas still exist. Worse yet are trees planted with too little room, improper pruning care, topping, and so on.

Therefore the role of arborist is needed today just as much as ever. Becoming an arborist is more than a job or career, it is a duty to provide the best standard of care, guidance, and application of knowledge in every consultation, prune, education, and tree planting. It is a duty that does not turn off after punching the clock. Like spidy senses a lion-tailed tree or tree too close to the sidewalk triggers an Arborist’s funny bone.

Fortunately, if trees captivate you, you’ll always have a friend nearby, a subject to study, a patient muse.

Most importantly — never give up. You can take a break. It can feel unrewarding at times. It’s a lot of labor, but the world needs more people who care about trees. We need more people who understand trees and can actually care for trees properly!

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash