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What Is an ISA Certified Arborist?

By Carrie Dixon, Blog Editor

Trees in a fieldThe trees around your home are more than just “another plant” that takes up space. They’re invaluable providers of shade. They add beauty to your landscape. They can also add not only curb appeal, but a lot of value to your home. You need to ensure that your trees receive the proper care, and that means more than just watering them or putting mulch around the trunks. What do you do when disease strikes? That’s when you need an ISA certified arborist. What is an ISA certified arborist, though?

What’s an arborist?

Before we get into ISA certification, let’s consider what an arborist is. Really, these are professional “tree workers” or “tree surgeons”. That should give you some clues, but it does leave things a little murky. Essentially, arborists are trained to identify particular woody plants (including trees), how to care for them, how to maintain them, and how to treat them when things go wrong. They routinely provide services that include pruning, removal, planting, tree care and the like.

What does ISA certification mean, then?

An ISA certified arborist has a specified number of experience hours, training and education as pertains to his or her profession. The ISA, or International Society of Arborists, is a leading professional body of tree workers in the US, and in order to earn their certification, arborists must prove their training and education, complete testing and then renew their certification periodically. It’s the same as many other professional certifications, such as a nursing certificate or master mechanic certificate.

So, what’s involved with obtaining certification through the ISA? Here’s a look at what the ISA requires for anyone interested in taking the exam:

  • At least three years of full-time experience in arboriculture, or a degree in the following fields (from an accredited school):
    • Arboriculture
    • Horticulture
    • Forestry
    • Landscape architecture
    • Adherence to a strict code of ethics
    • Successful completion of an extensive, timed exam

Why might you need to work with an ISA certified arborist?

Why choose an arborist with ISA certification over another certification, or just someone with experience dealing with trees? Well, it’s a lot like choosing someone to work on your car. If there’s something wrong with your engine, which would you be more comfortable with – letting your “good buddy” who owns a set of wrenches play around under the hood, or taking it to a certified, trained mechanic? Chances are good you’re going to choose the mechanic. The same concept applies to dealing with trees, whether you’re planning where and what to plant, dealing with old-growth trees, concerned that your existing trees pose a danger to your home or landscape, or think that there might be something wrong with the trees on your property (health-wise).


What about other tree certifications?

You’ll come across other certifications in the field, including those from the ISA, like “certified tree worker” and such. Are these the same? No, not really. Tree workers (certified) do have some training in identifying tree species, as well as tree science, but they’re more involved with climbing and proper working conditions in trees. The only other substitution would be an ISA master certified arborist, which indicates that the individual has completed extensive training and is in the top 2% of the industry.

There you have it – an ISA certified arborist is a highly trained specialist capable of handling just about any problem you might have with trees on your property. That includes not only residential homes, but parks, estates, business grounds and pretty much anywhere else.