Arboriculture involves every aspect of growing trees, from propagating them, to planting and nurturing young trees, maintaining mature trees and removing diseased or dead trees.
Scope of Work
Arboriculture is often thought of as tree surgery; but while that is part of it; it is much more than just working high in the branches of established trees. Arboriculture involves every aspect of growing trees, from propagating them, to planting and nurturing young trees, maintaining mature trees and removing diseased or dead trees.
Trees are a significant part of public landscapes, in parks, on roadsides, around public buildings, in reserves, public forests and all other public land. They contribute greatly to the environment, to air quality, flood and wind mitigation, temperature management, wildlife conservation, the public aesthetic and more.
For some arborists, much of their work can be in trees (either climbing or from a travel tower), working on the ground supporting climbers or pruners, or operating machinery (e.g. chippers, chainsaws, stump grinders, trucks, travel towers). Other arborists may spend a lot of their time involved in tree selection and planting, propagation, grafting, pruning, root pruning, feeding and watering, transplanting or other tasks. Some spend a great deal of their time diagnosing tree pests or diseases and treating those.
What You Need to Learn
Tree knowledge - Taxonomy, identification & cultural characteristics of many different tree varieties
Tree science - Botany basics; biology, physiology, anatomy, ecology, nutrition
Tree cultural techniques - Planting, transplanting, staking, watering, weed control
Potting media and soils - Structure, chemistry, management techniques (e.g. improving media, aeration)
Health management - Identifying and controlling pests & diseases, environmental disorders
Tree surgery - Pruning, bracing, supporting, special techniques
Tools and equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, correct operation & use, maintenance & repair of tools, machinery use
Starting a Career
It may be possible to get a foot in the door in tree surgery through working with a private contractor, even on a part time or temporary basis, to gain experience working as a general labourer. After some time, you can begin to look for work in the public sector.
Another option is to get general gardening experience with an emphasis on pruning and tree pruning in other public spaces like parks or trust gardens. Once you have gained enough experience you may be able to approach councils or local governments to take an entry level job. If you can demonstrate enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, many employers will be willing to give you a start providing they have vacancies.
Others may take qualifications in horticulture and arboriculture before embarking on a career in this field. What is important is that any study undertaken is relevant and of a high standard. It should be provided by reputable course providers who have qualified staff who are able to give up-to-date feedback. Employers are keen to take on those that can demonstrate a solid foundation in horticulture and propagation and eagerness to continue to learn more through experience and further study, whether formal or informal.
Progressing a Career
Arborists have a unique skill set and are much needed in the horticulture industry. Since trees are very much a part of the landscape in and around urban environments there is always work on offer. Some arborists offer an all-round service of care and maintenance. In the public sector it is possible to have arborists who are permanently contracted to take care of particular grounds, such as botanic gardens, trust gardens or specific streetscapes.
Other arborists are able to specialise, e.g. in particular tree genera or groups, or in particular services, and act as consultants to the council or government departments. Given the tremendous scope within this industry, the public sector offers great opportunities for career progression. This invariably includes further study or training. Large government departments offer opportunities to work up towards technical and supervisory roles, and ultimately well-paid management positions. For those who really apply themselves, display a good attitude and continue learning and may be possible to become government advisors.
Professional development is important. Science, products, equipment and techniques are constantly changing and improving in tree care like every other industry. If you are disconnected from industry change, you will not remain competitive with others who are up to date. It is therefore a good idea to be involved with a professional or trade organisation.