Larry Figart
| For the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union USA TODAY NETWORK

I was recently asked by a retired couple to look at some trees on their property that an arborist they hired said they needed to be removed. The trees weren’t perfect. They were older aquatic oaks, but the arborist in this case told them that the orange growth (lichen) growing on the bark of their tree is killing it and that if they didn’t cut the tree, the disease would start on their tree, affecting that Wood in their home.

What the tree removal specialist told the couple actually had no basis. The lichens did not harm their tree and it would not affect the wood in their home. I hope the arborist wasn’t informed and wasn’t just taking advantage of this couple’s fears. Granted, I wasn’t there and just repeating what the couple told me. But after talking to them, I felt the need to write this article.

Diagnosing tree problems is a very special skill. It takes a lot of observation and study to get it right. Working and climbing in trees can be very dangerous and requires a lot of technical skill. Professional arborists should have these skills.

The term arborist has been misused by some people in the arborist industry recently. The definition of an arborist is one skilled in the art and science of planting, tending, and caring for trees and other woody plants. Many people claim to be arborists but don’t have the skills or training necessary.

There is currently no tree maintenance license in the state of Florida. A professional license is required. Liability insurance for personal injury and property damage and employee compensation insurance are also very important. Contact the insurance carrier to verify that the tree service you are about to discontinue has the coverage it claims.

When should you need to hire an arborist? You can choose to do the job yourself instead of hiring an arborist. Even if you know where and how to prune trees, if tree pruning requires special equipment, a ladder is used, or your feet are not firmly on the ground, you should hire a qualified arborist. Many homeowners are injured every year trying to do their own tree chores.

Here are some tips for choosing a qualified arborist:

• If they say they will tower over your trees, don’t hire them. The topping-out ceremony can lead to structural weaknesses that can create a dangerous tree.

• Look at more than an arborist.

• Ask for written specifications of what they would like to do. That way you can compare what each one is going to do.

• Ask for references and review them. Someone who does a good job welcomes showing off their work.

• If it is recommended that you remove a living tree, make sure you understand why and agree on why it should be removed.

• Don’t choose someone just by price. Proper insurance and specialized equipment are expensive, and the better arborists usually have higher overheads.

• Try using an ISA certified arborist. Certification doesn’t always guarantee a quality arborist, but there is a good chance an ISA certified arborist is a professional who uses the most up-to-date arboriculture practices. You can find an ISA Certified Arborist by clicking the “Find Arborist” link online at

• Check liability and workers’ compensation insurance by asking for the insurance company’s phone number and calling them to check coverage. The photocopy of an insurance policy that you receive may not be up to date.

• Ask them when the last training session was and what the topic was. This will help identify an arborist who is up to date on the latest practices and treatments.

Arborists should be qualified, knowledgeable, and able to communicate effectively with their customers. By following these steps, a tree care consumer can feel more confident that they have hired the right person for the job.

Larry Figart is Urban Forestry Expansion Agent at the University of Florida / IFAS.