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Do you need a surgeon, an arborist, or an arboriculturalist?

13th July 2021

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If you’re a homeowner or landlord looking for someone to maintain, or manage, the trees, bushes and hedges in your garden(s), then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were more than a little confused about who you should be calling for advice and assistance. Which begs the question: what's the difference between a surgeon, an arborist and an arboriculturalist?

Most people know that a tree surgeon trims and cuts down trees, but various other terms seem to be used interchangeably with this one. Some tree people call themselves tree surgeons, others use the term arborist, while some use arboriculturalists. Some even use a combination of all three. But what is the difference, and which should you be seeking out to look after the pruning, cutting back and general health and wellbeing of your trees? You wouldn’t want to choose the wrong one and have a second-rate job done.

The Tree Surgeon
A tree surgeon is the individual with the chainsaw that you’ll often see performing hair-raising feats high up in the branches of trees. They’re experts in the mechanical side of the business, pruning, crown reduction (where the tops of trees need cutting back for a variety of reasons), dead branch removal, tree or stump extraction and removal (it’s always a way bigger job than you might imagine, with that whole ‘iceberg’ element of trees where more goes on below the surface than above). Essentially, a good tree surgeon is a master of the equipment they will use each day, a precision pruner cutting the wood in ways that minimise recovery times and the chance of infection or infestation, and a safe worker who’s aware of all the health and safety regulations and sticks to them.

The Arborist
An arborist is something quite different, a complementary skillset to the tree surgeon. Where a tree surgeon is tasked with maintenance, an arborist is the master of tree management. There are qualifications they should obtain before calling themselves an arborist and their training and experience within the industry is focused on advising on the overall wellbeing and health of your trees. They are able to identify conditions that could infect or damage your tree, they’ll understand where to best place a tree, or what tree would work best in a particular environment, location or soil PH. They’ll also know how best to deal with a sick tree and advise on ways to prevent your trees from falling victim to illnesses or infestations. Essentially, they are the masters of tree management.

The Arboriculturalist
Well, it’s a trick question, because an arboriculturalist is actually the same as an arborist.

The best of both worlds option
In reality though, the answer to the question of which you will need, is both. If you can work with a firm that has both tree surgeons and arborists who collaborate to ensure your trees are planted, managed and maintained as well as they can be, that’s the best for any garden.

Beware those who misuse their titles
Tree care is an industry with relatively low barriers to entry. The basic equipment is not particularly expensive (not every would-be tree surgeon will have the vast array of professional-grade tools and equipment that we use), and many will misuse the titles we’ve mentioned above. So, as a customer, you have a tough job sorting the good from the bad, those with the best interests of your trees at heart from those who would do more harm than good. Check qualifications and credentials; an arborist will usually have letters after their name and/or have more than four years of continuous industry experience. A tree surgeon would just be qualified enough to carry out the works by being able to display their ‘practical’ qualifications to an employer.

To find out how we clearly identify ourselves as professionals of our craft, both as tree surgeons and arborists, call us on 0208 292 8992. We’re always happy to pop round or to help with a little advice.

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