Types of Tree Care Certifications and Why They Matter

Tree care companies come in a wide variety of sizes and skill levels, and choosing the right one for your project can be challenging. Should you go with the established, TCIA-affiliated tree care company? The Certified Arborist with a chipper and a small crew of Certified Tree Workers? The gal with the chainsaw and the pickup truck? All of these are easy to locate and easy to hire, but price isn’t the only thing that differentiates them from one another.

So what does?

As in most industries, certifications and professional affiliations communicate a great deal of information about a tree care company or professional. A variety of national and international organizations offer different types of accreditation, and though the focus of each is slightly different, the uniting theme is accountability. These organizations’ codes of ethics are publicly available online, and any member found to be out of compliance is subject to disciplinary action.

Types of Tree Care Certification

Two of the most popular and reputable certifying organizations in the industry, are the (1)  International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the (2) Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). Neither offers lifetime membership, and in order to become recertified, the accreditee must satisfy certain requirements with on-going education.


Several credentials are offered to individuals through the ISA, most commonly the Certified Arborist and Certified Tree Worker certifications. Candidates must satisfy work experience and/or formal education prerequisites, and must pass a rigorous written and/or practical test. Continuing education through classes, seminars, and workshops is required for re-certification.

Certification by the ISA is a prerequisite, or counts toward the requirements, for a variety of other, more specialized credentials offered by other organizations. These include the California Urban Foresters’ Council; the Bay Friendly Landscaping and Gardening Coalition; the American Society of Consulting Arborists; the Society of American Foresters; and others.


In order to qualify for membership in TCIA, a tree care company must carry appropriate insurance; have the appropriate number of Arborists on staff for its size; and have a good safety and consumer satisfaction rating. Doing business with a TCIA-Accredited company helps ensure that the tree care process, including resolving any issues that arise, will go smoothly.

TCIA also promotes a culture of safety in the industry through training and education of tree workers. Despite being a relatively high-risk industry, safety was not historically emphasized as a core value. TCIA and other organizations, along with changing cultural values, have helped improve safety for both workers and those who happen to be nearby when tree work is being performed.

Interested in other types of HOA accrediations to look out for? Check out this guide on community association manager certifications

Is it Worth the Extra Expense?

In short, YES! There are two major ways in which accredited tree care professionals are superior to the alternative:

Quality of Work and Long-Term Costs

Far from being static features of the landscape, trees are dynamic, living organisms requiring specialized care. Appropriate management practices vary widely based on species, site conditions, and the property manager’s objectives. Uncertified tree workers may not be familiar with the best practices for a given situation, and may cause irreversible damage to trees. The purpose of certification programs like those offered by the ISA is to ensure as far as possible that every certified professional’s knowledge is accurate and up to date.

One major advantage of obtaining high-quality tree care is that, over time, your trees will require less maintenance than they would if cared for improperly. If a tree carefully selected from good nursery stock is installed in an appropriate location, planted properly, pruned periodically to promote good structure, and monitored for health issues, it is unlikely to need expensive remedial work at any point in its life. If even one of these steps is not performed correctly, the tree’s health or structure may be compromised, leading to early death or failure (falling) of the limbs or trunk.

Poorly-cared-for trees can be a nuisance and potentially even cause property damage or personal injury. When, on the other hand, trees are appropriately cared for, they can provide decades or even centuries of well-documented benefits. They can help reduce heating and cooling costs, increase property values and salability, and even improve economic vitality in the surrounding community. Trees are a good investment both financially and socially, and making that investment starts with hiring qualified professionals to care for them.

Legal Issues and Liability

Even when trees are properly cared for, failures do occasionally occur. When property damage or personal injury results, lawsuits may be filed. Arborists may be called as expert witnesses for either side and if improper tree care is found to have contributed to the failure, the tree care company or Property Manager may be found liable for the damage. (If the tree had no obvious defects and was managed appropriately, its failure may be deemed an “act of God,” meaning all parties are absolved of responsibility.)

Furthermore, there is potential for property damage or personal injury any time tree work occurs. Many of the tools used are sharp and high-powered and can be deadly, as can falling limbs and trunks. Though tree workers are at the greatest risk, all people and property in the general vicinity may potentially be impacted by accidents. A TCIA-accredited tree care company is legally obligated to stand behind its work, and also carries the level of insurance necessary to deal with this type of issue. An unaccredited company without the proper insurance may further complicate legal proceedings.

Where can I find an accredited tree care company?

The ISA and TCIA websites contain listings of all the professionals and companies they certify. Before hiring anyone who claims to be certified, it is advisable to consult these listings to make sure they are members in good standing.

Adapted from article by Katherine Naegele, Certified Arborist, Serpico Landscaping Tree Care Division.