Three questions to ask before hiring tree work

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 Red Fern Landscape Design | Tree Questions

As the Shade Tree Short Course starts up this week, I’m thinking about questions my clients might have about trees and tree work, and I often get asked how to choose a “tree guy”.  But first let me say I wish there were more women in this industry!

Caring for the trees on your property is an important decision.  Here’s why: trees are the most expensive thing in your landscape, and often the biggest liability.  Healthy trees can reduce energy use, increase property value, decrease crime, contribute to slower traffic, help you sell your home faster, and add charm and enjoyment to your property.  Meanwhile, hazard trees can become a huge financial burden, decrease your home value, increase your home insurance rates, and become an enormous headache.  Taking down a large tree on a typical suburban lot can cost thousands of dollars and require heavy equipment and large crews.  Just pruning can be an extensive operation, and it’s often done poorly, leading to unhealthy trees that eventually need to be removed.

Since many of us have large trees on our properties that offer tremendous value to our homes, deciding who to hire is big decision.  Tree work is not cheap, and you want to make sure you are getting value for all the money you’re spending.  Here are three important questions you can ask someone as you decide who should come do work on trees at your property.


It really matters to get somebody who knows what they’re doing.  First of all, a “tree guy”, or a tree surgeon, is called an arborist.  You want a certified arborist climbing your trees.  An arborist, by definition, is an individual trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees and are trained and equipped to provide proper care.  Not everyone who climbs and cuts trees has been trained as an arborist, and you want someone who is a certified arborist doing the work at your home.

It’s through the International Society of Arboriculture (the ISA) that someone becomes a certified arborist.  They offer exams and continuing education all across the country.  Each state has a chapter, and Iowa’s is the Iowa Arborists Association.  The IAA has a list of members on its website, so you can see who invests in the licensure process.  If you’re going to have somebody work on something worth thousands of dollars in your yard, they should be trained and tested – certified.


Anyone with a license has to keep up education.  These are not just check the box kind of events.  You are getting quality education from researchers from the university or experts in the field.  The IAA partners with Iowa State to put on the Shade Tree Short Course that is held each year in Ames, and they offer other trainings and educational opportunities throughout the year.

Ask about how they keep up their license- what trainings they’ve been to.  Ask what they learned from it.  Arborists should be passionate about doing the best quality work they can, and they should be excited to improve their practice.


Find out how they operate.  Ask about their crews- will the person you’re talking to on the phone or meeting at your house for a quote be the one on site doing work?  If not, ask about their crews – do they get training? Are they certified?  Or are they just operating under the owner’s license?

Ask for references and call those references.  Find out if they show up on time, clean up the worksite, and do a good job.  Lots of people can make cuts and climb trees, but few run a quality business.


Remember that the trees on your property are both a huge asset and a major liability.  They often require maintenance to remain healthy.  There is both an art and a science to tree care – it’s not wise to trust these giant responsibilities to the cheapest guy out there with a chain saw.  Investigate what your tree guy knows, and make an informed decision about who you hire.