The Right Questions to Ask an Arborist

Topping is big no-no when it comes to tree pruning. If a potential contractor practices topping, move on to another contractor.

Winter is the best time to prune your trees. Make sure you have the best arborist for the job. It will save you both money and headaches.

During my long tenure at the Texas Forest Service, now the Texas A&M Forest Service, people frequently asked for arborist recommendations. But as a public servant, I was — and still am — obliged not to provide references unless the individuals or companies have gone through an objective training or screening process.

Still, I’m happy to offer some guidance to help you choose a professional arborist to care for your trees. For starters, you’ll want to ask a potential contractor if he or she practices topping, and I’m not talking dessert. If the answer is yes, then move on to another contractor.

If the answer is no, proceed by asking for:

  • A City of San Antonio arborist license. Any individual or company doing work within the city limits must have received training and paid for an arborist license.
  • Certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage, and workers’ compensation. Phone the insurance company or agent to ensure the policy is current.
  • A written contract that fully explains the work to be done, on what day, and the price per service performed.
  • International Society of Arboriculture membership which demonstrates professionalism and a desire to improve his or her knowledge of tree care.
  • Proof of membership with one of the other professional arborist associations including the San Antonio Arborist Association, the American Society of Consulting Arborists or the Tree Care Industry Association.
  • Local references. Your neighbor is still one of the best resources.

Follow these simple steps and your tree and wallet will thank you.


Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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