How to Hire a Tree Service

Stanton Rosenthal
Forestry Extension Faculty
Leon County

If you need to hire someone to care for, remove or prune your trees, there are a few things you should check before you select a service. First, check to see if they are a certified arborist. A certified arborist (not just a member, but one who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)) is someone who has demonstrated a basic knowledge of tree care through the completion of a comprehensive exam on tree trimming, care and removal. A tree surgeon is a title that requires no training. A certified arborist must earn continuing education. This helps them keep up-to-date with the latest techniques for safely removing or caring for your trees. You can find currently ISA certified arborists on the ISA Web page (

Bruce Smith, an ISA Certified Arborist, demonstrates proper technique and personal protective equipment. Photo Credits: Theresa Friday, Santa Rosa County Extension

Second, check to see if the company is a member of professional organizations such as The International Society of Arboriculture, American Society of Consulting Arborists, Tree Care Industry Association or the Florida Arborists Association. The yellow pages list tree-cutting companies (including arborists) under "tree". No licensing is required for these companies other than a regular occupational license.

Third, ask if they are insured. Personal and property damage liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance are also very important. A good company will have certificates of insurance issued directly to you from their insurance carrier. Copies of policies shown to you may be out of date. To determine if a business has workers compensation, contact the insurance carrier listed on the policy you have been shown or the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security. Below is their address and phone number and Web page address. At the Florida Department of Financial Services Web page check the proof of coverage database (compliance) section in the Division of Workers CompensationBureau of Compliance page.

Florida Department of Financial Services

200 East Gaines Street

Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0300

CONSUMER HELPLINE: 1-800-324-2762

A business might have been issued an exemption from workers compensation. A wallet-sized card will bear the seal of the State of Florida, have an authorization signature and will list the business name, address, the exempted individual and an effective date. Note, that having this does not limit a homeowner's liability if a worker is injured on your property. Also, do not depend on the yellow pages for any of the aformentioned information because it may be out of date.

Get two or more free estimates of the work you want done. If you need professional advice on what should be done, a consultation fee may be appropriate. Remember, quality of work might be more important than price. Ask them to prioritize what tasks are most important to accomplish your goals (such as which trees are most hazardous or which trees are most expensive) so that you can conform your plan to your budget.

Ask for a complete written estimate of all services they recommend before you sign a contract. This should be on a formal estimate sheet with complete details of all work intended to be performed. This should include tasks such as disposal of debris, cleaning work area, stump grinding, removal of wood or if they will cut and stack firewood.

Always have a signed contract with the total dollar amount and completion date of work to be performed. Read the contract carefully before signing, as any document. You should receive a legible copy. This will help protect against possible future disagreements over what services were suggested and agreed to.