Tree Surgeon VS Arborist: What’s The Difference?

James Frazer
3 min readAug 15, 2017


The words ‘tree surgeon’ & ‘arborist’ are very often used interchangeably, with people confusing one with the other or even sometimes thinking that they are in fact one and the same. While there may be fair amount of commonality between a tree surgeon and an arborist, there are some key differences between the two.

One of the main differences between the two are the qualifications that they hold. After that it comes down to the knowledge they have of the trees that they work with and how they care for them. If you think of a tree surgeon as you would a medical surgeon and an arborist as a doctor, you may start to understand how they can be similar but very different at the same time.

Tree surgeon at work

The tree surgeon

A skilled tree surgeon is adept at safely pruning, felling and removing trees — stumps included. This isn’t the kind of thing that anybody with a saw can do, in much the same way you wouldn’t trust your neighbour to perform an operation on you with zero time spent as an actual, qualified surgeon.

Fully trained tree surgeons perform exceptionally difficult tasks, which are often dangerous, and are able to do so accurately, with care, professionally and safely. Felling a tree, for instance, requires an element of precision that just isn’t possible without proper training; there are any number of things that can go wrong, including surrounding trees being brought down by the weight of the target tree crashing into them.

Much like a smokestack, a tree needs to be brought down in a controlled manner where its direction can be dictated so as to avoid damage to anything that may be around it that cannot be removed. Even tree limb removal has its challenges, ones that shouldn’t be attempted by anybody but a professional tree surgeon.

The arborist

An arborist can be thought of as a doctor, if a tree surgeon can be thought of as a medical surgeon. The arborist can accurately identify disease in a tree, by studying the symptoms being displayed, and provide recommendations for treatment — such as passing the ‘patient’ to a tree surgeon if necessary.

Ecological systems and the various interactions within them are complex and widely varied depending on the environment; gardeners and forestry agencies cannot always throw a group of plants, such as trees, together and expect everyone to get along. Things don’t always work out that way, unfortunately.

A fully qualified arborist will be able to tell you what trees will thrive in the conditions available and among existing plant and animal life — insects included. Of course, when examining the surroundings the arborist will also consider the soil type. All of these things are key to a healthy and thriving environment for concerned trees.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of both what tree surgeons and arborists do, but also how they differ from one another while still maintaining close links with each other.

You can find out more about tree surgery and arboriculture by visiting