Skip Navigation
Truck of professional tree care company. Wood log and debris cleanup. Truck near trees.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS019

How to Hire a Tree Care Professional

  • Jason Grabosky, Professor, Urban Forestry
  • Nicholas Polanin, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Somerset County
  • Pam Zipse, Executive Director, New Jersey Tree Foundation
  • Roslyn Dvorin, Outreach Coordinator, Urban Forestry Program

Trees are valuable landscape assets. They provide beauty and shade, along with several social, environmental, community, and economic benefits to our cities, towns, suburbs, and landscapes. For these reasons, trees require an investment of time, money, and expertise for their proper selection, planting, care, maintenance, and removal. When problems occur, such as storm or insect damage, or general maintenance is required, the help of a tree care professional may be warranted. Pruning or removing large trees can be dangerous work, especially if it requires climbing or working from an elevated position. Therefore, such work should be left to trained and qualified tree care professionals.

Tree care professionals, as defined by the New Jersey Tree Experts and Tree Care Operators Licensing Act (N.J.S.A. 45:15C-11 et seq.) fall into two categories: Licensed Tree Care Operator (LTCO) and Licensed Tree Expert (LTE). LTCO services include "tree pruning, repairing, brush cutting or removal, tree removal, and stump grinding or removal." LTE Services include all of the above, along with "tree establishment, fertilization, cabling and bracing, lightning protection, consulting, diagnosis, and treatment of tree problems or diseases, tree management during site planning and development, tree assessment and risk management, and application of pesticides or any other form of tree maintenance." In special circumstances, consulting services might include serving as an expert witness to provide expertise and testimony in legal cases involving damage or injury related to trees.

Finding a Tree Care Professional

In New Jersey, businesses that provide tree care services are legally required to be registered with the New Jersey Board of Tree Experts and must have a licensed individual on staff at the principal office and each branch office.

As of April 2017, all businesses providing tree care services in the state of New Jersey are required to:

Individuals licensed as LTCOs or LTEs must retain their license certificate, abide by industry standards for arboriculture and safety as set forth in N.J.A.C. 7:3A-8.1, and shall earn 32 credits or more of continuing education for each 2-year licensing period.

Advertisement by a tree care company must include its New Jersey Tree Care Operator registration number. A registered business can only advertise services for which it has received approval. There are many registrations and licenses offered by the State of New Jersey. Additionally, many national and local organizations offer professional credentials. To do tree care business in New Jersey, a business needs to be registered with the New Jersey Board of Tree Experts and employ at least one licensed individual. Consumers can be misled by a general business license or a pesticide license. Consumers should ask to see a copy of the company's business registration, its proper insurance coverage, and the name of the company's Licensed Tree Expert.

In addition, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) administers a voluntary certification program, which measures an arborist's level of knowledge and expertise across "domains" of tree care, from biology to identification. While any certification is not a guarantee of quality work, it does indicate a commitment to professionalism and education. Another indication of commitment to professionalism is membership in professional organizations such as the Tree Care Industry Association or the American Society of Consulting Arborists, to name a few.

It is important to inquire about experience, training, insurance, and references. Compile a short list of companies or individuals to contact and ask for recommendations from family, friends, or neighbors who have had tree work done. Not every tree care company provides every service, so search for an expert who has experience with your specific tree care need.

Choosing a Tree Care Professional

One way to increase the likelihood of hiring a professional that you are satisfied with is to be an educated consumer. Read what you can about the proper pruning and maintenance of trees. You can also contact your local county offices of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, which can provide information and advice. Be sure to check your municipality's local ordinances that limit or impact your ability to prune or remove trees and be sure the chosen contractor is also aware of local ordinances, which may vary between municipalities.

After you have your short list of quality tree care companies, obtain more than one evaluation of the condition of your trees, the specific work requested or required, and a written cost estimate. There may be a charge for the consultation, assessment and/or the estimate itself. If tree removal is recommended, the estimate should specify the reasons why the tree needs to be removed. These might include: the tree is dead or clearly dying; the tree poses an unacceptable risk because of identified problems with the tree itself due to less than optimal growing conditions or poor location; the tree is an obstruction and there is no other remedy; or the tree is undesirable (e.g., structurally weak, disease or insect prone, or an invasive species).

Beware of companies that solicit business "door-to-door," require advance payment other than for plant and landscape materials, offer a special deal for fast decisions, or show up unannounced in the aftermath of a tree-damaging storm. Also, beware of those who advertise or recommend topping, which is the improper pruning or rounding-over of trees at a pre-determined height. Proper pruning should never remove more than 25% of the branches or limbs in a given year, and all cuts should be done appropriately to avoid leaving stubs or rip cuts in the bark. Other harmful or unethical tree care practices to avoid include the use of climbing spikes or spurs while working on live trees or tree removal without clear evidence of the need. An LTCO or LTE should be able to provide, on request, a written statement of need, estimate, contract, current business registration, and LTCO or LTE license, insurance, and pesticide applicator license (if appropriate).

Contracting a Tree Care Professional

Once your tree care professional is selected, the contract will be prepared. Read it carefully. It should specify the beginning and end date of work; details of the work to be done with clear identification of the trees to be worked on; the standards to be used for pruning; specifics of insect and disease control and notification as required by New Jersey law; clean-up work that will be done; how any firewood will be handled – size, where stacked; how stumps, if any, will be handled; total cost of specified work and an hourly rate for any unexpected additional work that may be needed outside of the contracted work. If pesticides for insect or disease control will be applied, New Jersey law has additional licensing requirements.

Additional Information

Business Registration and Professional Licensing in New Jersey

Professional Certifications and Organizations


This fact sheet has been updated from the original version written by Nicholas Polanin, Martha Maletta, and Jason Grabosky.

August 2023