Landscapers vs. Arborists – What’s the Difference?

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series dedicated to promoting workplace safety, as part of National Safety Month. Learn more about TCIA’s safety initiatives .

Landscapers vs. ArboristsDistinguishing between landscapers and arborists may seem unnecessary, at first. To the average homeowner, there is little difference between the two – both perform a variation of yard work, so it doesn’t really matter which one you hire, right?


Landscaping and arboriculture are very unique professions, and it’s important for homeowners to be cognizant of this fact. Failing to understand the differences could lead to safety hazards, as landscapers are often ill-equipped handle the more dangerous aspects of tree work, according to Peter Gerstenberger, Senior Advisor to the President for Safety, Standards and Compliance at TCIA.

“Traditional landscaping tasks include landscape and hardscape installation, lawn care, lawn irrigation installation and maintenance, mulching, garden bed preparation and maintenance and sometimes shrub pruning,” Gerstenberger explains. “Arboriculture, on the other hand, involves caring for mature trees, tree removal, pruning, cabling, stump grinding, and more.”

Why is the distinction important? “A landscaper will not necessarily be equipped with the training and the tools needed to perform arboricultural operations safely, or even correctly,” Gerstenberger asserts. This can result in the landscape contractor overextending himself, which can result in damage to their person and/or your property. As a homeowner, you may even find yourself responsible for the damage, especially if your contractor doesn’t carry liability insurance!

Professional arborists, on the other hand, are accustomed to handling dangerous equipment such as chippers and chainsaws.  Reputable tree care companies also adhere to pruning standards, carry liability insurance and understand the importance of standardized safety practices on the jobsite.

So, how can homeowners determine whether they need to hire a landscaping company versus a tree care company? “Consider the scope of the work that needs to be done, and match it to the scope of services offered by the company you’re hiring,” Gerstenberger advises.

In other words, if your lawn needs an aesthetic overhaul by someone knowledgeable in horticulture, call a landscaping company. If your trees are looking desperate or dangerous, call a reputable tree care company your area (click here to find one in your zip code ).

Working Together

Still, this is not to say that tree care and landscaping companies are fundamentally at odds with one another.  Landscaping and arboriculture are complementary professions, and can often collaborate to capture new leads, share in extra profits, and coordinate marketing and sales efforts.

“Being sensitive to both [landscaping and arboriculture] – trying to understand each other’s worlds, and trying to get our industries to talk – makes a huge difference in the relationship,” suggests Scott Jamieson, former TCIA board member. “In the end, it will not only be better for the trees, but also the clients.” (You can read more of his thoughts on this subject in his joint presentation, “When to Call an Arborist or Landscaper,” which outlines the pros and cons of collaborations between landscapers and arborists.)

Working as a team can result in a mutually beneficial business relationship – one that creates added value for clients, brings in additional revenue streams, and saves money on overhead costs.

As long as homeowners are educated about their needs, and understand the nuances of landscaping and arboriculture, then the requisite work can be performed safely and effectively. No matter which contractor you chose, remember – safety is always the most important factor in your decision!