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Landscaper vs. Arborist: What’s the difference

In Canterbury (South Island, New Zealand), where awareness of landscaping and arboriculture may be limited, distinguishing between these disciplines is vital, particularly when seeking tree services. While many may perceive landscapers and arborists as interchangeable, they are distinct professions within the realms of horticulture and arboriculture, respectively. Both fields share a common goal of preserving natural surroundings, yet they involve specialized roles and expertise.

Recognizing this disparity is crucial for obtaining satisfactory and effective tree services in Canterbury. Understanding the difference ensures that the appropriate professionals are engaged for the specific needs related to tree care and maintenance in the region.

Landscapers take care of the following things:

  • Landscape (natural assets) or hardscape design and installation (man-made fixtures).
  • Installing, maintaining lawn irrigation and ensuring the correct water drainage system.
  • Covering the land using mulch to enrich or protect the soil.
  • Developing, maintaining, and preparing garden beds.
  • Pruning shrubs in order to promote plant health. 

Despite their horticultural skills, landscapers lack sufficient knowledge about how to deal with complex tree issues. They may not possess the right set of equipment to do any arboricultural tasks effectively (or safely). An attempt in doing so can result in major injury or property damage.

On the other hand, arborists (a.k.a “tree doctors”) specialise in tree health. They’re well-trained and equipped with all the right machines and equipment so they can handle advanced tree jobs. 

An arborist takes care of the following:

  • Monitor the health of trees and determine ways to treat any disease.
  • Perform pruning, trimming, tree felling, stump removal, applying mulching, etc. – complex issues to take care of tree health and production.
  • Remove or reduce trees in a safe and efficient manner.
  • Cabling or bracing susceptible branch unions to provide structural support.
  • Tree transplanting and replanting them in more suitable areas.
  • Feed trees with key nutrients, perform deep root or tree spike fertilisation, etc.
  • Protect trees by injecting pest control solutions.
  • Grind stumps, ensuring that the remains of a tree are removed.

Points of difference:


The distinction between a landscaper and an arborist usually centres around safety concerns. Arborists are educated to climb and trim trees securely with the help of specific instruments and equipment. From rigging to harnessing, to aerial lifting, arborists can handle it all. Besides, delivering Canterbury’s professional tree services on a variety of trees require specialised equipment, which most landscapers don’t have, (simply because they don’t need it).

Liability insurance

Liability insurance is another important point of distinction. Certified arborists in Canterbury have substantial liability insurance to protect themselves and the homeowner. Landscapers, on the other hand, are not often covered for arboriculture-caused damage. If the contractor doesn’t have the required insurance for tree removal or other services, homeowners might need to take care of the damage repair.

Licencing and permits

Tree Permits in Christchurch, New Zealand

  • Permits required: You generally need a resource consent from the Christchurch City Council before planting, trimming, or removing certain trees on your property. These are likely to be significant trees identified in the District Plan
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  • Determining significance: It’s recommended to contact the Council’s Urban Forester or use their online interactive mapping tool to see if your property has any protected trees. This will help determine if a resource consent is required for your specific situation [protected trees and guidelines – Christchurch City Council].
  • Penalties: The specific penalties for non-compliance with resource consent can vary depending on the situation. It’s best to refer directly to the Christchurch City Council for the most recent information on fines.

Heritage Trees

  • Protection: Heritage trees have additional protections under the City Plan. These trees cannot be removed unless they are dead, dying, or dangerous.
  • Arborist assessment: If you believe a heritage tree may be dead, dying, or dangerous, a qualified arborist can assess the tree’s health and provide a report to support a resource consent application for removal. The Council can recommend arborists but does not require that they be Canterbury-based.

Are they interchangeable?

It’s a good idea to think of these two fields – horticulture and arboriculture – as two independent occupations. Of course, some arborists in Canterbury can also provide landscaping services. However, for the sake of your trees and the safety of your family, only professional arborists should be hired for tree services.

So, in short, when should you call an arborist?

The grass, flower beds, irrigation system, and small decorative trees in your lawn can all be taken care of by landscapers. Their services also include mowing and fertilising grass, mulching, weeding, and shaping small trees. You may hire a landscaper for a one-time project or for the ongoing upkeep of your garden.

A landscaping business may assist you with planning your yard, planting a sapling, and performing minor tree and shrub trimming and pruning. But when it comes to handling large tree removal projects, this job is beyond the scope of a landscaper’s job description. It is too risky and involves a complicated process, better handled by a professional arborist.

ProArb Canterbury is a trusted source for the following (advanced) jobs:

  • Tree pruning
  • Tree trimming
  • Stump removal
  • Tree felling, and more.

If you find any task that is too much (or too dangerous) for a landscaper or yourself, then you can contact the right professional arborists in Canterbury for such jobs.

You can also check out this informative blog post on “How to choose a certified arborist in Canterbury”. For any additional information, you can contact us directly