Landscape Contractor

What to Look for When Hiring a Landscape Contractor

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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A proficient landscape contractor can serve as a critical partner for architects and property owners. Whether it's to construct an outdoor guest space for a hotel, or simply to convert your garden into a stunning oasis, their services are essential.

Their expertise will ensure the project's outcomes align perfectly with your vision, objectives, and environmental conditions. Moreover, professional landscapers can ensure your project adheres to sustainability guidelines and fits well within the local climate. 

Overall, the right professional can save you a lot of headaches. However, it's not always easy to find such a skilled contractor. So, if you find yourself looking for one, here are a few aspects to keep in mind:

1) Understand Your Needs

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Before diving into the world of landscape professionals, it's paramount to lay out a clear map for your project. When you know what you want, it's easier to shortlist candidates based on the value they add to the project.

Plus, the criteria to follow change based on the type of project you want to turn into reality. 

a) Criteria to Consider as an Architect

An architect must focus on three critical areas: function, aesthetics, and sustainability.

  1. You need to visualize how you want the space to be used. Are we talking about a park catering to families or a corporate space for employees to relax during lunch breaks? 
  2. It's also crucial to know the final aspect of your project. Do you want sophisticated minimalism for a sleek commercial building or vibrant flora for a community center? 
  3. More than ever, eco-friendly designs are crucial because they benefit our planet and clients who appreciate being aligned with environmental welfare.

b) Criteria to Consider as a Property Owner

As a property owner, your needs may focus more on beautification and increasing property value.

As such, you may want to create an appealing place to relax and entertain guests. Also, landscaping isn't just about the present – it's also an investment in the future. When done right, it can considerably boost your property's resale value. 

In short, understanding and articulating your needs is the crucial first step toward finding a landscape contractor that will turn those requirements into reality. 

2) Essential Skills of a Landscape Contractor

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Choosing a landscaper is like casting an artist for your outdoor space. It's not about how good they are with a shovel; it's about their vision, creativity, and specialized skills. You want your contractor to be able to offer tips on the best type of fence for your garden or outdoor area and the best plants that keep the soil healthy.

Look for qualifications that show competence. A degree in landscape architecture, horticulture, or certifications from respected industry bodies is usually a good sign.

Creativity is also vital. So before you decide on a landscaper, ask to see their portfolios to better understand their grasp on different styles.

Lastly, ensuring real-world experience aligns with your project helps set expectations. For architects, a contractor should have mastery over commercial spaces. Meanwhile, homeowners would benefit more from those who understand how to personalize private landscapes.

3) Pricing Structure - Getting What You Pay For

Pricing is often a dominant factor when hiring a landscape contractor, so grasping the different pricing models can help you see value beyond just numbers. To better understand costs, check out this guide to pricing landscaping jobs.

In a nutshell, most contractors charge hourly for project costs. While this is problematic for larger projects, it is perfect for small construction or maintenance work. Depending on the project scope, you can also ask a contractor to bill you. This works great for complete garden makeovers where you have a well-defined outcome.

Regardless of the pricing structure you prefer, always look for transparent pricing. Some landscaping companies may try to use hidden charges stashed under jargon, so make sure to ask if there's something you don't understand.

4) Contracts and Agreements

A contract should contain all the specifics like the work scope, payment schedule, estimated timeline, and responsibilities of both parties to avoid misunderstandings. Landscape contracting brings many risks, including damages, losses, violations, and unforeseen circumstances. Without clear agreements on how to proceed with the landscape designers, things can go left pretty fast.

5) Reputation and References 

A stellar reputation is a landscape contractor's most compelling advertisement. It spells trust, reliability, and consistent performance. 

So, do your due diligence and check client references and examples of past work and completed projects. This allows you to gauge their capability and see if their style vibes with your project's vision. Also, don't underestimate the power of online reviews. They offer candid feedback about a contractor's strengths and weaknesses, which could be crucial in making your decision.

6) Project Timeline

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If you are working with a landscaping contractor who will charge per hour, then every minute has to count. Agreeing on how long the project will last is your greatest financial responsibility. The project timeline might be tied to other factors, including climate, community work projects, time restrictions like school breaks, and more.

7) License

Check for proper licensing and insurance coverage – a sign that they are serious professionals who abide by regulations, ensuring accountability for the work done. A license is not a be-all and end-all, as you still need landscape contractors who are experienced in their craft. Licensed landscaping contractors make accountability easier as you can have a case to make in case of a discrepancy. If you hire an unlicensed contractor and anything goes wrong, it is all on you.

8) Insurance

Insurance is your best protection against unforeseen circumstances. When hiring a landscaping company, ensure they have liability insurance that covers you in case of damage to your property during the project.

9) Company Location

Since you will most likely be hiring a contractor online, there is a chance that you will find options that are outside your state. Going for contractors within your state is advisable as they are more likely to understand your state laws, which may differ from other state laws concerning construction and landscaping.

If a company is located nearby, it is easier to deploy machinery and finish your project in good time.

10) Types of Landscapers

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A landscape contractor is likely to get your landscaping needs sorted out. However, knowing exactly what you want is wise to avoid getting fleeced or overcharged. Furthermore, while they are all landscape contractors, you will not hire an arborist to install your pool and a pool contractor to cut your trees.

Here are landscaping contractor specializations to help you go for exactly what you need;

a) Landscape Designers

These are landscape contractors who will do a general design of your landscaping needs. Landscape designers can design layouts, select plants, help you choose the best landscaping idea for your yard, and help you settle on the general aesthetic you want.

b) Landscape Installers

Once the landscape designer has the best ideas to install in your yard, it is up to the landscape installer to bring that dream to life. The landscape installers will take care of the planting, installation of irrigation systems, installation of the hardscape features, and more.

If you already have a design, you can hire just the landscape installers to avoid the fees you would pay the designer.

c) Hardscape Designer

When discussing landscapes, we often focus too much on the plants and forget the other elements, such as water features, pathways, masonry walls, etc. The hardscape designer deals with everything that is non-living during landscape design.

There are instances when you need to replace scrubby grass with something better, and there is a chance that a hardscape designer will come to your help.

d) Arborists and Tree-Care Specialists

Trees are a huge part of our landscapes, and some people are especially skilled in caring for trees. Sometimes, designing a landscape involves a lot of pruning, so you need an arborist. Arborists not only make your trees look presentable but do so with safety as a priority. When pruning or cutting down trees, there is a high risk of damage and accidents that only an arborist can avoid. You do not want the cost of a tree falling on your roof or your neighbor's roof.

e) Landscape Lighting Specialist

The challenge with beautiful specialty gardens is how they look during the night. If your landscape looks good during the day, it deserves to look good at night, too, and you can achieve this by lighting the landscape well.

f) Landscape Architect

A landscape architect is a trained professional with skills in designing outdoor spaces, including parks, developments, public spaces, and more. If you are working on a community project, you need to look for a landscape architect before worrying about how the grass will look.

g) Lawn-Care and Maintenance Contractors

Once your landscape is designed and built, it needs maintenance, fertilizing, mowing, and more. For this, you will need a lawn care and maintenance contractor.

h) Pool and Water-Feature Contractors

Pool contractors help you pick the best pool for your yard and how to install it. Furthermore, they help with other water features such as waterfalls, fountains, ponds, etc.

i) Irrigation Contractor

Irrigation contractors ensure irrigation systems are put in place properly. These contractors also help you decide which system will be good for your lawn and help you choose from systems like sprinklers, drip, and other water solutions.

j) Sports Turf Management Contractors

Suppose you consider installing a tennis or a basketball court in your yard. In that case, a sports turf management contractor is your go-to landscape contractor to help you achieve professional levels.

k) Garden Designers

Garden designers bring the horticultural expertise to the table. They advise which plants to use on your lawn, how to arrange them, what to have on your flower bedand so on.

l) Ecological Landscapers

Ecological or environmental landscapers give you the most sustainable solution to your landscape design, including how to avoid erosion, take advantage of rainwater, drought-resistant plants, and more.

m) Snow and Ice Management Contractors

You will need to know how your yard will behave during winter. Furthermore, when winter comes, you need someone to take care of the landscape, and a snow management contractor will have that taken care of.

In Summary

When looking for a landscape contractor, check their competence, creativity, and experience. Also, ensure you understand your needs since landscape professionals often activate on specific niches (commercial spaces vs. residential ones, for instance).

Lastly, make sure their pricing structure is transparent and fits your budget. Also, don't forget to check their reputation and previous projects. Reputations take time and hard work to build, so a landscaper that their former employers applaud is worth considering. 

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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