What to Look for in a Landscape Contractor

Hiring Landscaping Professionals: Who Does What?

person planting shrub

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According to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), landscape contractors install planting elements of design conceived by landscape architects. Landscape contractors can be gardeners or landscapers. 

Among the many services a landscape contractor may provide:

  • Clear and grade the land
  • Make sure that there is proper and adequate drainage on the property
  • Build decks, patios, masonry walls, rock scapes, water features, paving, and other creative effects
  • Install and manage irrigation systems
  • Create interior landscapes and specialty gardens
  • Install lighting for safety and aesthetics
  • Select and plant everything from annuals and perennials to larger shrubs and trees
  • Maintain a garden to be pesticide-free and lessen or get rid of the use of chemicals used in the landscape
  • Audit water use to eliminate waste and reduce water usage in regions affected by drought

Landscape Contractors: Specialties

A landscape contractor can specialize in some or all of these areas:

  • Design and Build: The contractor can design outdoor elements like decks, patios, swimming pools, or gazebos. 
  • Installation: This can range from installing plants for a homeowner to bigger projects, like pools, paths, water features, and walls. 
  • Maintenance: A good contractor should have some education in horticulture and will provide weekly or biweekly pruning, fertilization, lawn care, pest management, etc.
  • Residential/Commercial: Projects may range from suburban homes to urban multi-unit housing and commercial exterior and interior landscaping.
  • Exterior and Interior: Some landscape contractors specialize in both; while others prefer to specialize in just interior or exterior landscaping projects.

What to Look for

When researching landscape contractors for a residential project, request a reference list and examples of completed projects. Ask to visit the homes with projects similar to yours. Actually visiting a project while it's in progress can be valuable and educational for you as a consumer. 

  • Pictures of finished projects, often available on the firm's website
  • Examples of community work
  • A biography
  • Articles the contractor has written 
  • Doing some online research

State Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements for landscaping contractors vary by state. In California, for example, if your project costs more than $500, the contractor must be licensed by the state. It's easy to verify a potential contractor: contact the California State License Board (or the board for your state or region) at (800) 321-2752 or visit them online at www.cslb.ca.gov. A contractor must demonstrate a minimum level of competency and financial responsibility to be licensed. All CLCA member-contractors meet this requirement.

According to the California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 8, Article 3. Classifications, "A landscape contractor constructs, maintains, repairs, installs, or subcontracts the development of landscape systems and facilities for public and private gardens and other areas which are designed to aesthetically, architecturally, horticulturally, or functionally improve the grounds within or surrounding a structure or a tract or plot of land. In connection therewith, a landscape contractor prepares and grades plots and areas of land for the installation of any architectural, horticultural and decorative treatment or arrangement."

For other states or regions, search the local licensing board for laws and requirements.

Other Landscaping Professionals

Additional professionals in the landscaping field include landscape architects and designers. Landscape architects must have bachelors and/or masters degrees from universities accredited by the ASLA and be licensed in the state in which they practice. Landscape designers, on the other hand, usually have some formal training, but are not licensed. Garden designers are similar to landscape designers, but mostly work with softscape features (plants), rather than hardscape. Landscape design/build firms may have several employees with varying degrees of training to help with different aspects of a project.

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