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Hiring a Landscape Professional

You may need some assistance on specific elements of your garden that are beyond your abilities. Or, you may want to choose to have a professional take on the entire project for you. Below you will find some tips on selecting and working with landscape professionals.

Selecting a Landscape Professional: What do you need?

There are some important distinctions among landscape professions as described below.

Landscape Architects

Landscape Architects have advanced degrees, specialized training, and in 46 states, a license to practice. Landscape Architects typically provide a package of services from site analysis to design and construction drawings to management of installation.

Licensed Landscape Architects design outdoor structures, drainage systems, and design components that landscape designers are not licensed to perform. Contact the American Society of Landscape Architects ( or their state and regional chapters for more information.

Landscape Designers

Landscape Designers are self-taught or may have the same training as landscape architects, but without state licenses. The Landscape Designer may fit your needs if your project does not have complex outdoor structures, retaining walls, or drainage system requirements.

A Landscape Designer typically works in conjunction with a licensed Landscape Contractor. For more information, contact the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (

Landscape Contractors

Licensed Landscape Contractors are trained to provide grading services, install planting and irrigation, and construct structural elements of design. Some may be certified in landscape design or irrigation.

Certification means they have had additional training in these areas, usually through a trade association such as the Irrigation Association or California Landscape Contractors Association ( Many state associations with additional information specific to your region also exist.


Horticulturists are trained in the science of growing and producing plants. Some Horticulturists have design training, but are most helpful in assisting you in the selection of plants.

For information, you can contact the American Horticultural Society (, or in California, you can contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Program (

Certified Arborists

Certified Arborists are trained in the science of protecting, preserving and maintaining trees and shrubs. Certified Arborists are not typically trained in design but can assist you in identifying the appropriate care for your trees and shrubs. For information, contact the American Society of Consulting Arborists (

Tips for Hiring

  1. Decide on what services you need. Be realistic about the work you can and want to do yourself.
  2. Make a realistic budget. Appropriate landscape improvements are estimated to return up to 200 percent of their cost when a house is sold. Investing 10 percent of your property’s worth is reasonable. This figure should include all design and installation costs, as well as plants.
  3. Ask for bids and compare prices, services and qualifications. It’s a good idea to get three bids to compare price and work. Request all bids in writing. Remember that the lowest price may not always be the best. Be certain that each bid lists all the preparatory and finish work that the contractor has suggested, as well as the amounts and types of soil amendments and brand of irrigation equipment. Ask for license number and any special certifications they may have such as irrigation or landscape design.
  4. Hire only licensed contractors or architects and preferably ones that have had additional certification training in the work you are looking for. For irrigation work, look for a certified contractor.
  5. Ask to look at the Landscape Professional’s installed work. Visit those projects and talk to owners, if possible. Ask about any water efficient gardens they have designed and installed.
  6. If you use a licensed Landscape Architect, ask for their license number. Call your state’s department of consumer affairs or equivalent to verify that it is issued for landscape architecture, is current, and is in good standing.
  7. If you use a Landscape Contractor, ask for their license number. Contact your contractor’s state license board or equivalent to verify that it is issued for landscaping, is current, and is in good standing. The California Contractor State License Board makes contract status information available at:
  8. Licensed contractors must be bonded and experienced in the trade to apply for a license (requirements vary by state). Unlicensed contractors, typically, are not bonded and may not have liability or worker’s compensation insurance. Unlicensed contractors routinely provide a business license number that is not a contractor’s license number. If you hire an unlicensed person, you may be financially responsible for injuries, fire, or property damage.
  9. Request a contract. The contract should include:
    • Legal details, including name, address, license number, and telephone number, and the registration number of any salesperson involved.
    • Total cost, including any down payment or schedule of installment payments.
    • A complete description of the work to be done, materials to be used including quantities and sizes of plant materials, types and brands of irrigation equipment, construction materials, and a landscape water management plan.
    • Guarantees on work and materials.
    • Approximate date when work will begin and be completed.
    • A statement that the contractor will do any necessary clean up and removal of debris.
    • Insurance requirements and requirement for proof.

After the contract is signed, make sure any changes that you and the contractor agree to make in the work or materials is in writing.

Full payment is usually requested on completion of the job or in installments if the job will take a period of weeks. If a contractor asks for a down payment, often ten percent of the total cost, remember that home improvement projects (including landscaping) often have a legal limit.

In California, the contractor can only ask for a ten percent down-payment (excluding finance charges) or $1,000, whichever is less. Make payments by check or money order, not cash.

Once hired, use your landscape professional’s time wisely. Prepare the Garden Needs Checklist, or be prepared with a list of wishes, needs, and any problems. This will give the professional a solid foundation to build on and ensure the most efficient process possible.

Sometimes, in spite of all the precautions taken, problems will occur. If this happens, first contact your contractor. Usually, problems can be worked out and corrections will be made willingly. If not, file a written complaint with your Contractors State License Board or equivalent.

William Lowe
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