Tips for Hiring a Landscaper

Hiring a Landscaper

You’ve had it with your landscape. You’ve poured time and money into it but can’t achieve the oasis you desire, and you’re ready to make some changes. You decide to hire a landscape contractor, landscape designer or landscape architect, but where do you start? This article offers tips for hiring a landscaper to create the garden of your dreams.

Take Photos

Start with photos of landscapes you like. These can come from magazines, Instagram, Pinterest or other sources. Take photos of gardens you like when you go for walks, visit friends, drive around the town or go on vacation. Collect photos of plants you like. Include trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. 

Be prepared to talk about these images with the people you interview. Express what about the design, such as an open look and feel. What is it about that plant do you like, such as its form, size, color, flowers, fall color? Make known any plants you don’t like, such as those with thorns or with pink flowers. 

Create a budget

Determine how much you can afford to spend on the job. A complete landscape makeover will cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size, complexity and plants. 

However, many landscape companies will break down the job into individual projects to be completed over two or three years, making them easier on the household budget. Some will provide the landscape design with the understanding the property owners will buy and plant the plants themselves.

Know the different kinds of landscapers

Landscape contractors, designers and architects are the landscape professionals hired for landscape work. Although their services are similar, there are differences.

Landscape contractors 

Landscape contractors do the heavy work in the garden. They tear out plants, dig and plant new beds, install irrigation systems, hardscaping and other features. Some landscape contractors are full-service, from lawn care to landscaping services. They also may provide design or architectural services. 

Companies should be licensed to do business by the state or municipality. Crew members may have state or professional certifications or licenses for various services, such as tree care (arborist) or applying pesticides. The company should carry proof of liability insurance and bonding. It may be a member of the state or local association of landscape contractors. These companies also may be found at two professional organizations: National Association of Landscape Professionals and Professional Landscape Network

Landscape designers

Landscape designers do what the name implies: They design the project. They also can create outdoor living spaces. Landscape designers usually have relationships with contractors to do landscape installation, or they may have their own crews. These professionals are knowledgeable about plants and how they will perform in your landscape.

Although landscape designers prepare the drawings, they may need to seek approval by a landscape architect, depending on state or local regulations and the scope of the job.

Some may have degrees in design and be certified through the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. The certificate program includes a rigorous peer review of completed projects.

Landscape architects

Landscape architects hold degrees in the discipline. The state licenses and registers landscape architects after they pass rigorous exams. They may be members of the state chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects

Landscape architects commonly are required to draw up or approve design plans, especially if the project requires significant grading, steps or other tasks. Some groups require landscape architect-approved drawings when submitted for approval to appropriate channels. This could be a historic neighborhood, homeowners association or municipal, county or state regulators. 

Some landscape architects have their own full-service companies that do installations, landscape maintenance, tree care and lawn services. Sometimes they have relationships with landscape contractors for jobs.

Find a reputable contractor

Start by talking to people you know who’ve had landscaping done. Check your neighborhood’s Facebook page, your community’s NextDoor or other social media for online reviews, testimonials, complaints and recommendations. Complaints about a company also may be posted on your local Better Business Bureau website. Check public records to see if complaints or lawsuits have been filed. Visit each company’s website, which usually includes their services, accreditations and photos of completed jobs.

Meet with three companies. Discuss what your plans and goals are. Share your photos and ideas. The reps will probably have images of their jobs, which will give you an idea of their style, such as formal or natural landscapes. 

Tell them what you want. If you’re interested in incorporating native plants in your landscape, tell them. If you want low maintenance plants, ask for them. Are they hearing about your preferences and interests, or are they just pushing their ideas? Is there a willingness to work with you to meet your expectations?

Ask them if you may contact past clients. Ask for addresses of jobs they’ve done so you can drive by. Ask if their company or a subcontractor will be doing the work. The company should go over the process. How the company responds to your requests and questions reveals a lot about customer service. 

Get cost estimates

Each company will give you an idea of how far your budget will go. They should provide a written estimate that covers all aspects of the job, from hauling away debris to labor to the cost of plants. Compare the estimates to see who comes closest to creating your dream garden within your budget. 

Read the contract

The company will present a contract for your landscape job. Read it. All of it. Ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand. Understanding the contract is important in case something goes awry.

Contract considerations

  • What happens if bad weather prevents the job from following the schedule?
  • Are plants guaranteed if planted by the landscaping crew? If planted by the homeowner?
  • What if specified plants are not available at nurseries? How will substitutes be determined?
  • Who will pay for damages, such as a broken pipe or damaged walkway?
  • Specify a completion date and whether there is a penalty if the deadline is not met.
  • Ensure they will protect large, mature trees by fencing off a zone around them where there can be no off-loading, heavy equipment or storage of building materials. This protects the roots of the trees from becoming compacted by equipment or materials.
  • Indicate other protected areas in the landscape, such as a vegetable garden, cut flower garden or dog kennel where you don’t want people, equipment or fallen tree limbs.
  • Specify any limits on hours of work, such as beginning and ending times. This could be important if someone works nights or there’s a baby in the house.
  • Indicate any requirements from historic districts or homeowner’s associations.

Get landscape drawings or sketches

The landscaper will provide a drawing or sketch of your property showing the landscape changes. The drawing should list the names of plants and indicate their number and placement. Research the plants just to be sure they are what you’re looking for. If you have questions about the plants, width of garden beds or sidewalks, access to water or anything else, this is the time to bring them up. You will need to approve the plan.

Be patient

Lastly, keep in mind that no one controls the weather, so delays will be inevitable. Plants may be difficult to source because the pandemic fueled people’s interest in their landscapes and sent them on buying sprees. Growers, wholesalers and landscapers may have reduced supplies of popular plants. Substitutions may be required. 


Q. What if the estimate is over my budget?

A: The estimate is just a starting point. You can change the scope of the job to cut costs if needed.

Q. Will I have to make a down payment to get the job started?

A: Yes, it’s usually half the full amount. The contract indicates when and how payments are due. Don’t pay for the entire job upfront. Be sure to get a receipt.

The last word

Choosing a landscaper can be nerve-racking. Lawn Love can help. Contact our landscaping professionals for assistance with your new or revamped landscape.

Main photo credit: Lucky Business | Shutterstock

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp award-winning garden writer, editor, and speaker. (She speaks at libraries, garden clubs, public gardens, home and garden shows, Master Gardener groups, and horticulture industry events.) Known as a hortiholic, she frequently says her eyes are too big for her yard. She blogs at