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Choosing A Landscape Contractor

by Dan Eskelson of Clearwater Landscapes

Well designed and installed landscaping adds considerable value to your home (14 - 17 percent), allowing you a return on your investment of 100 to 200 percent. Choosing the right contractor(s) can determine the success or failure of this important investment. The following guidelines should be used when evaluating choices for your landscape installation.

Tips for choosing your landscaper...

  • Determine the scope of the project and which services you'll expect from the contractor- install plant material, build decks and patio, install retaining walls, install irrigation systems and night lighting are some of the services provided by landscape contractors.
  • You may wish to work on some of these projects yourself...is your contractor agreeable to this?
  • Thoroughly investigate the company
  • How long has it been in business?
  • What levels of expertise and education do the employees have?
  • Ask for recent references and check these out - visit the jobs.
  • Many states require licensing...inquire about this and other types of certification.
  • Insurance is a big concern.  The nature of much of landscaping work requires comprehensive insurance, both liability and worker's compensation.  Ask for proof of insurance to be sure your are protected.
  • Is the company affiliated with local or national trade organizations? This may indicate a high level of professionalism and quality, but does not guarantee it.

What about the "little guy", just starting out?

If I hadn't been given a chance over thirty years ago by my first few clients, I wouldn't be writing this today. I'm amazed that so many understanding people gave a scruffy looking young man in an old pickup a chance! So you can sometimes find a conscientious young person to provide services at reasonable cost. The main thing is to check references, discuss the project thoroughly and insist on a written contract. If a prospect is enthusiastic and seems to really love the work, you may be on the right path.

Don't forget to ask about guarantees on the work and the plantings...

Will the landscaper or nursery stand behind a guarantee on plant material? What about hardscape items...if the retaining wall caves in, will it be replaced at no cost? How long is the guarantee in place? A recent trend, especially on larger commercial jobs, is to require the landscaping company to maintain the project for the first year. This way, any serious installation mistakes can be dealt with in a timely manner.

If the installation company will be providing some or all of the maintenance, ask for the maintenance schedule. Basic lawn maintenance should include weekly mowing, seasonal fertilization, weed control if desired and aeration or de-thatching services. Ask which chemicals, if any, will be used on your property, and require the contractor to provide the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for each.

Landscaping is a relatively large investment and involves a lot of hard work. If you will be contracting some or all of your landscape installation, take the time to evaluate all the possibilities. I often receive requests from young people about how to start out in the landscape trades...my main advice has always been - DO A GOOD JOB! If you find someone with excellent references and good looking projects who is enthusiastic about the work, you have a good prospect.

Remember to Plan Twice... and Plant Once!

About the author.... Dan Eskelson has had his hands dirty since the late '60's, learning his craft as a freelance gardener, orchard worker, golf course superintendent, commercial landscaper and landscape designer.  His company, Clearwater Landscapes, provides online design services to residential and commercial clients.  They have a local presence in Bonner County, Idaho and Pend Oreille County, Washington, though Clearwater's focus is shifting rapidly from work in the field to design and consultation for clients throughout North America. Their online presence has grown steadily with a corresponding increase in online design work.

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