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How to hire a landscape professional

Before you hire, do your homework

Posted: September 12, 2008 10:55 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

With rising gas prices, many people are sticking close to home this summer. That means they will have more time to spruce up the yard. However, some yard projects may be too much for the average homeowner to tackle.

Faced with a complicated or time-consuming project, many homeowners turn to a landscape professional.

National Gardening Association's 2006 Lawn and Landscaping Survey found that one-third of all U.S. households hired a lawn and landscape professional. The amount of money spent was close to 45 billion dollars a year, and it has been growing at roughly eight percent a year. Here are some guidelines for hiring a landscape professional.

Define the project. Before you start, define the scope and breadth of the project you have in mind.

Are you looking for a whole landscape design or just help with a specific project, such landscaping a front entryway?

Does it include a construction project, such as building a stone wall, fence, or deck? Will you install some of the project or do you want a landscaper to do it all?

The more detailed your project description, the more accurate your landscape professional can be in estimating the time and money it will cost.

Ask for recommendations. Once you decide on the scope of the project, ask your friends, neighbors, and fellow gardeners for recommendations of individuals and companies to do the work. Word-of-mouth recommendations are usually the best. If you see a beautiful landscape and you're bold enough, stop by the house and ask who installed it.
Most gardeners are happy to chat about their beautiful yards.

Interview the landscaper. When interviewing the landscape professional, ask to see their license, insurance, and portfolio of their work. If you have time, go out and look at some of their finished projects. Chat with past clients about how prompt, reliable, skilled, and honest the landscaper was on the project.

Get a timetable. Once you've narrowed down your list of landscape professionals, ask each one for a detailed cost estimate of the plants, materials, and labor, and also a timetable. Remember, the cheapest estimate may not always be the best. Be wary if cost estimates differ widely. Some less experienced landscapers may not realize the scope of the project and may underestimate the costs.

Get a contract. Once you decide on a landscape professional, get a written contract stating costs and when they will begin.

Be clear with the professional if you have time constraints that must be met, such as other construction projects around the yard. Most landscape professionals don't require down payments, unless it is a very large job.If you do give one, it shouldn't be more than 10 percent of the estimated job cost.

By doing a little homework in advance you'll be more likely to select the right landscape professional for your job and have the work go smoothly.

Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, author, speaker and radio and television personality, has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesman for the National Gardening Association (www.garden.org) and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.

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