Everybody appreciates the results of a beautiful landscape, but few people enjoy the process of finding a good contractor!  And why would they?  Hiring a contractor has an element of risk.  Fortunately, that risk can be greatly reduced if not eliminated by taking some good advice!

What it takes: clearly defining your wants, checking out background and reputation, and your instinctual gut feelings will pave the way to a successful project.  The tendency to hire based solely on price must be tempered with a little homework so you are aware of the company you might be doing business with.

Your Landscape Vision

Take some time to figure out your landscaping needs

Make sure you have a clear vision of the landscape environment you want before you meet with any contractor. This is the fun part: you can drive around your neighborhood or browse on the internet (for example landscape design checklist by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers) to get ideas for creating your own unique landscape.  A clear vision may not include specifics about the materials or installation details.  Prepare as much as you can, it can include pictures from a magazine, a brochure from your supplier, or a checklist of what that vision is so you can accurately communicate it to your prospective contractors.

Good landscape contractors will ask for that description and the more you can give them, the better.  Good contractors will ask questions to make sure they fully understand your vision. They will likely offer alternatives and options to add to your vision. They know the region and will know what works best, so work with them to paint a complete picture.

If your property requires extensive design, you can consider hiring a landscape architect. They will be able to provide you with a detailed design and may have established relationships with landscape contractors.

Sub-Contractors

Landscape contractors irrigation Over the past years, the trend has been for landscapers to do all the work themselves.  More recently, that trend has reversed as the complexity of work is increasing.  Many landscape contractors will perform all the work, some will sub-contract specialty work to other contractors, some will only handle the work they are comfortable with. For example, many landscapers prefer to sub-contract the irrigation system to a specialty contractor for irrigation, lighting, or water features.

Reputation

Reputation is key! Lack of response is the leading customer complaint, followed by a lack of trust whether a good job will be delivered. The best route in hiring landscape contractors is to find out what their customers think of their work and their service.

One good strategy is to talk to people you know that have hired the landscape contractor you are considering. Maybe you already work with a reputable sub-contractor and you can ask them to provide recommendations. Materials suppliers can also be a good source for referrals.  Just be aware a supplier will not (and should not) speak ill of a contractor.  If they don’t feel comfortable recommending a contractor you will sense that in their non-committal bland answers to your questions. Your favorite nursery owner may also have good leads, as well as your local Better Business Bureau or Small Business Development Center. The worse method is to call 6 contractors that pop up at the top of the search engines – that speaks to their advertising, not their reputation.

Do this research until you can isolate 2-3 companies with the reputation you are comfortable with. Then you are ready to call them for bids. The Yellow Pages and internet will help you find contact information, but please do not judge a contractor by ad media!  If the landscaper you are about to select uses subs, you want to know who they are and give some consideration to their reputation as well.

Interview Your Landscape Contractor

landscape contractor

When interviewing contractors it is important to determine how responsive they are. If they don’t respond well while trying to earn your business what will happen when you have a problem or need service? Responsiveness involves listening: Do you get the sense that the contractor cares about what you are saying or asking for?

Often first impressions are accurate: How the contractor looks, speaks and behaves will provide many clues about what to expect if you hire them.  While your decision should not only be based on “gut-feeling” it can help you discern the best choice.

You want to make sure the contractor is experienced enough to handle what you need, so ask about other landscape jobs they’ve done that were similar to yours.  Get a few referrals and actually call them. Many larger contractors have a web site with such information and it is worth your time to visit their website. What if you are considering a young guy that has just started a new company?  Obviously, he won’t have a long list of referral customers or jobs completed.  He might do a great job for you but you will have to evaluate him differently.  If you’ve established that he is responsive and you have a level of comfort then you may be willing to accept a little more risk.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

Wolf Creek Company offers contractor referrals (in our area of service) if you are interested.  Generally, we contact 2-3 nearby contractors that we feel confident about to handle your specific requests. You can also use our Find a Landscape Contractor web page.

Quote and Price

Landscape contractors will give you a quote, but those quotes may vary a lot. Some will be very professional while others not so much. However, judge a quote more on the content than appearance: The quotation should give you the information that lets you know the contractor heard what you were asking for and are proposing a solution that works for you.

Price is important, but should never be the single reason for selecting a landscape contractor. You will not get premium work when hiring the lowest priced contractor. Contractors promising high-quality work at low prices are often either unscrupulous or incompetent, which are not the characteristics you are looking for! Many times over the years I have spoken with homeowners that were unhappy with a contractor’s work. All I can say is, after seeing what was done and knowing what they paid, is that they got what they paid for.  Price should only be a final consideration between contractors offering solid solutions.

If the quoted price is too high from all contractors, then cut back on what you are envisioning.  For example, if an irrigation system for both front and backyard is too costly right now, then for now only do the work to the front yard, and have everything ready to get the backyard done next year.  Don’t accept lower quality workmanship or product because such decisions always cost more in the end.

Insurance and Agreement

Ask for proof of Workman’s Compensation insurance and general liability insurance, and make sure their trucks and equipment are insured. Look for at least $300,000 in liability insurance.  This is for YOUR protection in case something happens while working on your property because landscape work does have some dangerous activities associated. Some areas require a landscape contractor to be licensed or registered; if so ask for a copy of the license if not already volunteered in their quotation packet.

Whatever you and the contractor agree on must be documented in an agreement.  Most contractors have such agreements and they are not difficult to understand. Make sure you are comfortable with all that is included. The agreement or contract should at least include a complete description of work to be provided, any special needs or conditions for your job, start and completion expectations, payment terms, and description of any warranties or guarantees. You can find a landscape contract template on the internet for reference. Also, remember to add or change terms you agree on to the contractor’s agreement.

Deposits

Sometimes a landscape contractor will ask for a deposit that ranges from 10-25%. There are some legitimate reasons for a deposit:  Materials costs may be too much for the contractor to fund until job completion.  In such cases, some owners will ask for materials to be stored on their property so if the contractor disappears they at least own the materials.

An option for you is to write a ‘joint check’ to the contractor AND the materials supplier. This check can only be cashed when both contractor and supplier sign. This guarantees that the supplier will get paid and allows the contractor to purchase materials beyond his credit limit.  You will be asked in advance if you agree to a joint check.

Another reason some landscape contractors ask for a deposit is to demonstrate you are serious about doing the job.  For them, deposits are ways to stop people from canceling a job after they have scheduled their crews and purchased costly and perishable materials. Landscapers sometimes get screwed over by their customers and they are in their right to ensure they can cover their cost.

Job Timing and Completion

Timing may be a sticking point for the job at hand. Landscape contractors book up quickly in the spring months in our part of the country. A job signed for in May might not get installed until July. If possible, consider getting the work done during the off-season. Most contractors like booking jobs during the fall for winter and early spring installation to fill in low revenue months and give them a head start for the coming season.  If this is not possible, at least get the installation booked well before spring so you are first in line.

For the job to be complete, there is typically a final meeting (walk-through) where the contractor shows all that was completed and to gain your approval the job was done as agreed.  If the work is finished per the agreement then complete the transaction, pay the final payment and celebrate your new back yard.  If you want the contractor to perform additional tasks, you will need to start with a new quote and agreement.

In Summary

  • Take your time when picking landscape contractors. Find the person you feel comfortable with and has a reputation of providing good customer service.
  • Do not only select based on price, but learn about a landscape contractor’s reputation.  Other customers are your best source of information.
  • A landscape professional listens and tries to provide exactly what you want.
  • Personal appearance and demeanor will indicate the contractor’s professionalism.
  • The response you see during the bidding phase will indicate the response you will see after you’ve paid them.
  • Bids that don’t match up with your specifications indicate a contractor who is not concerned about your wants.
  • The low price guy is low for a reason… and it probably isn’t a good one. If you feel pressured or are given an overly “slick” presentation . . . beware.

If you are looking for a contractor in the Ohio, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania area: WE ARE HERE TO HELP! You can fill out the form on our website, or check in with your local Wolf Creek Territory Manager.

Comments

  1. I’m going to be doing some landscape work come summer time and I’ll need to get professional help. As you said here, it would be a good idea to know who you are planning on hiring before you do so. I’d do as you mentioned and ask them about previous landscaping jobs they’ve done to get a good idea of how they go about doing business.

  2. My husband and I want to turn our boring backyard into something amazing, and your article had some great tips for hiring someone to help us with this. I liked how you said to narrow the search down to 2-3 contractors with good reputations so we can call them for bids. Thanks; we’ll keep this in mind when hiring a landscaper.

  3. I love how you mentioned that one should get several quotes before choosing a landscaper. My yard is in pretty bad shape, so these tips could really help me out. Thanks for the great tips on hiring a landscaper.

  4. I just moved into a new house and while the house itself is amazing, the yard needs some help. Thank you for pointing out that I need to keep my landscape vision in mind as I hire a contractor. I’ll have to keep this in mind as I search for the best landscape services to help me get a beautiful yard.

  5. I like that you suggested talking to three contractors near you to find the ones that fit your criteria. I will share this tip with my mom to help her hire professionals. This is for her backyard because she needs it to be raked to prepare it for the winter season.

  6. My wife and I want to landscape our yard for next spring, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about getting a quote from the contractor so you know what you’re paying for. I’ll be sure to request this first so I can ensure it fits within our budget.

  7. I really appreciate your tip to avoid settling for a service that doesn’t have a lot of quality to their name, even if they are cheaper. My wife and I really want to get a new back patio, and we are concerned that we won’t be able to clear the land in our backyard quickly. If we hire a landscaper to help us, I will be sure to find someone who is known for their quality!

  8. I really appreciate your tip to check how responsive a landscaper is when you find someone who is just starting out. My wife and I have been thinking of getting somebody to help get some shrubbery around the gazebo that we have in our backyard. I will be sure to tell my wife that we should try and find a landscaper who is very responsive!

  9. It really can help to ask about whether or not the landscaping company has worked on projects similar to your own. After all, when you’re choosing a landscaper it is likely that you already have a vision in mind for how you want your yard to look. Because of this you will want to make sure that the service you hire has the right amount of skills and experience to handle your project.

  10. I personally think your suggestion to look at a landscaper’s reputation to be something that everyone should do before deciding who to hire. I would certainly feel much better working with a landscaper that has plenty of positive reviews from past customers. Combining that with references lookup would definitely be something I’d do.

  11. I agree that timing might be an important consideration when finding a landscaper. You want to make sure they can help you when you need. It’s good to know that spring and summer times fill up really quickly, like you said.

  12. It really helped when you said that a good quality company would also have a higher price. I think that just convinced me to set aside my budget and really find a company that would deliver well. We need a good one because having a great-looking landscape will help us sell our house as soon as possible. We just needed the money since we have to pay for the surgeries of my son.

  13. My yard is pretty out-of-shape, so I’ve been thinking about hiring a landscaper to fix it up. I like how you mentioned that you should research several companies and get quotes from your top three, as this will help you find the best price for good service. Thanks so much for the great tips on how to hire a landscaping contractor.

  14. My new house is amazing but I’m not loving the backyard. I want to find a contractor to help me get the perfect backyard to match the house. Thank you for suggesting that when I find a contractor I should ask them about jobs they’ve done that are similar to mine. Hopefully, I can find the best landscape contractor to help me get a backyard I will love showing off.

  15. I really appreciated your advice to check for liability insurance, especially the healthy amount of at least 300,000 dollars! My wife and I recently moved into a new house, and we have been trying to find a landscaper to get rid of some of the dying trees in our backyard. I will definitely make checking for liability insurance one of the first things on my list during my landscaping search!

  16. It really helped when you mentioned that it would be best to get some referrals since it can give you an idea whether the company has handled similar cases as what you have in mind. I will follow that tip since I have never tried hiring any landscape company before, so I have no idea which one is the best. We would really love to get our lawn landscaped because it was damaged by the hurricane last time. So thanks for the tips!

  17. I really like what you said about reputation and how the best route in hiring a landscape contractor is to find out what their customers think of their work. This is something that I have been thinking about lately because I wouldn’t want to hire just any landscaping contractor. Hopefully, I can find a reputable company that can help me to design and landscape my backyard to the way that I am visualizing it.

  18. That’s a good tip to know what you want when talking to a contractor. It might even be a good idea to draw a plot of what you envision. That way you’ll have a visual reference for your contractor.

  19. Thanks for the tips for choosing a landscaper. We want our yard to look amazing this year, and every year after, so I’ll remember this. My wife and I will have to sit down and work out our vision for our yards before calling someone, like you said.

  20. I’m thinking of hiring someone to do my yardwork for me this year. I appreciate how you suggest taking the time to look at the landscaper’s reputation before hiring them. Would asking for references be the best way to ensure I hire someone with a good reputation?

  21. These are some good tips for finding a landscaper. We want to find someone to help us design and put in our custom home’s landscape. I’ll be sure that my wife and I have a clear vision of what we want before we hire anyone, like you said.

  22. These are some fantastic points made in the article here, especially about the reputation of the landscape contractor. After all, most people who hire a landscape contractor do so because they want to bring their dream yard to life. If this is the case then you have to make sure you’re choosing a contractor that has a reputation for doing a good job.

  23. My husband and I want to put in a new garden pathway in our yard and we are wondering the best ways to work with the landscaping contractors we end up hiring. So thanks for letting us know that if we want the installation to be completed sooner rather than later, we may want to see if we can have it installed in the fall or winter. Once we hire a landscaping contractor, we’ll be sure to see if they can do it in early fall or late winter.

  24. I like your advice to check how a landscape contractor looks, speaks, and behaves when you first meet them so you can figure out what to expect. This could help you choose one that is easy to work with and communicate with as well as able to provide you with the services you need. You’d probably want to research the different contractors online and learn more about their experience in landscaping as well as the services they offer so you can narrow down your list and set up an appointment to meet with your top choices.

  25. I didn’t realize that talking with a landscaper can help you know how responsive they are to your concerns. My sister just bought a home that has a large yard. Hopefully, this article can help her find a pro that can install the water feature she’s always wanted.

  26. I do like that you encourage your readers to have a clear vision of what they want their final landscaping project to look like. After all, the landscaper cannot do all of the work on their own. They need to know what your ideas and plans are so that they can work off of them to create the landscape you want.

  27. A good friend of mine wants to rip out a lot of grass, and have some garden and plants planted on his property. I thought what you said about getting to know the contractor, and making sure they have done similar projects to yours was really terrific advice. Since the type of job my friends want done is so specific, it would be really comforting hiring a contractor who has essentially already done the job before, as they know how to do it best.

  28. We are needing to get our lawn kept this summer while we are away in Europe for two months. I was impressed to know that one should research until you can isolate 2-3 companies with the reputation you are comfortable with. I will be certain to continue researching to make sure our lawn gets taken care of!

  29. My uncle has a large, beautiful garden that is a bit untamed. He’s been interested in hiring a landscaper to do a bit of work, to help him make the most of his property. You mentioned that you should find a landscaper who can easily understand the vision you have for you lawn, and has past experience doing similar jobs. My uncle and I will have to sit down with a few landscapers, and see which one catches and can even expand on my uncle’s vision.

  30. My wife and I have been trying to figure out what kinds of landscaping features would look good on our property. In your article, you suggested that the best route in hiring landscape contractors is to find out what their customers think of their work and their service. Do most landscaping contractors have a certain type of style that they like to use?

  31. I agree that you would want to have a clear vision before you hire a landscape contractor. I would imagine that it would be important to lay out exactly what you want before you find someone to do that for you. I’m looking for a landscaper to put in an irrigation system in my yard so I’ll have to lay that out to them before I hire them.

  32. I appreciate what you said about landscape materials suppliers being a great reference for landscape contractors. I wonder if many landscape contractors and suppliers can be found online? The next time I need a landscape contractor, I’ll refer to the materials suppliers to see who they’ve worked with.

  33. I like your tip on attaining the responsiveness of a contractor when meeting with them. I would imagine that finding someone who listens well and responds to your requests would be a good worker. My husband and I need to hire a landscaper to help make our front yard look better so we’ll have to gauge their responsiveness when we meet with them.

  34. I have been looking at my yard, and was thinking about hiring someone to clean it up before winter comes around. It’s interesting that when meeting with a landscaping contractor, how they look, speak, and behave will give you subtle clues about what to expect. I will have to remember that if I do end up hiring someone.

  35. I appreciate your tip on seeing how responsive a contractor is to your questions. It seems that if he or she is very receptive to your questions and tries to understand your concerns you would have a more positive relationship with him or her. My wife and I want to hire a landscaping contractor to get our property cleaned up before a move. When we do hire the contractor we’ll be sure to take into account how responsive they are towards us.

    1. 501-599-5167 the company is beech lawn care. The owner is nice. He is Honest will answer any question. They do beautiful work they aren’t expensive like most companies. They finish in a timely manner. If your located in the louisville ky area and still need someone.

  36. Thanks for sharing this advice on choosing the right landscape contractor for your needs! I think it is really nice that there are so many types of landscapers n the first place– that gives you a lot of options when you want to make renovations. However, like you said, it is important to get someone who can help you achieve your vision. Just because they work in the area you need doesn’t mean that they will do the work in the style you want!

  37. I had no idea that contractors had such great connections. My father is building a home right now, and he wants to find some new landscaping ideas. Maybe he should talk with a pro in his area about this kind of thing.

    1. Good landscapers will invest the time to learn what the property owner wants, likes, and is excited about. Landscapes are a fluid expression of the property owner as a person when done right. You can tell a lot about people and companies by looking at their landscapes!

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