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HIRING A LANDSCAPE PROFESSIONAL

By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont

Are you in the market for a landscaper? Knowing what to look for will help you get the most for your money and the results that you desire.

Many homeowners who landscape their properties spend an average of 10 percent of the value of their house on landscaping. This includes not only the plants and statuary, but the design, installation, and maintenance of the landscape.

The first thing to consider when selecting a landscape professional is the scope of the job. What is it that you are hiring someone to do, and how much do you want to spend? If you need someone to design your landscape or draw up plans, hire a landscape architect, consultant, or designer.

Although all three provide similar services, it is more common for architects to work on large commercial projects and designers and consultants to handle landscape plans for homeowners. However, be aware that landscape designers and consultants do not have to be licensed, so anyone, regardless of credentials, can use those titles.

A good way to find a qualified designer or consultant is through your local nursery or full service garden center. Or select from the list of certified Vermont horticulturists (those professionals passing an exam), which is available from the Vermont Association of Professional Horticulturists, P.O. Box 396, Jonesville, Vt. 05466.

To turn those plans into reality, you may need to find a landscape contractor, if the designer isn't handling the installation, though many do. For smaller landscape maintenance jobs, such as reseeding, dethatching, or even just mowing the lawn on a regular schedule, you won't need the same level of expertise. A hardworking gardener or lawn maintenance professional should be able to handle the work.

How do you select a landscape professional? A good way to start is to ask for recommendations from friends, neighbors, and your local garden center or nursery. Then interview the candidates that sound the most promising.

Ask for references and to see their portfolios. Inquire about their training, education, and experience. Visit sites to view their work, and ask past clients if they were satisfied.

Shop around for the best price since fees can vary greatly. You may be able to get a better deal if you will be using the same firm that designs your landscape to also install and maintain it. Just realize that you often get what just you pay for! A person or firm you haven't researched as above, and without proper horticultural knowledge, may do more harm than good to your landscape, lawn, and environment.

Ask for a timetable for completion of the work. The best firm for you may also be the busiest, so be patient. If you must have your landscape plans or project completed by a certain time, make sure the firm knows this and builds in extra time for delays. As we all know, weather is very changeable and a big factor to consider. It is something we can't control, and it can delay outdoor projects.

Once you have decided who to hire, get a written contract. This protects all parties involved. The contract should specify what you want to have done, the estimated costs and date of completion, and what you expect from the individual or firm. It's a good idea is to work with the firm up front to decide how many changes can be made during installation of the project. Otherwise, it can stretch on forever, your deadlines won't be met, and you may end up paying more than you expect.

Don't get locked into a contract that obligates you to use the landscape professional for more than you need. Once the plans are drawn up, and the plantings, walkways, and statuary are in place, you may want to take over the maintenance yourself. Or you may decide to have the landscaper only draw up the plans and do part of the installation, while you do the rest. Doing your own work will not only save you money, but can be a relaxing and rewarding way to enjoy your new landscape!



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