How to work with your Landscaper

With Spring on the way, the phone is beginning to ring as people realize they simply can't live any longer with their existing, unattractive yard. But a lot goes into attaining that gorgeous landscape you love to spend time in. So before you make that call, here are a few ways any home owner can work more efficiently with your landscape professional:

  • Know which professional you need. Landscape designers, landscape architects, landscape contractors and gardeners all have different strengths, and are appropriate for different jobs. Take the time to learn how they differ, and decide which is right for you before you invite them out to your site. Otherwise you'll waste time doubling back to find the more appropriate pro.

  • Know what you're asking for. Do a bit of homework: What's the size of the area to be landscaped? What are some of the ways you envision enjoying your new yard? Have you ever seen any other yards or gardens (public or private) you liked? Take pictures, tear pages out of magazines, scan books. Do whatever it takes to clarify—for yourself as well as your designer—what you've got and what you want. (And for best results, do it before you and your pro agree on a direction. Sharp turns are painful for everybody.)

  • Know what you can spend. Most of us don’t shop for a car without a budget. We don’t look for a house without a budget. So why would you start planning your landscape without a budget? “Well, we want to see how much things cost first!" That's a landscape designer's dream: if you'll pay us to produce idea after idea after idea, we won't need another client this year! But wouldn't you rather spend that money on the actual construction, not the pretty drawings? Just talk it over with your partner (and your financial adviser and your loan officer if necessary) and decide on a figure (some sources say 10% of your home value). Then let your pro help you figure out how to get the biggest return on whatever you invest.

  • Know when to stay out of the way. Once the design process has begun, most home owners feel pretty excited that things are finally moving forward. But looking over the designer's or contractor's shoulder (either figuratively or literally) while we work, designing your yard at the same time we're designing your yard, or shopping for plants and buying pottery before the design concept has been approved, just is not helpful. Unless, of course, we've agreed beforehand that it is. Which we probably haven't.

  • Know your limitations. If you're at all handy, you probably could do some of the landscaping yourself. And if your landscape contractor agrees that some of the work will be done by you, great! But before you start, consider whether you're really going to save money by doing it yourself versus giving the job to someone who makes their living doing it all day, every day. Are you really that good at sizing and fitting irrigation pipe? Do you have the time to dig hundreds of holes and install hundreds of plants? What's the worst that can happen if you don't wire your landscape lighting properly? We’re not saying you can't do any of these things; just that if you, say, mess up that irrigation, you're on the hook to fix it. Just because you can… doesn't mean you should.

  • Know your pro. Don't, just do not, hire an unlicensed professional to do the job of a licensed one. Don't hire a landscape designer (unlicensed) to design your hillside terraces (that’s a landscape architect’s job). Don't hire a gardener (unlicensed) to install irrigation valves (that’s a landscape contractor’s job). For that matter, don't hire a landscape contractor (C-27 license) to install your gas line (C-36 license). Check the contractor's license status. Check their insurance. If you know they've got a crew, but the state licensing board says they have no employees, they're not playing fair, and that hurts everyone. Sure, unlicensed, uninsured contractors are a lot less expensive than licensed/insured ones… right up until something goes wrong.

Chances are, in This Economy, your landscaping is going to cost more and take longer than you expect. But there's nothing that says you can't get your money's worth. Before you pick up the phone, remember: a little preparation goes a long way toward getting results you'll love!