Story by Mimi Greenwood Knight
Lush or skimpy, verdant or dreary, your landscaping offers the first impression of your home. If your yard doesn’t compliment your house — or your lifestyle — installing new landscaping or making improvements to existing features can be a major financial investment. But it can also increase your home’s value and your family’s outdoor enjoyment. Choosing a landscaping company to help make it happen can be challenging, especially if you don’t yet know what you want. But the right firm will know what plants, trees, and hardscaping are appropriate and how to help it all flourish for years to come.
Begin by considering your goal for your property.
Most contractors specialize in certain areas, whether hardscape or plantscape, decking, patios, driveways, fences, retaining walls or lawns, Japanese gardens, edible gardens, and others.
The American Society of Landscape Architects Firm Finder at ASLA.org can help you determine who in your area specializes in what you want. You might also ask friends and neighbors who they recommend, especially if they’ve done the type of project that interests you. Keep your eyes open for newly installed landscaping as you drive around town. Often, the landscape company will post a sign in the yard they have just completed advertising their phone number and website. Local nurseries may also recommend reputable contractors.
When contacting potential landscapers, one of the first questions you’ll want to ask is whether a firm is licensed and insured for the type of work that you’re requesting. Ask about their training, any certificates or degrees they hold, as well as their membership in professional landscape associations. Before you hire anyone, ask for a copy of their insurance binder and license.
Contractors generally will meet with you at least once free of charge to discuss your project and many give free estimates. Try to find three or four contractors to come for an initial consultation to discuss your needs and explain their services. Ask them to bring a portfolio of photos of past landscape projects and prepare a list of questions in advance to ask each potential firm.
Remember, contractors who’ve been in business for decades have experience and reputation behind them, while new contractors may have fresh ideas and may charge less. Find out the contractor’s experience level with the type of project you have in mind. The more specialized your project, the more important it will be.
Ask for a final budget and timeline in writing (at least a good ballpark). Ask about permits for decks and fences, sheds, gazebos, and pools. Their familiarity with these details is a good sign of how experienced they are. Ask about warranties for defects in craftsmanship and improper installation of decks, patios, and irrigation systems. Ask whether they offer continuing maintenance of your landscaping (although this isn’t a deal breaker). And call a few former clients.
Ultimately, you’re looking for the lowest-priced, best-qualified candidate with solid references, professional integrity, and an artistic eye. Good luck!