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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Landscaping is hard work, and since your yard plays such a significant part in your home’s curb appeal, there’s not much room for error.
Is resale value on your mind? No potential buyer wants to wade through a jungle to reach the front door! They won’t want to contemplate the amount of work involved in taming a mess of overgrown plants, either.
Planning to stay in your house for a while? How much work are you willing (and able) to devote to your yard? Landscape maintenance may not rank highly on your list of fun activities to do in your precious spare time. (And that’s OK!)
Whether you’re moving or staying put, your best bet is to look for a professional landscape company. The pros have the knowledge, the equipment, and the experience to create your dream yard.
Keep reading to learn more!
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How to Choose a Landscaper
How do you find a landscaper? Sounds like a silly question, right? Flipping through your most recent edition of Best Pick Reports is an excellent place to start. Plan to interview a few contractors, ask lots of questions, and tour properties in their portfolio.
- Narrow your list of potential landscapers to three solid candidates. Then, ask each contractor the same questions. Posing the same set of questions to your top choices will help you make an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Always ask to see proof of general liability insurance and (if required by your state) workers’ compensation insurance. We verify all state-required insurance coverage for all of our Best Pick companies. However, policies do expire and can be cancelled, so always check a company’s insurance coverage yourself.
10 Important Questions to Ask a Landscape Contractor
1. Where do you source your plants, shrubs, and trees?
While you don’t necessarily have to opt for native species, do make sure that your landscaper uses plants that are grown in your area. Why?
- They’ll likely cost less. Shipping plants from other parts of the country isn’t free.
- They’ll be more likely to thrive. Plants that have to adjust to brand-new growing conditions are more susceptible to disease and pests while they’re settling in.
- They’ll require less maintenance. Hardy plants don’t need as much extra watering and attention from your landscape maintenance crew.
2. Will you handle all maintenance? If not, what level of ongoing maintenance should I expect?
Be sure to outline an individual plant and overall yard maintenance plan with your landscape company. Verify that the plan is included in the work contract before you sign your name.
Replacement policies (and fees) for dead plants vary from company to company. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify which maintenance tasks are your responsibility and which tasks will fall to the crew.
3. Do you understand my vision?
Your landscape contractor should take time to talk with you about what your dream yard looks like. They should also talk to you about your budget and how much yard maintenance you’re prepared to take on.
Share examples of yards and landscape projects you particularly admire. These visuals will help you clarify what you have in mind. After gathering this important information, your contractor will create a rendering of what your new yard will look like.
Your landscape contractor should explain this rendering to you in detail to make sure you’re both on the same page.
4. How long do you estimate the whole project will take?
Just like any other home improvement project, unforeseen problems and bad weather are always a possibility. Completion dates for landscaping projects can be hard to pin down. Let your contractor know about any deadlines on your end, but try to stay flexible in case of schedule-altering events that no one can control.
5. When will all the plantings reach maturity?
Unless you specify otherwise, your landscaping crew will likely plant young saplings and shrubs. More established plants are typically more costly and may not transplant well. Clarify these details with your contractor, and find out how long your plants will take to reach their full size.
6. Who should I contact if I notice a problem?
Be sure that you know the name of your crew’s foreman and his or her contact information. If anything looks out of place during the landscape installation, don’t hesitate to speak up.
7. Is there anything I can do to lower costs?
If the estimate for the work you’d like to have done is higher than you’re comfortable with, let your contractor know. They may be able to suggest design changes or different plants that could bring the cost into your comfort zone.
8. Can you install outdoor lighting?
Most outdoor lighting systems need to be installed by a professional electrician. Not all landscape contractors provide this service. If you know that you want garden lights, ask if your landscape company can do the work or whether you’ll need to contact a different company.
9. While the crew works on my yard, what should I expect their days to look like?
Scheduling conflicts (and bad weather) happen, but your crew’s foreman should have a general idea of when you can expect the landscapers to arrive and leave each day.
10. What types of outdoor living structures can you construct?
Professional landscapers can boost your curb appeal and create an outdoor space that you actually want to spend time in. If you’d like an outdoor space designed for relaxing, a deck, patio, or an outdoor kitchen might be right up your alley.
Not all landscapers branch out beyond plants. If an outdoor kitchen is part of your dream backyard, ask the contractors you interview if they offer outdoor living space design/build services.
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What Does the Landscaping Process Look Like?
If you’ve held off on having a professional redo your yard because you’re concerned about how long (or how messy) the entire process will be, you’re not alone. Landscaping is a lot like an interior home renovation: you have to endure some noise and dirt to get the beautiful end result.
In most cases, your landscaper will divide the entire project into two sections:
The design phase is the fun part—that’s when you can let your imagination run wild and really get creative (within your budget, of course). Your landscape contractor will recommend plants that will thrive in your climate and complement your home’s architectural style.
Expect to meet with your landscape design team a few times before any work begins. The actual design of the new space is important, but so is evaluating your yard to determine whether it will need excavation or soil grading.
The construction phase is when things get messy. If you’ve had problems with water ponding on your lawn or moisture intrusion in your basement, the team should grade the soil first.
Grading is essential to a yard that is sustainable from a maintenance standpoint and that won’t cause drainage problems in the future. Grading plans are customized for individual yards, but here’s a basic overview of what you can expect:
- The landscape crew will remove any grass or ground cover in the area that needs to be graded.
- The crew will move soil as needed around the yard to create the appropriate grade. In most cases, this will be a two- to three-inch slope per ten linear feet of ground.
- If necessary, the crew will create swales and berms to direct water toward the street or an in-ground drainage system.
Once grading is finished, the crew will start building hardscape elements and outdoor living structures. Softscape elements—flowers, trees, shrubs, and grass—come last.
After the final touches are put into place, your contractor should conduct a thorough walk-through with you. Make sure everything looks as you expected. If it doesn’t, now is the time to speak up!
Before you and your contractor part ways, make sure that you understand how to care for your new plants and what to expect as they get acclimated. If your landscape design contractor will be caring for your yard, clarify all the details of the service schedule.
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The Bottom Line
Making a major improvement to your home is exciting. Your house is likely one of your most significant investments, after all. Increasing its value is a good feeling—and a little nerve-wracking.
You want to make sure the work is done right and to your specifications. When the project involves landscaping, however, variables beyond your control come into play. And that’s why choosing the right landscape contractor is so important. An experienced landscaper will translate your dreams into reality. They’ll also know how to navigate the unknown and unpredictable elements.
- Choose a few landscaping firms from a reputable, reliable source.
- Interview your top picks using the questions above.
- Double-check insurance coverage and licenses.
- Sit back and relax while your yard transforms before your eyes!
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