How to find the right landscaper
Finding the right landscaper can help ensure your yard is taken care of to perfection. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Landscapers are as busy in the autumn as they are in spring, so if lawn restoration, new garden beds or an outdoor living area are on the drawing board, start your search for a professional as soon as possible.
There are several things to look for when hiring someone to work in your landscape. First, of course, check with Angie's List to see what your neighbors have to say about the contractors in your area.
Second, make sure the landscaper meets state and local certifications or licensing requirements if warranted. Tree care companies should have staff arborists certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. The federal government requires those who apply certain chemicals to control weeds, insects or diseases be certified pesticide applicators.
Membership or certification by industry groups, such as a state's landscape or nursery association, demonstrates participation in professional development programs.
Third, have some idea of what kind of landscape you want. Will it be for entertaining, a place where children will play or a verdant retreat? The landscaper should be focused on satisfying your goals rather than imposing his or her will on the project.
However, heed his or her advice regarding plants recommended for your area, engineering requirements and other technical issues. Having a sense of what you'd like to see in your yard will help you pick the landscaper. Some may excel in natural designs while others do best with a more formal setting.
Fourth, make sure any changes to the contract or plant list are done in writing with copies of any amendments signed by all parties.
Mark Frisella, owner of highly rated M. Frisella Land Design in St. Louis, says couples need to make sure they're on the same page with the concept and selection of materials.
"Women visualize a lot better than men, who tend to be more linear thinkers," he says. "Men focus on the bottom line. Sometimes, it's my job to get a couple on the same page."
Consumers should be prepared to do a little legwork, too. Frisella asks clients to visit various suppliers to see firsthand the materials for their job.
Alden Zove, owner of highly rated Cedar Run Landscapes in North Wales, Pa., also asks clients to visit suppliers.
"They'll be able to see the difference between field stone and Pennsylvania field stone," he says.
Zove invites potential customers to stop by his business where he's installed 12 types of water gardens in order to see the full range of his work. He'll provide plant samples for his clients, or he sends them to nurseries to see, feel and smell what will be growing in their landscape.
Good landscapers will offer tips and suggestions about caring for and maintaining the plants in the landscape they just installed. Each landscaper may offer different warranties for work and plants while some may offer nothing at all.
After nearly 30 years in the landscape business, Zove reiterates the importance of getting in writing what will be done, along with a timeline for the project. In addition, consumers should be aware that jobs may be delayed because of weather or a lack of supplies and make sure that contingencies are included in the written contract.
Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.