A BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE can add value to your home, but how do you choose the right landscape professional for your needs? There are four types of landscape professionals, each with their own areas of expertise. Understanding these distinctions will assist you with selecting the right professional for your needs. They include: landscape nursery sales staff, landscape maintenance workers (often referred to as “landscapers”), landscape contractors, and landscape designers.
Landscape Nursery Salesperson
The job of landscape nursery staff is to sell plants and plant supplies. To do that well, most are well versed in local and regional plants and their care. Generally, nursery sales people do not have training in design or in landscape construction, but many do have a background in horticulture. This often makes them excellent resources when you need to select a few plants for an existing landscape, to identify a plant that is already on the site, or to provide products to fertilize plants or to treat for pests and diseases.
Remember that they’re hired to sell, so judge if their recommendations are appropriate.
Because nursery workers do not leave the nursery to visit your site, they are unable to assess site conditions to determine the best plants and/or plant locations for your site or to provide a comprehensive landscape plan. In addition, it’s important to find a worker who is attentive to your best interests.
Landscape Maintenance Worker (“Landscaper”)
As the name implies, a landscape maintenance worker specializes in the care of existing landscapes, such as: pruning, weeding, mulching and clean up of debris. Because pruning is a specialty, it is important to hire someone with extensive experience as poor pruning can kill or stunt an otherwise healthy plant.
Landscapers are usually qualified to assist with planting a few plants in an existing landscape, but the are not trained in landscape design or construction both of which require specialized training and/or licensing. In most cases, a landscaper is not required by the state of Arizona to get a license as long as they’re only handling landscape maintenance and minor landscape repairs. It is important to hire a licensed contractor if you need construction, electrical or irrigation work (see below).
A landscape contractor is trained in construction, specifically as it relates to landscaping. They are required to be licensed in the state of Arizona. It is important to hire a licensed contractor as this protects you with the peace of mind of a warranty on their work, bonding should there be a construction accident on your property, the ability to get permits if required, and state arbitration in the event of a dispute. Landscape contractors are best used to execute a landscape plan, and are qualified to construct barbecues, pergolas and walls, and to install plants, concrete, pavers, irrigation systems, etc.
Landscape contractors generally are not trained in design although the larger firms frequently have a landscape designer on staff. Often, “design” services are generic plans that can only be used if you work with their firm, leaving you locked in with that contractor and unable to shop for the best prices on implementing the plan. Although these designs are often represented as “free” you should understand that their costs are built into the charges, often inflating the construction costs.
You should also determine if the contractor is providing a plan that is in your best interests, and if the materials recommended are best for your needs and budget, or if they are left from a previous job and simply need to be unloaded. Also, because a contractor makes more when they do a more elaborate landscape, it’s essential to feel that the contractor has planned with your budget in mind, and has provided you with a contract that clearly defines everything that is included in the plan and that requires them to stay within budget and finish on time.
A landscape designer is trained in landscape design, and often has some type of design education and/or certification. Although construction experience is not required, many independent designers started out working for contractors, and part of the design training is in construction techniques and materials as relates to landscaping design.
Landscape designers are also trained to conduct a client interview to determine your desires and goals, to do a thorough assessment of your site, and to take precise site measurements before beginning the design. All this allows the designer to create a plan that is both beautiful, functional and meets your goals.
Plans are drawn to scale and ready to present to a landscape contractor. This gives you the freedom to get bids from several contractors and to select the contractor that provides you with the best value. And during construction, the designer can act as your advocate to assure that the contractor is implementing the plan as intended.
In addition, most landscape designers charge a flat fee based on the size of the area being designed, rather than on sales of products or additional services, enabling them to focus on your needs rather than upselling. For these reasons, the typical design fee usually more than pays for itself in savings in construction costs.
Charlene Westgate is a Permaculture Landscape Designer with Westgate Garden Design. She uses Nature as a resource to create more beautiful landscapes that are easier and less expensive to maintain. She specializes in native plants, pollinator gardens and rain water harvesting. To learn more, check out her website at: westgategardendesign.com