Hiring a Landscaper 101: Essential Questions, Contractor Qualifications, and Common Red Flags

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated February 22, 2022
A wooden door facade of a house
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A beautiful garden takes the right person for the job, so always check your references

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Not all landscapers are equal. Some will transform your entire yard into an entirely new outdoor space—whether you want a flowing backyard water feature or a paver patio. Others will keep your grass looking fresh and pesky fallen fall leaves out of sight. So, how do you know who’s the best person for the job?  It takes a little digging. Here’s what you need to know about hiring a landscaper.

How to Find a Professional Landscaper

There are two main ways to find a landscaping company: word of mouth or an online search. It’s a safe bet that someone on your block already has a go-to landscaper plugged into their phone. It doesn’t hurt to ask around.

At the same time, online business registries like Angi, Yelp, or Google My Business have a ton of local options. Make sure you always read the reviews and browse the user-submitted photos to see if they’ve completed similar projects. You can browse your area’s top-rated local landscapers to get started.

Before Hiring a Professional Landscaper

A landscape designer giving instructions to a worker
Photo: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

Hiring the best landscaper for the job requires some careful planning. Before you reach out to a local landscaping service, have a clear picture of your project and dig into your contractor’s references and qualifications.

Plan Your Landscaping Project

No two landscaping projects are alike. You may only need a landscape contractor who will mow your lawn once a week. For a more extensive one-off project, you might need a landscape architect. These services have vastly different costs and qualifications. Planning your landscaping project will help you get an accurate quote and understand which type of landscape contractor to hire.

Set Your Budget

There’s a massive range in the average cost of landscaping. Simple maintenance like lawn mowing or yard dethatching can cost as little as $100. Redesigning your outdoor space with the help of a landscape designer or landscape architect could cost more than $6,800. Your landscaping contractor will be able to help you understand what’s possible with your budget, but it’s a good idea to have a budget in mind.

Check Your Landscaper’s Qualifications and References

Landscape contractors have different areas of expertise, but all qualified professionals will be bonded, insured, and have the required licenses. Every state’s licensing requirements are different. Aside from a general landscaping contractor license, your landscaper may need: 

  • An arborist license (for working with trees)

  • A landscape horticulturist license (for mulch, grass, small plants, and bushes)

  • A license in a specific category like interior landscaping or irrigation systems

  • A license or certificate to apply pesticides and fertilizer

Even if your contractor doesn’t need a license, they may have certain professional certifications from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) or the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). This certainly helps prove their skillset, but you’ll still need to check references. Always read the online reviews.

Questions to Ask Your Landscaper

While you’re interviewing different landscapers, it’s important to ask questions. You want to get a feel for their experience and see their plans for your project. Nobody wants to end up in a situation where an unqualified arborist plants a sick tree that dies shortly after the project wraps up. Here are eight questions to ask your landscaper:

  • What type of services does your company offer?

  • Are you bonded and insured?

  • How long have you been working on these types of projects?

  • Do you have specialists on staff?

  • Will you be the one to complete my project?

  • Can I have a copy of the plans?

  • What kind of guarantee do you offer?

  • Can I speak to some references?

Tips for Hiring a Landscaper

Once you think you’ve found a landscaper, there are still a few things you can do to make sure your project goes off without a hitch.

Interview at Least Three Professionals

You want to find the best landscaper at the best value. Always interview at least three professionals to get a feel for the market and understand typical pricing. If one quote is vastly different, something’s off.

Ask for a Background Check

Want to weed out scammers or contractors likely to go bust before they complete your project? Ask for a background check. A background check will turn up red flags in a company’s credit and legal history. It’s also a good idea to scan the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payment

Don’t start your project without a contract and payment plan. The contract serves as a legally-binding guideline and ensures that both parties hold up their ends of the deal. It also helps prevent surprise expenses. Basically, what you see in the contract should be what you get.

Keep Records

Records can help you make sure that everything is on track and in line with your contract. If you’re planning a larger landscaping project, it’s a good idea to get a copy of the landscaping plans ahead of time, so there’s no question about the project’s work requirements. Even if you’re simply hiring a local lawn care service for regular yard maintenance, keep a record of each visit for billing. 

Look for Red Flags and Get Ready to Troubleshoot

Like all professions, a few bad landscape contractor warning signs exist. It’s important to look for the red flags, including:

  • A weak or nonexistent contract

  • No license or insurance

  • A suspiciously low rate

  • A large upfront payment

  • Inconsistent deadlines

  • A lack of communication

  • No online presence 

  • No online reviews or a bad online business rating

Of course, you should still plan for snags. Contractors are humans, and not every hiccup in your project is a warning sign. As long as your landscaper remains transparent and communicative, you can troubleshoot together.

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