Landscaping can be a bit of a subjective business (as is any trade). It’s more tied to our sense of well being and thus our feeling of comfort. Unlike a house, the lines between this and that can be a bit looser or slightly modified during construction without dramatically damaging or increasing the cost of the original design. That certainly isn’t to say that you want to go into any project without a well thought out, discussed and mutually agreed upon plan. It’s just that during the layout phase if you decide to put a path a foot farther to the left or a tree 6 inches closer to that rock you can usually work around it without any real tragic consequences. Not so much with a house. Put a wall 6 inches from where it’s specified on the plans and any number of cascading problems erupt, usually culminating in someone getting fired, sued or both.
So, it never hurts to ask a couple of poignant questions during the process hiring process to make sure you feel comfortable handing over your hard earned money to a relative stranger. Landscaping can essentially be divided into two very easily understood operations. design/install and maintenance. To keep this short, I’m going to make an assumption that the titles do a pretty good job of describing exactly what each do but just to make sure we don’t end up completely off the rails before we even begin.
• Design/install – Taking a piece of undeveloped or unimproved land and installing a well-crafted environment designed to meet the user’s needs. The design usually includes plant irrigation, hard and soft -scapes, play and pet areas, walkways, and possible a shade structure like a pergola or gazebo. Lately unique items like fire and water features are also becoming more and more common.
• Maintenance – Maintenance typically involves cutting, pruning and shaping an existing landscape to keep it both easy to use and enjoy while also providing a more pleasing visual appeal. This usually is relegated to the plants and fauna of an environment but can also extend to maintaining hardscapes like walkways, rock and wood structures.
While both are under the umbrella of “Landscaping” each requires different equipment, management, staffing, time frames and contracts. For purposes of the remainder of this short article we are going to focus on a few questions to ask design/installation landscapers.
Questions to ask your design | installations landscaper
Is the company registered with the State and does the company carry proper insurance?
This is very important and you should probably cross out any prospective estimate that comes from a company that cannot provide proof of these basic items if asked. If not, you could be opening yourself up to serious liability should a worker get hurt while on your property. You also may have a financial issue if the person you hire takes your money and never returns to do the work. Can you even find them again to sue if they aren’t a legitimate business? We’ve all heard that story of that happening to someone, don’t let it be you!
How long has the company been in business and do they have projects (and possibly past clients) that are testimonials for work completed?
Let’s use a bit of common sense here, not all people want to have strangers stopping by unannounced to gawk at their landscape and ask a bunch of questions while they try and eat dinner or enjoy their Saturday. That said, a good a good landscape company should be able to reference past projects and clients either through testimonials, pictures or actual references you could call. As good as those are the referral from a trusted friend who’s had a good experience with a certain company. At a minimum you should ask to see pictures from several pasts projects (if they aren’t readily available on their website) and some sort of proof that they know what they’re doing (maybe a current project that you could tour?) or even a case study.
Can the landscape company provide a printed plan or design of the project?
Not every project needs a plan, let’s get that out there first. Small lots with limited options for space are pretty easy to write a plan for. This applies more to larger properties and/or where there are going to be specific elements called out for and their placement is important. A talented landscape architect or drafts person can save everyone a lot of headaches by putting ideas on paper for all to see. Many expensive mistakes have never happened by doing this. Typically a good design for average installation purposes can be done for $500 +/- but if the project involves swimming pools, multi-terraced patios or complex retaining walls and water features then one can easily expect a design to be a $1,000 or more and trust me, its money well spent. “A waterfall with a little stream” can mean very different things to different people. Best to get complex stuff on paper.
How long do you expect the project to take?
Your landscaper should be experienced enough to give you a fairly accurate estimate of how long a project should take but, as with anything in life, the more complex it is the more room for Murphy and his Law to show up. Consideration should be given to the weather (yes, most (but not all) landscaping takes place outside Mother Nature can play havoc with a construction schedule) and the number of subcontractors being used. Again, a good general contractor will have a decent feel for all this and take it into account when giving a time estimate. If the time you hear doesn’t sound right, ask why? Just be realistic with your expectations; an ounce of understanding and pound of patience will serve everyone well. What you don’t want to have happen is a crew that is on again / off again. There for a week, disappears for a week during beautiful building weather. An unavoidable delay in materials or inspections is one thing, leaving to take someone else’s project (and money) after you’ve paid for yours is another.
What sort of warranty do they offer?
Notice I didn’t say “Guarantee”. I personally have never liked that word in construction because it sets the wrong expectation. There is very little any of us can truly “Guarantee” in life. We all do something with the best intentions and almost all the time it works out… but occasionally it doesn’t. What’s really important is what happens during those times when it doesn’t? Pipes break, plants die, concrete cracks. The more time that passes the more likely any of those things will happen. An example of reasonable expectation for performance of materials in landscape installation work are irrigation, plants, concrete. Too many variables beyond your landscapers (or anyone’s) control can happen beyond that time. I’m not making excuses for installation contractors, not in the least. They should use quality materials and install them with skilled labor. *Wood, metal and ornamental features should be expected to perform flawlessly for more like 2 years but be understand to the circumstances. One area I will counsel homeowners to watch is sprinkler system parts. Its typically the easiest area for a shoddy contractor to cut costs because it all gets buried and one sprinkler head look like another right? You only know you got hosed (pun-pun) when the parts fail and, unfortunately, it’s typically more than a year after the installation (but not much more). No one wants to spend their weekends digging up breaks because the couplings weren’t glued or changing valves because (less expensive) clean water valves were installed on a ditch water system. Take time to walk around, ask about the valves and look for brand names on parts. If you think you might be getting inferior parts when you contracted for brand name, take it down to your local commercial irrigation supply house and ask an expert. Insist on quality parts and then make sure those parts are used.
We hope you found this article helpful and feel free to give Tallgrass Landscape and Construction a call for any of your landscaping needs. We offer a free consultation and look forward to hearing about your landscaping dreams.