Looking to hire a company for a landscape design project? Check out the tips below before you make the leap.

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer with a yard full of dirt or a seasoned homeowner with a garden in desperate need of an update, it’s important you choose the landscape designer and contractor that’s right for you. If they deliver on the points below, you’re on the right track to finding a contractor that fits the bill.

The designer offers a free consultation

Most landscape design firms will offer a free consultation before talking about a contract. This usually includes a complimentary visit to your home so you can discuss everything you are hoping to get from your outdoor space. Do not engage with a landscape company if they are asking for money up front. Most companies will gladly take the opportunity to talk with you on site to see if they are the right fit for your project.

The consultation is the time to bring up every desire for your dream space. Come prepared with a list of needs and wants. Create a Pinterest board to share or gather images of spaces you love. Have a clear vision of what you are looking for in your landscape.

Be ready to answer basic questions:

  • How do you envision using the space?
  • Do you like plants and flowers or would you prefer mostly hardscaping?
  • Do you need a soft place for kids to play?
  • Are you looking for a water feature? Pool? Jacuzzi?
  • Would you be interested in a fire feature?
  • How much money and time do you want to spend on maintenance post-installation?

The company is licensed and their employees are accredited

One of the most important aspects of choosing any contractor is whether they are licensed. Each reputable landscape company will have this documented on their website if it applies. If the company is backed up by a governing body, you’ll rest easy knowing they have the credentials to back up their work. If you’re choosing a company within the Orange County area, look for a contractor who is licensed by the state of California.

Also check the credentials of the designer. Did they go to school for landscape design? Is there a registered Landscape Architect on staff? Is the company involved with any professional organizations? This will ensure you are receiving the highest degree of expertise in the field. When companies and their employees adhere to professional organization policies, they’re generally up to date on continuing education hours and best practices.

They send you examples of past work

Ask the designer if they can send you samples of their previous projects. This is a great opportunity to see the types of work they have done in the past. If you’re looking for a luxury landscape upgrade, ask for detail photos and the brands of materials they used.

Even better if the company is able to provide direct references from prior clients. If they are willing to hand over contacts, the result is two-fold – the contractor cares about their ongoing relationships with their clients and the clients are able to give you a firsthand report of their experience with the company.

Customer testimonials are also a great way to learn about the relationships clients have with the employees. Keep in mind, however, that generally, the company will only include positive feedback on their website.

They present a full contract and scope of work

Before any work begins, it is important that the company provides you with a full contract detailing every aspect of the project.

Prior to design, the company may present you with a design fee. This fee pays for the initial labor hours expected to be spent on the design of the project. From this, you should receive a range of documents based on what the company offers. These can include but are not limited to, a conceptual plan, 3-D drawings, construction plans, drawings for permits and HOA approval, and a detailed plant list. Even if you choose a different installer, the design and plans are usually yours to keep.

Once the design is agreed upon, the landscape designer will work up an estimate detailing the intricacies of your project. The contract will outline materials, processes, and costs associated with your landscaping project. This should also include the “Terms and Conditions” that spell out the fine print – late fees, how legal issues will be handled, and warranty obligations.

You are entering a legal contract and should treat this part of the process seriously. The project could span weeks, months, or years – be sure you are getting everything you are asking for and have clarity on the cost, scope, and rules around how to handle any problems that arise.

They give you an idea about ongoing maintenance

One of the most important considerations of installing a landscape is how that space will wear and tear over time.

  • How often will you need ongoing maintenance to keep up the property?
  • What happens if the irrigation springs a leak?
  • Do you need a seasonal rotation of flowers for your containers and beds?
  • Will different companies service the pool, outdoor kitchen, and softscaping?

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of maintenance concerns. After your design is finalized, the company should be willing and able to give you a general idea of maintenance cost. Look for a company who can handle the project from installation to maintenance. That way, you’ll have a company who is familiar with your landscape from the beginning. They are able to foresee problems and can tackle them appropriately.

They tell you what to expect regarding communication

Some of the most frustrating moments of dealing with any contractor stem from miscommunication between parties. Set your expectations early. Do you want to be updated daily? Weekly? Do you prefer a phone call, email, or in person contact? Be clear about how and how often you want to be informed.

Ask who your point of contact will be during the project. This person, usually called a Project Manager, will be the liaison between the crew, design team, and you. The company should provide you with the phone number and email address of the supervisor on site. Open channels of communication will save a lot of headaches on both sides.

They tell you what happens if something goes wrong

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Inclement weather happens. Delays drag on longer than expected. Plants die and pavers crack. This is the nature of landscaping work. Some of these things are unavoidable.

The important question to ask is how these issues are dealt with. Is the company upfront about how they handle scheduling conflicts? Can you expect someone to reach out to you immediately if something goes wrong? Ask the contractor to be transparent about issues. If they hesitate to be clear about their processes, consider choosing a different contractor.

Choosing a company to handle your landscape project can be a daunting task. Be clear about your expectations from the beginning. Go through the checklist above. If a reputable, licensed company is willing to deliver on your dreams and ticks the boxes, hire them!