Landscape professionals provide many different services. There are landscape architects, landscape designers, landscape contractors, horticulturalists, and arborists. While there is some overlap among these professions, there are also important distinctions:
Landscape architects - are licensed by the State of California and are qualified to produce construction-ready plans that may include complex retaining walls, grading and drainage plans, and physical structures. Their advanced education, training, and experience emphasizes site planning, town and urban planning, park and recreation planning, garden design, and historic preservation. They provide analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of outdoor space and land. For more information, contact the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Landscape designers - may provide design ideas, landscape plans, planting plans and lighting plans. Some also offer installation-related services such as material selection or plant placement. While they may provide conceptual ideas on garden structures, irrigation, and hardscape layout, most are not licensed to provide construction drawings. Likewise, while they may work closely with contractors overseeing the aesthetic elements of an installation, most are not licensed to provide actual construction services. Their education is in residential design, which emphasizes design strategies, hardscape options, plant materials appropriate for residential projects, and the preservation of historical landscapes and stewardship of the land. For information, contact the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
Landscape contractors - are licensed by the State of California to install the designs created by landscape designers and landscape architects. Some are design/build businesses, and provide design services as well. When working with a design/build firm, be sure to clarify the design process used and whether you will receive landscape drawings for your review and approval or just a verbal or written description of the landscape to be installed. Some design/build companies bundle the design fees with the cost of construction, but it is still important to understand the design cost component should you decide to hire a different company for installation. To learn more about Licensed Landscape Contractors in California, visit the web sites for the California Landscape Contractors Association and the Contractors State License Board.
Horticulturalists - are trained in the science of growing and producing plants. For information, contact the California Association of Nurserymen and Nursery Growers at (800) 748-6214.
Arborists - are trained in the science of protecting and preserving trees and plant life. For information, contact the American Society of Consulting Arborists.
Request to see their portfolio. Speak with past clients, if possible. If water-efficient landscape is of interest, ask about water conservation gardens they may have designed.
Prepare a realistic budget. One rule of thumb is to invest no more than ten percent of your property’s worth into landscaping. This figure should include all design and installation costs, as well as plant materials.
For Landscape Architects, request the architect’s state license number and call the State License Board at (800) 321-2752; or look on line to verify that the license is current, and in good standing.
Request a complete description of the work to be done; quantities and sizes of all materials to be used, including plants materials; brand name of irrigation equipment; and a landscape water management plan.
Request a copy of the contract and expected method of payment.
California state law requires anyone who contracts to do landscape work to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board if the total price of the job (including labor and materials) is $500 or more. Licensed contractors are bonded and must complete four years experience at journeyman, or higher, in the same trade to apply for a license.
Typically, unlicensed persons are not bonded and may not have liability or worker’s compensation insurance. Be aware that if you hire an unlicensed person, you may be financially responsible if injuries, fire, or property damage occurs.
Request the contractor’s portfolio and/or permission to visit gardens the contractor has installed.
Request the contractor’s state license number and call the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-2752 to verify that it is current and in good standing.
Request a list of similar jobs the contractor has recently completed in your area. Look at the work and talk to the owners, if possible.
Ask if the contractor has liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Request certificates in writing.