Ahhhhh Spring! Thoughts of lovers turn to love and those of landscape contractors turn to growing things, like the lawn. It's time to weed, fertilize, remove moss and reseed to get it up and growing again. For homeowner associations, this usually means the landscape contractor has also been busy for weeks firing up the irrigation system, thatching, doing drainage corrections, removing and replacing dead plants, sweeping, blowing and mowing. There's a lot to do. And there's a lot to know about how to do it right.
It's important to recognize the difference between your "mow and blow artists" aka "lawnscalpers" and true landscape contract professionals. Mow and blow is basically a guy with minimal tools and experience. He usually does a passable job lawnmowing but rarely has the training on integrated landscape management for one of an HOA's most valuable assets.
A true landscape professional has an artist's eye, a horticulturist's training and manager's organization to ensure that your landscaping thrives through good weather and bad. Each season brings its own challenges: Whether it's too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold, the landscape professional has sophisticated ways to keep it looking its best. Here are some helpful landscape contractor screening tips:
- Determine capabilities. Besides the usual services, some install hardscapes like retaining walls, drainage and irrigation systems which could be important to the overall job.
- Check credentials. Individuals should have either an education in Ornamental Horticulture or several years on-the-job training. The company is usually a member in national or state landscape associations which indicates a desire for excellence. Ask for a list of references and professional affiliations.
- Check for licensing, certification and insurance. If required by state law, the company should be licensed or certified. Licensing provides higher accountability and ensures the level of competence required by state exams.
- Level of maintenance. Do you have low maintenance landscape or a high impact design with seasonal color, intricate pruning and pest control needs? The budget can vary a lot depending on the level of service.
- Check insurance. Proof of insurance for workers' compensation, liability and vehicles should be available to you. Check for limits and policy expiration.
- Visit a similar job. Do a random site check of some current clients to verify work quality.
- Review the contract. Your landscape maintenance contract should have a detailed annual schedule to handle all aspects of the work. Some tasks are done more or less frequently according to season and the schedule should reflect it.
- Share the work? Some HOAs have volunteers that like to do certain aspects to reduce costs. Discuss what options there might be.
So what's it going to be, landscape professional or lawnscalper? The first ensures a vibrant and healthy landscape while the second will skin your landscape alive. Your choice. For more on hiring professional landscape contractors, see:
has several sample Landscape Specifications in the Specification section.