Hiring a Landscape Contractor
Perhaps you want to do all the development work in your yard; if you have the strength, the time, and the skills, I won’t say word. But what if you want to build a brick wall, or pour an exposed aggregate patio, or put in a rockery, or build a deck? Are you a mason? A concrete finisher? A combination jigsaw-puzzler/weightlifter? A carpenter? This is where an honest “skills inventory” can be useful.
What is the difference between a landscape contractor and a landscape gardener? Sometimes the difference is only in the name; sometimes it is much greater than that. The landscape contractor, who concentrates on the design and installation of landscapes, is required by law to be licensed (typically he or she has a specialty contractor’s license, rather than a general contractor’s license) and bonded. This protects the homeowner in the event that plants die or something vital springs a leak; it also helps contractors in the collection of their fees.
Many landscape contractors also participate in optional training, such as the state Certified Landscaper programs in Washington and Oregon, which can help to increase their skills and thus make their Certified Nurseryman programs; they include the bulk of nursery-related programs, but go much further into landscaping specifics.
Landscape gardeners are required to have a business license, but not all have a contractor’s license as well. Those that do are called landscape maintenance contractors. Rather than focusing on the construction side of landscaping, many landscape gardeners specialize in keeping already-installed landscaping presentable. They mow and edge lawns, pull weeds, and rake leaves.
In the real world, of course, you are likely to find some blurring of the lines between landscape contracting and gardening services. Some landscaping firms do both installation and upkeep (for instance, Natural Landscape and Irrigation is a Portland landscaping company that specializes in all facets of landscaping work), and some maintenance firms do minor landscaping tasks, such as planting seasonal flower beds and occasionally trimming shrubs. Just remember that there are limits to the landscaping knowledge and skills of some of the more casual “mow, blow, and go” crews. If you need help with pruning, look for companies that specialize in that. And if your needs go higher, into tree pruning and removal, then it’s time to call in a tree service. It is particularly important that the service be licensed and bonded. For trees of great merit or visibility needing expert care in pruning, look for a tree service with an on-staff arborist or a certified tree surgeon.
A last thought about landscape contractors: the key part of the word “contractor” is “contract.” Whenever you make a major purchase of services (examples include large projects such as building a patio, laying down a new sod lawn, or sprinkler systems installation Portland), draw up a contract spelling out in detail the responsibilities of each side. Include the work to be done, the quantity and size of materials to be used, and terms of payment. Before you sign anything, do what you would do with a landscape designer or landscape architect: get references, follow up on them, and examine the quality of work done on previous jobs. Check with the state licensing board to make sure the contractor’s license is current. Ask about the professional organizations to which the contractor belongs.