Learn / Ask The Landscape Professional
I had an absolutely awful experience with a landscape contractor last year; can you give me some things to look for before I make the same mistake again?
Almost every day, I visit distraught customers that have previously
hired landscape contractors who have absolutely no idea
what they are doing. Unfortunately, if you hire the wrong
company, not only is it an expensive mistake, they can cause
damage that will take years to recover. Before you hire any
company, follow these ten steps to help keep you out of trouble.
#1 Ask to see a landscape contractor's Connecticut State
Home Improvement Contractors license - Landscapers are
required by law to have a HIC license and the license number
must be included in their advertising and on their trucks. If
you don't see the HIC # (or if the "landscaper" doesn't even
have a business name on their vehicle) don't let them near your
property. However, the HIC license is not a competence test
where the contractor must pass an exam or demonstrate competency.
It just means the contractor can be held accountable for
his workmanship by the state. Contact the CT Department of
Consumer Protection for more information. There is, however,
a bill being discussed now in the CT State legislature that would
require landscape companies to have competency licenses like
arborists, architects and other professions. Until that bill passes
however, anyone with any skill (or not) can call themselves a
#2 Ask for a Certificate of Insurance that shows their
Workers Comp and Liability coverage - you must do this! If
a worker of an uninsured landscaper has an accident and gets
injured on your property, you will be held personally responsible
because your homeowners insurance will not cover it! The
main reason a contractor doesn't have Workers Comp coverage
is because it costs him money. Chances are high he is also paying
his people cash under the table. His prices will be low, but
the risks to you and your assets are extraordinarily high.
#3 Don't assume that any landscape contractor knows what
they are doing – in landscaping, it's all about training, education
and experience. Unfortunately, the barriers to entering the
landscape business are low - someone can buy a truck, trailer
and some equipment, put their name on it (or not) and off they
go whether they know anything or not. It's up to you, the
homeowner, to check them out thoroughly before letting them
near your property. Check multiple sources of information.
How long have they been in business? What advanced training
or college degrees do they have? Do they have a web site? Do
they have references you can visit and call? Are they registered
with the Better Business Bureau and what is their rating? Call
the Better Business Bureau and ask. Call the SECT Chamber
of Commerce. Do they have experience in doing the type of
project you need done? If their answers are negative, don't let
them near your property. Make the contractor convince you he's
the right one for the job.
#4 The lowest price is almost always your worst choice -
Landscaping is not a commodity like produce where you can
shop for the lowest price. The landscape company you want to
hire is one that has trained, educated, insured professionals that
know what they are doing. They will not have inexperienced,
minimum wage workers, or beaten up, rusted equipment. Their
people will look presentable on your property and they will be
respectful to you. The best company and the right company for
you will never have the lowest price.
#5 If you are interested in a planting project make certain
the company knows their plants and has a trained designer
– believe it or not, there are many, many landscape companies
that know nothing about plants or how to plant them. The
Northeast's biggest wholesale nursery will tell you that every
day they have "landscapers" come in and ask for things like
"something that blooms in June" without having a clue about
characteristics of the plant, where it does best or how and
where to plant it. Often, you see these companies plant way too
closely together, too close to the foundation or too deeply in the
ground. I often see plants that are shade plants that have been
planted in full sunlight. I see landscape cloth and dyed toxic
mulch everywhere, put down by unknowledgeable contractors.
It's very upsetting and a tremendous waste of your money.
Sprigs & Twigs rips out and replaces landscapes every day that,
had they been designed and installed properly, would last for
the life of the house. So what can you do? Check a landscape
contractor's web site, training and experience. Test them. Walk
them around your yard and ask them plant questions, ask them
about some of the things you have read in my weekly articles.
You'll quickly find out if they know their plants and proper
#6 Good landscape companies will guarantee their work
including their plants – if a company is not confident enough
in their work to offer a guarantee; be careful.
#7 If a landscape company can start your project immediately
in May or June be very suspicious – these are the "High
Season" months for good landscape companies, who in many
instances are booked solidly with work and are doing projects
arranged for as long ago as last year. If a company can start
right away, assume that other people know something that you
haven't discovered yet and be leary. Haste, in this case could
cost you big. If you are contracting for work now, be patient, it
is worth waiting for the right company. Smart customers start
planning their projects months in advance; Sprigs & Twigs is
actually doing design work now for 2014 projects.
#8 Good landscape companies always call you back - if you
haven't gotten a return call in a reasonable time, give them a
second call, because even the best companies aren't perfect
and sometimes calls get missed, especially during the busy
season. There are many companies though that won't ever call
you back, which amazes me because it's so unprofessional and
disrespectful. You should tell as many people as will listen to
you about your experience with those companies. Those firms
have actually done you a big favor.
#9 Make sure a landscape contractor's work is on a detailed
contract that you review with them before you sign off -
Connecticut law requires that you be given three copies of a
contract that contains very specific language regarding your
right to cancel among other things. Do not sign any informal
looking documents that do not contain that language. Consult
with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.
Good companies know all about the correct way to do this.
#10 Hire a local company-invest back in your community
– there are real advantages to SE Connecticut when you hire
local companies. Their employees live and work here and your
landscape investment not only adds value to your property, but
actually helps stimulate the local economy.
View As PDF
To view a PDF of this article, please
About Linda Lillie
Linda K. Lillie is the President of Sprigs & Twigs, Inc, the premier
landscape design and maintenance, tree care, lawn care, stonework, and carpentry
service provider in southeastern Connecticut since 1997. She is a graduate of
Connecticut College in Botany, a Connecticut Master Gardener and a national
award winning landscape designer for her landscape design and landscape installation work.