Things to consider when choosing a landscaper

As we move into the warmer weather months, many homeowners will want to hire landscape contractors and lawn-care services to improve the appearances of their home landscape.

But with so many contractors available, the choice can be difficult. Knowing the right questions to ask should make choosing a contractor or service easier.

Picking a

landscape contractor

Before speaking to a landscape contractor, first determine what type of work you want done, what your needs are and how much money you want to spend. Contractors should be able to offer several packages that can be tailored to your needs. If you're not sure what you want, many firms also have landscape architects and designers skilled in creating a master plan that will match your budget and needs.

Look for firms that are well-established in the community, and make sure the company is licensed and insured. Ask if the employees are certified as Georgia Landscape Certified Professionals and are licensed by the state to apply pesticides.

Ask the company for a list of references on work they have done in the past, and also request the contact information for previous clients. You can even ask to see other jobs the firm has done for comparison. Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the firm.

Prior to making any agreement, have the firm provide, in writing, the services that will be performed. Details should include the design, plant materials and hardscaping materials to be used, with all costs, time schedule and the terms of payment. You should have the right to make amendments to the contract as needed.

Ask about guarantees. How long is the guarantee in place? In many cases, especially on larger jobs, the company is often required to maintain the project for the first year. This way, any installation mistakes can be dealt with in a timely manner.

If the company is going to provide maintenance, ask for the maintenance schedule. Basic lawn service needs to include weekly mowing, seasonal fertilization, weed control, overseeding and aeration. Ask what chemicals will be used, and require the contractor to provide copies of the label and the Material Safety Data Sheets.

Choosing a

lawn-care service

To maintain a healthy, attractive lawn, some people hire only lawn-care service. Before selecting one, you need to consider what level of service you are willing to pay for. Do you want an average quality lawn, or are you willing to shell out the money for an above-average quality lawn?

Look for a lawn care company that provides integrated pest management. A company using this principle will monitor your lawn for pests, disease and fertilizer needs, and apply chemicals only as needed. When used properly by a company with a good reputation and trained professionals, lawn-care chemicals can improve the health and appearance of you lawn with minimal health and environmental risks.

Ask a representative of the company to visit your property to observe any problems, and estimate what the level of maintenance and costs will be.

In Georgia, firms or persons for hire that apply pesticides must have a valid pesticide license issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. After any pesticide applications, the applicator must post warning signs. Make sure the company always contacts you in advance for treatments to the lawn so you can move anything off the lawn, and find out in advance how long your family will need to stay off the lawn.

The choice of a landscape contractor or lawn-care service will depend on many factors. List all of the pros and the cons. The investment in your landscape is long-term, so never let price be the only factor in making this important decision.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.