Tips for finding a reliable landscape contractor

Even in the down economy, many homeowners will want to hire landscape contractors and lawn care services to improve the appearances of their home landscape. However, with so many contractors available, the choice can be difficult.

Many factors most be taken into consideration when choosing a landscape contractor. By following several simple steps, the process of choosing a contractor will be much easier.

Determine type of work that you want done, your needs and how much money you want to spend prior to speaking to a landscape contractor. Many landscape contractors can offer several installation and maintenance services that can be tailored to your personal needs. Additionally, many also install pools, decks, water gardens and features and irrigation. If you are not certain what you want, consult with a qualified professional. 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 and stable in your community. What levels of experience and education do the personnel have? Ask if the employees are certified as Georgia Landscape Certified Professionals and have Georgia restricted-use pesticide applicators license-category 24 issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Also, ask the firm about its professional affiliations.

Does the firm have necessary manpower, resources and equipment to perform the designated tasks? Make sure the company is licensed and insured. In doing so, this will ensure the company is responsible and will be accountable to you, and the firm is operating legally showing a high level of professionalism.

Ask for proof of insurance for workers compensation, liability, vehicles and tools. Ask the company for a list of references on work they have done in the past and the contact information for previous clients. You can even ask to see other jobs the firm has done for comparison. Also check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the firm. To find a professional, go to the Web site of The Metro Atlanta Landscape Turf Association at www.maltalandscape.com.

Ask for a written contract. 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. Will the contractor honor a guarantee on the plant material? How long is the guarantee in place?

What about hardscape items? In many cases, especially on larger, more involved 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, and overseeding and aeration.

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 above average quality lawn, which will be more costly. Look for a lawn care company that provides integrated pest management (IPM). A company using this principle will monitor you lawn for pests, diseases, and fertilizer needs, and apply chemicals only as needed. When properly serviced by company having a good reputation and trained professionals, lawn care chemicals can improve the health and appearance of you lawn with minimal health and environmental risks.

The process in choosing a lawn care company is much like that for a landscape contractor, except the company will only be doing chemical applications, and sometimes mowing, seeding and aerating. Ask a representative of the company to visit your property to observe any problems, and what the level of maintenance and costs will be.

Both lawn care companies and landscaping contractors, if applying chemical pesticides in Georgia for hire must have a valid pesticide licensed issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Make sure the people making the chemical applications have been trained thoroughly. 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 ask how long should you stay off the lawn. Ask what chemicals will be used, and require the contractor to provide copies of the label and the Material Safety Data Sheets. The contractor should provide you a list of what chemicals were applied, how much, the rate, and the date and time of the application.

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, and do not let price be the only factor in making this very 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.