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DALY: What to know when choosing your landscaper

Many homeowners are considering hiring a landscape contractor to improve the appearance of their home landscape. With so many companies around choosing the right one can be a challenge. Several factors need to be taken into consideration before making the final decision on whom to hire. The task can be easier if you follow several simple steps.

Determine the specific type of work that you want done and how much money you want to spend prior to contacting a landscape contractor. Do you want to have an attractive low maintenance landscape or an attractive high impact one that will require a lot of maintenance?

Many companies offer installation and maintenance services that can be tailored to your personal needs. Additionally, some contractors do specialized hardscaping work, such as the construction of pools, decks, and water gardens. Some firms also employ landscape architects and designers who can create a plan that will match your budget and needs.

Look for firms that are well established, stable and have affiliations with professional organizations. Ask the following questions: What levels of experience and education do the personnel have? Does the firm have the necessary manpower, resources and equipment to perform the work? Is the company fully licensed and insured? Ask for proof of insurance for workers compensation, liability, vehicles and tools.

You may even want to visit sites where the company has performed work. Doing this will ensure the company is responsible, accountable, and operating legally. Ask for a list of references on work they have done in the past and the contact information for previous clients.

Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the firm. One way to locate a landscape professional is to go to the website of the Metro Atlanta Landscape Turfgrass Association at www.maltalandscape.com.

Prior to signing an agreement, have the firm provide in writing the services that will be performed. The contract should include the design, plants and materials to be used, all the costs, schedules, and how payment will be rendered. You should be able to amend the contract if the need arises. Will the contractor honor a guarantee on the plant material and for how long? In many cases, especially on larger jobs, the company may maintain the project for the first year. This way, any mistakes can be dealt with in a timely manner.

If the company is going to do so, ask for the maintenance schedule. Basic landscape maintenance service usually includes weekly mowing, seasonal fertilization, weed control, over seeding and aeration. If any chemical pesticide treatments are going to be done, the applicators need to have a Georgia Commercial Pesticide Applicators license issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Ask what chemical pesticides will be used and the rates they will be applied. The contractor should also provide you with copies of the labels and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the pesticides as well.

The choice of a landscape contractor or lawn care service depends on many factors. You should consult with several firms before making a final decision. Remember, the investment in your home landscape is long term and can impact the value of your property.

Timothy Daly is an Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent with Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.