DALY: Factors to consider when choosing a landscape professional

As spring approaches us, many people are considering hiring a landscape contractor to improve the appearance of their home landscape; however, finding a reputable and reliable company can be a challenge. Several factors need to be taken into consideration before choosing someone to do the work.

First, determine the specific type of work that you want done and how much you are willing to spend. Do you want to have a low maintenance landscape or an attractive high impact one that is costly and labor intensive to maintain? Many companies offer installation and maintenance services that can be tailored to your personal needs. Additionally, some contractors perform specialized hardscape 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 and liability insurance. In doing so, this will ensure the company is responsible, accountable, and operating legally. Ask for a list of references on the work they have done in the past and the contact information for previous clients. You may even want to visit sites where the company has previously performed work. Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the firm. One way to locate a landscape professional is through the website of the Urban Agriculture Council of Georgia: http://urbanagcouncil.com/.

Prior to making an agreement, have the firm provide in writing for the services that will be performed. The contract should include the design, plants and materials to be used, 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 so mistakes can be dealt with in a timely manner.

If the company is going to provide basic landscape maintenance service, which usually includes weekly mowing, seasonal fertilization, and weed control, ask for the schedule of maintenance tasks that will be performed during the year. If any chemical pesticides are going to be applied, 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, their rate of application and when they will be applied.

The choice of a landscape contractor or lawn care service will depend on many aspects. You should consult with several firms before making a final decision, and do not allow the price alone to determine to influence your final choice. Remember, your home landscape is long term investment.

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