When planning for a new landscape for your home, choosing a landscape contractor can be the most important decision. It’s a decision that will affect the appearance of your garden, our pocketbook and definitely can affect your peace of mind.
First let me distinguish between a gardener or maintenance contractor and a landscape instillation contractor.
The Landscape Contractor is someone you hire to create or to build your garden. A gardener, or landscape maintenance contractor, is someone you hire to care for your garden after it is built. The two operations take completely different skills and actually two different types of personalities. I acknowledge that there are many companies that offer both services and do them each quite well. I actually like the idea of using one company to create a landscape and the same company to provide the maintenance service if they are qualified for both operations. I mention it solely to make you aware that there are really two distinct services. The people involved in building and constructing landscapes are the type of people who like to build things. They enjoy the process of starting with a blank canvas and following a design to the point where the initial project is completed. The gardener or maintenance contractor is more the nurturing type of personality who enjoys the reward of seeing something shaggy and untidy change into something neat and crisp, much like a hair dresser or barber does. They may also be more knowledgeable about horticultural related practices such as how to control diseases and insects whereas the instillation contractor will have a better understanding of things like drainage, building retaining walls and planting of large trees.
For the purpose of this post I will discuss the Landscape Instillation Contractor.
- In most states a Landscape Contractor is required to pass a test measuring his or her competency as well as purchase a bond or surety to help protect the public from unscrupulous contractors. The level of testing varies widely from state to state.
- Along with the contractors’ license, most states require a period of on-the-job training, working for a licensed contractor. This relatively brief period of training, I consider the minimum. The more time spent working in the field the better as far as I’m concerned.
- The level of knowledge is where you find a wide disparity amongst landscape contractors. Contractors’ knowledge of horticulture ranges from no formal education to a two year associate degree to a four year bachelor’s degree and from a beginner to someone with twenty or more years experience. Their level of knowledge should be considered in relation to the complexity of your project and expect to pay more for knowledge.
The bid process
In almost every case I suggest getting at least two competitive bids, three is even better. In order to solicit bids that you’re able to analyze, it is important to use the old apples-to-apples analogy. Having contractors bid on differing things is a waste of your time and a waste of the contractor’s time. That is why it is critical to begin with a detailed plan for each contractor to use to develop his pricing. Even though many contractors consider themselves “design/build” contractors I strongly suggest you pay separately for the design. I have written a previous post on the advantages of hiring a designer.
Once you have several copies of the plan have each bidder prepare their best estimate for the work. Require the bidders to submit their bid in a broken down fashion so that they are easier to compare. If possible you should provide the items you feel would best be broken out separately. For a simple residential project I wouldn’t use more than five or six segments. For a project that includes several construction elements the list will be longer.
Mobilization (including permits), irrigation system, retaining walls, concrete, trees shrubs, mulch, cleanup are examples of some of the possible items to include. Use a breakdown that makes sense for your project. I have a list with over fifty items on it if you ever need more direction for your job.
In Part II I will discuss how to solicit contractors and how to analyze your bids.
No Brown Thumbs