Landscaping Basics

Landscaping professionals inhabit a unique world and possess a skillset somewhere near the intersection of design, horticulture and construction.

While there are those who'd tell you that landscaping is a blue-collar job just like any other, we look at it a little differently. Landscaping professionals inhabit a unique world and possess a skillset somewhere near the intersection of design, horticulture and construction. Good landscapers need to be just as knowledgeable about how and why plants grow as they are about neighborhood and city zoning ordinances, and using chemicals and machinery.

Many homeowners will be tempted to engage in landscaping projects themselves. That's admirable, and there's certainly a level of satisfaction that comes from seeding, cultivating and growing plants. But it's important to understand just what you're capable of, and when to bring in the pros.

What landscaping can I do myself?

It's essential to take a good, long look at your skill set before launching a new landscaping project. Make sure you understand the scope of the project. There's being able to pot a plant, and there's being able to move earth, set stone, manipulate whole trees and more best left to professionals. Simply buying proper materials and equipment for a job could cost as much as hiring a landscaper. It may even help to use landscaping software. Learn more about that next.

What is landscaping software?

Whether beginning a project with the intent to do it yourself, or getting ready to hire a professional landscaper, landscaping software can help plan the job. A number of popular software programs all perform the same tasks, and allow you to visualize the job. Sure, you can use a pencil and paper just fine, but landscaping software will allow you to better transmit and communicate your ideas. It can:

  • Create a two-dimensional map of the area on the property
  • Take dimensional input to create a three-dimensional visual representation
  • Incorporate digital photos to better create the current area and the intended landscaping goals
  • Allow for easy movement of elements, letting homeowners experiment with different placement of trees and shrubs, for instance, without the hassle of erasing and redrawing
  • Access a database of plants, water features, and other decorative elements
  • Generate a running tally of projected costs based on up-to-date national average prices
  • More accurately incorporate irrigation like sprinkler systems, ponds, swimming pools and more

Urban Landscaping Considerations

Many American homeowners live in more densely populated, urban environments where land is at a premium. This means that there are more stakeholders in how land is purposed and put to use, from close neighbors to municipal entities and other organizations. What happens on one smaller plot of land has a greater impact on other property owners than would otherwise be the case in the countryside. Due to these considerations, homeowners in a city will face significantly more restrictive regulations on what can be done with regards to landscaping. Also consider the following:

  • Property line demarcation
  • Privacy features (fences, etc.)
  • Storm water drainage
  • Retaining walls
  • Use of specific fertilizers
  • Removal/disposal of soil, etc.

Rural Landscaping Considerations

Landscaping around a home located outside of a traditional city and on larger property carries the ability to be more flexible with what you do, but with that comes the possibility of greater expense. While owning acres of land means a house itself may not butt up against another home like it would in the city, and you may not have municipal concerns to worry about (sewer lines, excess utility lines, etc.) However, your use of property may have increased environmental concerns, especially if you live near a water source or a body of water flows through and leaves your property. Other rural considerations may include:

  • Agricultural restraints
  • Community land rights
  • Mineral resources
  • Natural resource conservation requirements
  • Wildlife land use rights
  • Historical preservation

How to Find Good Landscapers

Look to the user reviews to learn just what homeowners like you think of the people they've contracted with in the past. This may also be an excellent time to turn to a homeowner's association, neighborhood social group, or even to knock on the door of your neighbor's homes. You know who in your neighborhood has the most attractive lawn, and now's the time to find out just who they worked with to achieve it. It also pays to get the opinion of those you trust when looking for a trustworthy, reliable landscaper who engages in reputable practices, from billing to hiring employees and subcontractors.

What to Look for When Hiring Landscapers

It's not essential to just hire a contractor, but to hire the right contractor who understands the specific needs of your landscaping project. Here's a handy guide for some of the must-know info to glean before signing a contract.

  • Know their Experience: Talk with the landscaping company about what sort of work they've done in the past. They should be willing to provide referrals, and even addresses of prior clients they've worked with who have approved the sharing of their information – take a drive by the house to see if the yards are well put together, maintained, and representative of the type of work you can see being done on your property. There's nothing like a real-world look, especially as many companies will use out-of-date photos on their websites.
  • Hire a company rather than an individual: While there are certainly skilled individual electricians, it makes sense to look for a group of landscapers working together under a corporate name. This increases the likelihood of them having proper insurance. It may also help your bargaining power when trying to negotiate total job cost to indicate whether you intend to hire them not just for the immediate remodeling, but also on a regular basis for constant maintenance. The promise of steady work may bring down the overall price of the initial job.
  • Ask their honest opinion: This may seem simple, but it's an often overlooked step when negotiating with a professional. Ask the landscaper for their honest opinion about the job, and what they think the biggest challenges will be. This will not only give you insight into the professional's understanding of the situation, but also prepare you for potential unforeseen outcomes during the process.

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