Whether you’re starting from scratch with a blank canvas, looking to overhaul and update your existing landscaping, or something in between, the more knowledgeable you are about the landscaping design process, the more smoothly it will flow for you.
Installing quality, hassle-free professional landscaping that you’ll be able to enjoy for years to come is a threefold process of design, construction, and maintenance.
At each phase, be aware of the steps that you and your landscaper will be taking together and the right questions to ask to ensure the job is done to your mutual satisfaction. Before you entrust somebody with the important task of crafting your unique environment, you need to be aware of the red flags that will help you avoid the common pitfalls that come with choosing the wrong contractor.
The landscaping design process begins when you call a professional landscaping office and set up a consultation with a designer. These consultations are a chance for you and the landscaper to ascertain whether you’ll work well together and ensure your visions align.
Next, the consultant will come to your home to look over your space and listen carefully to your ideas. He or she should ask you pertinent questions about your goals, lifestyle, and preferences. Once designers have a good feel for the layout of your property, have listened to your ideas, and have hopefully chipped in with some of their own, they’ll take their notes back to the studio and create a detailed design for you.
This process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Don’t rush it! Give the designers time to incorporate every detail and research every element that you both have in mind. Be wary of landscapers who get plans back to you too quickly, which might be an indication of poor quality, or it could mean they weren’t meticulous in their planning.
Questions to Ask at the Design Phase
Before you even ask for a landscaping design consultation, you’ll need to know certain details to ensure that the company with whom you’re speaking is reputable and capable of handling your project:
- What services do you offer? – If you’re interested in pouring a stamped concrete patio, for instance, make sure they work with concrete.
- Are you licensed and insured? – To protect yourself, under no circumstances should you work with a company who is not.
- What’s your guarantee for quality work? – We recommend you find a company that offers warranties on their labor and materials.
- What sets your company apart from other landscaping services? – Landscapers are not all created equal. Find out what makes this one special.
- Do you have a list of former clients I can contact for references? – We advise you talk to former customers as part of your due diligence.
This is the boots-on-the-ground phase of your project, when the vision comes to life. It’s the most exciting part of the process: you’ll see trees, shrubs, and other greenery popping up and hardscape elements like retaining walls, walkways, fire pits, and patios taking shape.
Here, a good professional landscaping company will coordinate the efforts of a designer, a project director, and a construction lead to implement the plan you approved in the design phase. Communication is a key element of this phase: you should always be kept abreast of the schedule, so you know what’s coming and when. The crew should make steady progress and inform you of any updates, hiccups, or delays as they arise.
Questions to Ask about the Construction Phase
At this point, you should already have solidified your vision for your landscaping design and verified that everybody involved is on the same page. However, if you have not already asked the following questions, you’ll need answers to them before or as the construction begins.
- Where do you source your plants, shrubs, and trees? – Making sure that your softscape materials are sourced locally is important regarding price, hardiness (especially in Minnesota’s harsh climate), and ease of future landscape maintenance.
- How long do you estimate the whole project will take? – An accurate ballpark estimate is all you can reasonably expect, but make sure you let your landscaper know if you’re up against any kind of deadline. Remember that, as with any other home improvement project, unforeseen problems and bad weather can sometimes slow progress.
- Who can I contact if I notice a problem? – Make sure you can directly reach the person who can rectify any problem as quickly as possible.
- What is the daily schedule? – It will be helpful for you to know when to expect the crews to arrive and leave each day.
While it isn’t as exciting as construction, landscape maintenance is equally important in terms of sustaining the beauty and value that professional landscaping adds to your property.
Some companies can provide everything from aerating to water feature upkeep, and other companies will disappear as soon as you’ve written them their last check. You must know which type of company you’re dealing with.
Questions to Ask about the Maintenance Phase
Know the answers to the following questions, preferably before you engage a landscaper:
- What kind of training and knowledge do your maintenance crews have? – Ideally, the people who are pruning, fertilizing, and caring for your living landscape should have the training and education to do it properly.
- What level of ongoing landscape maintenance should I expect? – Julia Clem, of Best Pick Reports, suggests, “Be sure to outline an individual plant and overall yard maintenance plan with your landscape company, and verify that the plan is included in the work contract before you sign your name. Replacement policies (and fees) for dead plants vary from company to company, so don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as necessary to fully understand which maintenance tasks are your responsibility and which tasks will fall to the crew.”
Red Flags and Pitfalls
Clearly, the most important decision you can make when it comes to your landscaping is choosing the right professional landscaping company to work with.
Working with an experienced company that engages trained professionals at every stage, who guarantees their work, and who’ll see every element of the process through from inception to maintenance will make all the difference to your satisfaction and peace of mind.
Following are some of the red flags that indicate you might not be looking at the right people for the job:
- They have no references or portfolio – You don’t want to be the guinea pigs. If they assure you that they are experienced, they should have the portfolio and the customer base to show for it. Check out the Scenic Specialties project portfolio, and if you like what you see, contact us for a consultation to create a design for your property.
- Bad Reviews – Sure, it’s impossible to please everyone. One bad review in a sea of rave reviews shouldn’t worry you; there’s always that one person. But numerous bad reviews, especially those that complain of the same issues, should give you pause.
- No contract, or non-specific contract – This is a sure sign of non-professionalism. A good landscaper will have their ducks in a row to protect themselves and to protect you.
- Poor communication – If you can’t reach them or get timely answers, the whole experience will be an exercise in frustration.
- Suspiciously low prices – There are reasonable prices, and then there are inexplicably low prices. Beware of a company that undercuts everybody else. There’s usually a reason behind it like poor sourcing, shoddy workmanship, or worse.