If you've got a lawnmower and a pickup truck, you can call yourself a landscaper.
     It's simple. It's sad. Yet, it's TRUE! And it's something I've said very sarcastically for years on the GardenLine radio program. I was driving home from the grocery store the other day and counted no less than six different "landscape" companies working in about a five-mile stretch. Yep, they all had a lawnmower and a pickup truck. Some had trailers, and some had a phone number and company name on the side of the truck. And some did not.
     I make recommendations on the air from time to time, depending on what part of town a listener is calling from. And I make recommendations in several magazines and newsletters. But I have to admit, I don't know all the landscapers out there, and I certainly don't know all the bad ones or all the good ones.
     How do you know which ones to trust? Well, here are some helpful hints:

  • First, if they're going to be doing irrigation or sprinkler work with a landscaping job, make double-dang sure they are licensed by the state. Ask for proof of a "TLI license number." And it's an added benefit if they have a TPCL number, too. That means they are licensed as an "applicator" of restricted-use pesticides as well.
  • Second, see if they've been certified by the The Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA). There is a test that a landscaper takes to get this certification. I've taken it, and I can tell you it ain't easy. So, if someone has this certification, they know their stuff. You can use the TNLA Web site to find a landscape architect that meets your requirements.
  • Finally, ask for at least three references. Just looking at pictures of jobs they're proud of is not the best way to judge a landscaper's work, in my opinion ... talking to former customers is. While it probably isn't a good sign for a company to have multiple complaints against them at the Better Business Bureau, don't dismiss a company because of one or two filings. Check to see if all complaints were resolved. And sometimes you'll find a customer just had an axe to grind, and no amount of resolution would have sufficed.
         Remember, you get what you pay for in landscape jobs! If you're looking for a cut-rate deal, something's going suffer to pay the price. The soil is going to suck, the mulch is going to stink, the plants won't be right for your environment, etc. Don't be afraid to pay for a good landscaping job ... one that won't have to be redone in a couple of years. Good landscaping should last the life of the home ... or at least until you get bored and want to change it again.
         And one last note ... when you're building a new home, you don't have to automatically take what the home builder offers. Home builders have to make money here and there, and one way they make money is by hiring the cheapest landscape installer. And that landscaper -- using the term loosely -- has to make money too. So he uses the cheapest plants, soils, mulch, etc. Most of the time, they build beds by scraping up the sand, popping in the plants and cover it up with mulch. Then, I get calls from the homeowner who wants to know what's wrong with his or her plants. Unless you're a cactus in Arizona, no plant deserves that kind of treatment. So, my advice has always been ... and will always be ... GET THE LANDSCAPE ALLOWANCE FROM THE BUILDER. Then add a few more dollars of your own and hire a landscape company that knows what they're doing.