Over the many years I have been a professional designer and landscape contractor, I have seen patterns of behaviors, misunderstandings and a general  lack of how the landscape industry works from a homeowner’s perspective. Here are the top 7 landscaping mistakes homeowners can avoid.

“Isn’t a gardener the same as a landscaper?”


1)  Being your own general contractor and architect

You should have a good handle on big picture thinking and a good sense of design if you intend to be your own general contractor/supervisor of the workers that you hire. Where most homeowners make mistakes is when they have a larger project that may involve several components such as grading, irrigation, lighting, masonry and  plantings — even for a very small area and rely on their gardener to give them design advice and a quote.

  1. 2)  Peacemealing the installation over time often results in a hodgepodge appearance.

Hiring multiple tradesmen to do work one “project” at a time usually results in a hodgepodge appearance and which may lack cohesiveness after its all completed.  Do these individual “projects” fit into an overall plan or are you shooting from the hip as you go?  Piecemeal installations often result in inefficiencies and additional expense.

3)  Asking your regular gardener to perform work and/or design advice beyond their expertise

Arizona law does not require a contractor’s license to maintain landscapes, i.e. tree trimming, mowing, weeding, etc. but do require a license for any work that exceeds $1000 which is then considered to be contracting.  Thus most ‘gardener-landscapers’ are not licensed but often advertise that they install pavers, walls, etc. which all could easily fall into the category of contracting.

4)  Getting “Free Estimates” to compare different designs

Homeowners may feel they do not want to pay for a separate design even though the project may warrant one. Here’s the scenario: Homeowner calls several contractors to give them a free estimate which requires some kind of design to be put on paper, perhaps an entire backyard. Some contractors will not charge a design fee, others will credit the fee towards construction costs, but many will do a design and proposal in the hopes of getting the work and perhaps present the design but not let the homeowner keep it.

What happens is that these contractors are preparing a design and a cost proposal based on what they think they heard you tell them what you wanted. You end up comparing essentially, the “best design for the best price”. With different design variations in terms of material, area and scope of work, you are comparing apples to oranges.

5)  Sacrificing quality of work, expertise, credentials and legal issues for the lowest price

We all are driven to get the best deal on our purchases, but in the field of construction, we think we are like the government who sends out a call for bids and who then selects the lowest bid. Governments have lists of qualified contractors who are previously approved so that the only decision made at the bidding stage is to select the lowest price. As homeowners, we need to go through the process of qualifying those from whom we obtain bids, not only licensing requirements, but other credentials such as education, experience and references.

6)  Hiring unlicensed contractors

Not only is it illegal for a homeowner to hire unlicensed landscape professionals depending on the licensing laws of their state,  a person who engages in the work of contracting which in Arizona is defined as any scope of work of at least $1000, requires that person to be duly licensed. Hiring someone without a license allows you know recourse to file a complaint with the state for shoddy work or non performance. It is tempting to get the work done for a cheap price especially if your neighbor thought they did a good job, yet you are taking a risk nonetheless.

A small classified ad in your local newspaper offering landscape services with the disclaimer at the end “not a licensed contractor” does not exempt them from the licensing rules. In Arizona, all advertising by licensed contractors must include their license number. It is most likely the policy of the newspaper to require ads to include the disclaimer.

7)  Not having a written contract

A verbal agreement alone is a recipe for disaster. Even if you get a written quote, is it in the form of a contract with clearly identified scope of work, progress payments, specification of materials in terms of type, size and quantities? or does it simply say “install paver patio in backyard”?

In summary, the vast majority of homeowners simply do not regard “landscapers” as professionals. Because of the overlapping services between an architect and a contractor, or blue collar vs. white collar if you will, the average homeowner lumps most all services provided in this industry to that of the “landscape guy”.

If your needs are to simply do some clean up around the yard, you don’t call an architect. But if you need an entire backyard remodeled, you do not ask your gardener to prepare a design.

Part of the problem is caused by the services offered by these “landscapers”. Many who are not licensed, qualified, skilled nor educated will claim they can do virtually everything a landscape would need from tree trimming to building a retaining wall.

So now you know the top 7 landscaping mistakes homeowners can avoid.