Differences Between Landscape Contractors and Designers.

Beautiful landscape projects are often appreciated and adored.  Outdoor space filled with lush plants and lighted pathways have a magical allure.  But rarely do people understand the elements needed to align to make the magic happen.

Landscape design, construction and maintenance sometimes get lumped together in one category. But the lack of expertise in any one area can end up costing you not only time but also a significant amount of money.

So let’s start with the basics of who does what and what’s expected to complete a great landscape project.

Landscape Designers

Choosing a landscape designer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a homeowner. Your landscape should be thought of as a long-term investment, not just throwing some plants in the ground and calling it a day.

Not only is a good designer full of ideas to transform your outdoor space, they are able to figure out grading plans, technical details for drainage and layout dimensions.  They will know which plants work best in your area.  They will understand the science of hydraulics for proper irrigation design and understand levels of light and use of the correct lamp color temperatures for good lighting design.

Landscape designers will also help with budget creation and construction planning. Understanding what things cost and having a budget in mind in the beginning is the first step to a successful project.

A reputable designer will also help you decide if you should build the project all at once or break it into phases.

Landscape Contractors

Landscape contractors are usually licensed professionals with a combination of formal education, work experience and/or apprenticeship of a certain length of time. They are the ones who actually install the landscape the designer has planned.

The contractor’s responsibility comes down to getting the job done on time with reliable service and quality.

Keep in mind, not all contractors are landscape designers. Things like poor plant choices, taking into account mature plant sizes, knowledge of plant water usage, proper irrigation design, site drainage and other design items if poorly thought out, can end up costing you more money down the road.  Proper knowledge and expertise in the design phase is crucial to the longevity of your landscape plan.

Choosing a landscape design-build firm can streamline the process.

When choosing a landscape design and build team, make sure to look for at least these three things:

Client references 

Reading online reviews are fine, but if you really want honest feedback, ask for references of someone who has had similar work completed. It may be a red flag if a contractor has a hard time providing references.

Licenses and insurance

Landscape contractors have licenses regulated by the state. Check to see if your contractor’s license is in good standing.  If not, it might be an indication of something more serious. Also, make sure your contractor has general liability insurance and worker’s compensation.

Photos showing quality of work and experience

Good photos will help you get an idea of completed projects and what to expect.  It’s even better if you can see a 3D rendering of what your project will look like when it’s finished.

You may also want to ask to see projects that are similar in scale. Knowledge and expertise of the correct staging and workflow can keep your project on time and within budget.  Most landscape designers would want you to share all your wants and wishes for your landscape to help the designer understand how you will want to use your landscape.  A good designer can help you sort out the landscape ideas that will fit into your budget and give you the most for your money.

While there are times when a full-blown design isn’t necessarily needed,  even a small project can require specialized knowledge and experience to get the details right.  Knowing the difference between contractors and designers will help you get the best results for your landscape needs.

Bill JenkinsBill Jenkins  is a second-generation landscape contractor with a passion for providing quality products and service to the valley for over 30 years.