7 Deadly Sins of Landscaping

We spend and inordinate amount of time listening to how you will use the space we create. Why?  So at the end it exceeds your expectations.  We apply a lot of resources educating buyers on what works and why, how it’s built, what the construction process will look like and how they will celebrate at the end when we finally leave them alone with their new backyard paradise. Of course a solid landscape design plan goes a long way to paving the road to a more satisfying installation.

But there are a few things that every good buyer should be aware of that may not seem top of mind about Landscaping.  Along the way we have run into all kinds of “trunk slammers”, guys with a truck who did just enough work somewhere else to think they can do this cheaper and faster and not get caught. And those prices, man, they are tempting.  We charge a great deal of money to fix those blunders and we’d like to help you avoid the pain, frustration and expense from selecting the wrong landscaping company by doing it right the first time.

Here are a few things you should be asking when interviewing a prospective Landscape Designer

1.) References.
All the marketing gurus will tell you the testimonials from existing satisfied customers carry the most weight. No one can tell your story better than someone for whom it played out according to plan. That would be our customers. Getting them to do a video for the website or write a review on Google, Houzz, Angies List etc., for your review provides a broad scope of work to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money.  There is so much more to it than getting a good price. And will the design really work for you and your family or many years to come or will you always wish you had made a change?

2.) Scheduling.

Don’t give your deposit without a solid commitment to when the job will start. Any landscaper who doesn’t know the date of the next open slot isn’t doing good business. Exceptions? There are a few. Weather is the worst. If it rains for two days, it’s still too wet most times to work on day 3. If you live downhill from the neighbors, you could be getting water perking through your property for several days. Its a judgement call but your landscaper should be in contact with you daily to adjust the schedule. Material availability is another exception. Most of the time we have two weeks to get ready so that’s not going to be in play very often. Permits can definitely wreak havoc on the schedule. Otherwise your landscaper should be on top of scheduling. And he/she should be talking to you, at least a text or email before you have to call and ask what’s up.

3.) Plant sizes.
There is no rhyme or reason to plant sizes. Used to be a 1 gallon pot had a one gallon sized root ball and the plant would always be a certain size for it’s variety. Now we see pots half filled with pine bark and a tiny little thing trying to grow roots. Ask you landscaper about the size of plants being installed. It should be spelled out in your contract anyway and be aware of how they will grow to fit the landscape design you are paying for. Say, you just spent all that getting the front redone, you don’t want them growing back up over the windows in 5 years.

4.) Disturbances on you property.
Face it, it’s construction and there’s nothing clean about working in the dirt. You might see some footprints or tire marks on the driveway, sampled grass from the 100 trips to the back yard with a wheel barrow. Landscaping is a little like open heart surgery…we open up the ground, construct whats on the plan and put it back together. That doesnt happen without some foot traffic, machinery and a lot of dust. Some dirt marks will fade in time with a little help from the rain. Another option is for the landscaper to agree to powerwash hard surfaces on his way out at the end of the job. That should be in your contract if you want it done. If they aren’t going to finish by the weekend, or your job will take multiple weeks like a pool deck might, then how will they stage materials and equipment so you can enjoy you home while they are off duty? What about your neighbors?  Do we need to go visit them before we start so they aren’t angered by all the commotion?

If things work out this year we are going to video this process so you can see for yourself what you are getting into. I think the dust and disturbance is the most shocking thing homeowner don’t expect to see. Of course, it comes together beautifully in the end.

5.) Staging Areas.
Parking multiple pallets of pavers in your driveway can inhibit your use of the garage. Are you ok with that? Make sure you understand and specify what you want prior to signing the contract. Landscaping projects will certainly cost more if we have to spend hours walking to the street and hauling heavy wheel barrows of paver material to the back yard, so we like to be as close to the work site as possible. But it’s your house and if we are planning to be there a couple weeks you might want to discuss staging of materials, parking of vehicles, etc.

6.) Watering. Too Much, Not Enough? Both? It happens.
Plants come from the nursery where they are watered 2-3 times a day and live in perfect oil with extra fertilizer tossed in to make them look strong. They they go in the ground and you off to work but when you get home they are wilting. You water at the worst time of day but it’s better than nothing. Are you sure how much water you put on the plant? Did someone else from the household water too? Next thing you know there are bugs attacking your new plants because they are in shock and under stress. Plants have virtually no warranty because of this. No one can stop Mother Nature but you can work with her if you follow instructions. I’ve even seen people go a couple weeks and think things are great and start to forget to tend their new baby plants. Death ensues.

7.) No Maintenance Follow Up.
Not following up with clean ups, mulching, proper pruning (sore subject for another time) makes no sense to me. Why spend all that time and money on a beautiful plan thats executed perfectly to let it turn to a mess. A decent landscaper should have a follow up program you can enlist them to do that work. They know what to look out for and when to do things. Especially one who is Certified for Pesticides and Fertilization, which is a Maryland Law, should be able to identify weather conditions that cause fungus and disease. Plants and lawns can be sprayed to combat this natural occurrences that plants cannot defend themselves against.

The deadliest sin?

False impressions. 

At true story…Many, many years ago I worked for a car dealership as the Service Director. I had 3 franchises to worry about and one just plain sucked. This was about the time the JD Powers surveys were hitting the public. This one manufacturer got more complaints than anything in the history of surveys. Rightly so.  But, the complaints were falling on deaf ears. Those customers who weren’t happy were screaming at the top of their lungs to get some value for the money they had already spent. And the manufacturer kept sending them surveys. What else was a consumer to do? They were dinging the dealership for manufacturing issues and complaints. Hey, it was their only voice.

I was talking to different car manufacturer’s rep about this (where we had a 98% rating, so we were pretty sure it wasn’t us) and he suggested something ingenious to trick the system because low scores affected availability of cars, technical training and warranty payments. We made up a check sheet, laminated it and mounted it right on the service counter and at the cashier window. We told every warranty customer they would be getting a survey to gauge their “satisfaction” and that if they couldn’t fill it out by checking all the ‘excellent” boxes to let one of us know and we would make it so they could.

Funny thing was we still couldn’t fix the defective cars, two years later, when the new models came out, most of the “issues” were resolved. We did make that 43% rating jump up to 96% just by getting more happy people to complete the survey. Their voice was now being heard too which tipped the scales the other way.  So having few or no review may not tell the whole story, but having everyone talk about you is actually good.

I am afraid we see the same thing in Landscaping. Initially all the work looks good because its new, but if you have to pick up after your contractor, spot inconsistencies in the workmanship, are told “that’s how we do it” when you ask questions, can’t get anyone to explain how to operate the new irrigation controller or lighting timer, have to reseed your own lawn where they drove over it, or aren’t able to communicate with the crews, it might be time for a full service landscape company.

The caution here is to do your due diligence and find out what the company you are giving your hard earned money to is all about. It’s ok to ask for references. Any company who doesn’t have them readily available should be eliminated. Look for testimonies and comments on the website, Angies List, Google, Houzz, etc. to get a balanced feel for their abilities and personnel. Go visit their yard and see if they look organized.  Even read the bad comments and see how they responded to criticism.

The more you dig, the more you learn, the more satisfied you’ll be at the end.

by, John Gallagher