A beautiful lawn can be both appealing and environmentally friendly, but it can take a lot of work and be tricky for a do-it-yourself project.
Hiring a landscape contractor or lawn maintenance service gives homeowners the professional help they need. Below are things to think about specifically when it comes to your lawn and landscaping.
Lawn and plant care generally fall into four categories: landscaping, lawn maintenance, interior plant maintenance and sprinkler systems. Before selecting a company, evaluate your needs. Some companies specialize in one area, while others offer a variety of services.
Landscaping companies design landscapes for designated areas, select the appropriate plants and provide and install the plants.
Lawn maintenance services generally include mowing, edging, weeding of flower beds, treating for insect disease, weed control, trimming of shrubs, irrigation systems checks, and fertilizing.
Most indoor plant maintenance companies offer such services as design, watering, fertilizing, pruning, trimming, insect and disease control, and cleaning. Some companies lease indoor plants, including blooming plants, with decorative containers.
Services provided by sprinkler system companies include design installation and general maintenance and repair.
Once you have decided what services you need and have determined your budget, get recommendations from friends and neighbors with lawns and plants you admire. Check with the BBB for Business Profiles on the companies you are considering, and keep the following tips in mind when you call prospective vendors:
Ask for a lawn inspection and free estimate. Services that quote a price without actually seeing your lawn cannot be sure what your lawn might need. Companies will sometimes charge you to discuss specific landscaping ideas to protect themselves against clients who want to get their ideas and implement them themselves. If you contract with the company, they will often credit you back for the design fee.
Make sure you have a clear scope of work before asking for estimates. This includes defining the area to be worked on and what you want done. When getting bids, don't compare apples with oranges. Make sure that each company has included the same services. Also, be sure that each company breaks down the cost in the same way (per visit, month, year, and so forth).
Ask for references and pictures of other indoor or outdoor landscapes they have installed or maintained. If possible, visit these locations to get a first-hand view of the quality of their work. Ask the references about their experiences before, during and after the work was done.
Get specifics on prices and be clear on what services are included. Are you paying for a specific project or ongoing maintenance? Do you pay by the mow or by the month? What happens if it rains the day someone is supposed to come mow your lawn? Does mowing include edging? Find out what happens if you have a problem between contracts. Will the service calls be free or is there a charge? If you will be maintaining the landscaping yourself, ask for detailed instructions and be prepared to follow them.
Check to see if the lawn care provider needs a license to work in your area. In particular, they may need a license to apply pesticides. Does the company provide liability and workman's compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Ask for a certificate of insurance from the company's insurance agent.
Get everything in writing and read all agreements and contracts carefully. Make sure the contract contains all topics discussed and promises made. Document the duration and expected results of the lawn care service. Some contracts are open ended, meaning they renew until the client specifically terminates. Make sure you understand how that works and what you have to do to cancel. Be certain the contract lists the quantity, size, and types of plants and other materials. Look for guarantees and refund policies. Some services may offer a guarantee of performance. Others may offer refunds if they fail to meet your expectations. Get copies of anything you sign.
Ask about timing and safety. Will the work be done while you are home or when you are away? Are there any safety precautions you need to take during or after the work? If pesticides are being used, do you need to do anything to protect your family or pets?
Get receipts for any money paid. If you make full payment in cash, be sure to obtain written verification from the company with a list of labor and material charges covered by the payment.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, 83 counties from east Alabama to western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at 1-800-763-4222, web site: www.bbb.org or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org