10 things your landscaper won’t tell you
Here are some insider secrets that the landscaper you hired may not share. Learn the tricks of the trade so you’ll know what to watch for and can ask the right questions.
1. “My sprays are real killers, all right.”
Sure, you want your lawn to be as green as Yankee Stadium’s outfield. But does your landscaper need to poison it in the process? Gloria Megee knows what harm grass-protecting pesticides can do. Several years ago, after a landscaper had sprayed pesticides on the yard of her Arlington, Va., housing development, Megee’s bichon frise, Monique, started to nibble the grass. Seconds later the dog was vomiting; she would experience seizures throughout the night. Monique eventually became riddled with skin cancer and tumors. The cause? Megee’s vet blamed it on the pesticides. “The poor dog’s paws were totally raw from walking on sprayed grass,” Megee says.
Indeed, research has linked pesticides to Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease and liver cancer. One of the major culprits in insecticide poisoning, diazinon — once an active ingredient in Ortho and Spectracide, among many other pesticides — was so dangerous that the Environmental Protection Agency banned it from all household and gardening products in 2004. But a spiffy lawn and long-term health are not mutually exclusive.
Rather than chemicals, some landscapers now use bug-eating birds, kelp spray and insects that prey on vegetarian pests, the ones that harm trees and plants. Says Steven Restmeyer, a landscaper who has practiced such techniques: “When landscapers deal with pesticides, they deal with liability and health issues, and they are replacing the natural process of the soil microbes that feed the plants.”
2. “Don’t expect a refund if your garden croaks.”
A month ago your landscaper planted new shrubs in your front yard. They looked great — for a day. Now they’re dry as a wheat field. The landscaper blames you for failing to water them enough, and you blame the landscaper for buying bush-league bushes. Who’s right? It doesn’t matter — the plants are dead, and don’t expect your landscaper to cheerfully reimburse you.
Jeff Herman, the owner of a landscaping company in Fair Lawn, N.J., says landscapers get no money-back guarantee from the nurseries on the plants and shrubs they buy for homeowners. “They figure that the landscaper ought to know what he’s doing,” Herman says. Still, that doesn’t mean your landscaper can’t provide you with some protection. While you’ll have little chance to get a refund on such things as rose bushes (they’re prone to bugs) or ground cover (ivy, for instance, which will die quickly if not watered), you should demand some kind of payback from the landscaper if it’s obvious you properly cared for the plantings. “Show your landscaper the grass around the dead plant,” says Hugo Davis, former president of the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association, a trade organization for landscapers and nursery owners. “If it’s green and thriving, well, then you did all the watering you needed to do.”
Bing: Search & decide
3. “I’m not qualified to do the job, but that won’t stop me.”
Michael Torquato wanted to take advantage of the well behind his new home in Port Charlotte, Fla. So he hired a landscaper to build an irrigation system that would provide fresh, free water, but the plan quickly sprung a leak when the landscaper ended up connecting the irrigation system to a city water pipe — a maneuver that a city inspector later told Torquato was illegal. Torquato’s big mistake? Hiring a landscaper to do work he wasn’t licensed for. (In this case, he should have had a well driller’s license.)
Licensing regulations involving landscapers differ from state to state. Still, with jobs that result in water running underground — with the potential to flood your basement in a big and costly way — James Hsu, executive director of the New Jersey State Board of Architects, offers this rule of thumb: “Unlicensed landscapers should not do anything involving grading or drainage.” And don’t be swayed by reassuring words without the paper to back it up. “Some landscapers tell clients, ‘Don’t worry, I’m capable. I can take care of this,’” Hsu says, when “often, it’s impossible to tell what they’re capable of.”
4. “My budget grows like a weed …”
How much fine print can there be in a contract with a landscaper? You’d be surprised. In ant-size lettering you’ll find the kinds of clauses that can raise an annual landscaping bill by 25%. For instance, you may be obligated to pay maintenance and upkeep costs, such as a $300 spring-cleaning fee or extra charges for the trimming and disposing of excess growth on bushes. And these types of add-ons may be applied at the landscaper’s discretion without your prior approval.
Why not include the charges upfront, maybe even in the big print? “They’re trying to make extra money without the (customer) being aware of it first,” Herman says. He tries to avoid confusion by sending out fliers that keep his customers informed of work that needs to be done. Many competitors, he gripes, “don’t even give the customer a chance to turn down the service.”
5. “… but meanwhile, I’m reaping big savings.”
If you want a deal on bulbs, plants and topsoil, go shopping with your landscaper. He’ll know how to trim the bill. “Nurseries have a secret code for landscapers on the price tags,” says one New York-area landscaper. “There’ll be 10 numbers, and I know which ones to look at to decipher the professional price, usually around 30 percent off of retail.” He says he then regularly charges customers the retail price for the plants and pockets the savings.
Some landscapers are known to be even more enterprising. “Fly-by-night landscapers go out, steal plants and then plant them in other people’s yards,” says Mary Ellen Burton, whose family-owned business in Frederick, Md., has been selling plants since 1929. “We had $8,000 worth of plants stolen from a model home,” Burton says. “I guarantee (they’re) in somebody’s yard.”
Landscapers that are disreputable often try to smear the reputation of competitors. In Yorba Linda,CA- Solage, has accused Perspective and Arcadia of being too slow and too expensive. All the homeowner needs to do is drive around and see that Solage has started no less than 10 jobs, that have been in the beginning stage anywhere from 3 to 8 months. The unfortunate owners that sign up with Solage get BS'd about the materials being on back order from the supplier. The ironic thing is that had they gone with Perspective or another reputable company, the job would have been done in less than 2 months for landscape only and 3 1/2 months or less for a pool plus landscaping. In addition, Solage is not licensed to do pools and subcontracts them out.
If a landscaper has Leyland Cypress in your plan he is going for the fast and cheap style of landscaping. Yes - they grow quickly into a nice screen for a property line. However, they have several flaws which I learned about first hand: 1) They have shallow root, and once they get above 8'-10' feet they are likely to tip over in a storm, particularly if the ground is saturated; 2) they are relatively short lived so if you plan to live in your house long term you'll likely be dealing a mess down the road; 3) they are also very susceptible to seiridium canker.
Cryptomeria - Japanese Cedar - is a much better option for those of us in zones 6-8. I planted Leyland Cypress in my first yard - and within 3 years regretted it. I went with Cryptomeria in my 2nd yard and within 5 years had far better screening. Now it's 12 years in and they still look great and are completely healthy
Did you know that a license is not needed to make someone qualified?What other options are there to find out?
Do they have a degree? Do they have a city license, insurance, and 25 years experience on country clubs? Yes - that question is to you who wrote the article. The question is the readers too, because the answer remains in a dark corner undiscovered.
A license is one need, if needed. Of course it does not mean someone is qualified. But the best option would be to check out several angles about education, certifications, degrees, past work history, etc.. What we see here, is an article with more than 10 things the writer has not uncovered and told the readers. A way to overcome this, would be to include a quote from a qualified landscape professional for each point.
Then all those good points you introduced, would be even more effective. It's not that the points are bad, just that the answers people need are more broad in scope.
M. D. Vaden - Portland, Oregon
what it should sound like writes that the landscaping Co. charges to shut the water off and you can do it yourself. That may b true but are they also blowing all the water out of an underground irrigation system that could freeze. if that's true then most homeowners wouldn't be capable of doing that themselves.
I agree...there is NO WAY any knowledgeable dog owner would EVER let their dog out on sprayed grass...much less let their dog EAT it!! I feel bad for the dog, because it has a stupid owner and it had to go through all that pain! The landscaper really should have told her, or if they didn't she needed to ask! What a moron. That was completely preventable. Eh.
Also about the watering...new shrubs need a LOT of water. I put some new perennials in the front these past two summers. Had to go out and water at least twice a day. I even watered on days it rained. I only lost two plants out of about twenty...and even that wasn't until next spring when they didn't come back very well and were removed. I remember as a kid having to go out and water the rose bushes around the house...10 minutes each plant. And we had 52 plants. Never lost a single one due to lack of water.
its true what you say...for broad-acre too in australia the grounds are saturated with phosphates , the farms , to such an extent the nutrients have created algae blooms
its a dry continent yes but phosphates are made from blue-stone treated with hydro-chloric acid ;this is super phosphate
supper-phosphate is not bad but acidic meaning it makes the nutrient unavailable to plants although they are there
super-phosphate should be mixed with dolomite and left until it begins to smell like compost
i highly nutritious mater and now neutralized
chemicals....acid remove elements and fats but not water soliable making them untransferable
pay peanut , get monkeys if always true
“I don’t always finish what I start.”
I have a small lawncare business. The guy is too polite to tell her he is waiting for her check to clear the bank.
I've been burned by the nicest people.
Terrible article. I am tired of hearing these same complaints. While many contractors are guilty as charged the consumer is even more guilty and more often.
I place the blame of the identified problems at the feet of the consumer. They always want whats cheapest not whats best.
You get what you pay for!
Never pay upfront. I did it once with a termite company ( SST Extermintors owned by John Saxton) inSurprise Az. They charged me for a 10 year termite warranty. Called them 4 years into the contract and was told he stopped that company and started a new one doing the same type of work.
TooK him to court, won and never collected. Still owes me over $500.00. Total scum. What comes around...
I think its time that everyone start doing there yards! Why in the world would you buy a house with a yard and then hire someone to take care of it. I understand when health issue's are the reason, but really I know of families that have three teenage boys and they don't even own a lawnmower much less a rake? I just don't get it. The worse part is they only enjoy there lawns when they are driving in from work or going out. The true joy of owning a lawn comes at the end of doing the yard work and sitting back and saying I did that. No matter how it looks. Don't worry what about how everyone's else looks just take pride on your own.
To the author of this article: how about an article about the following:
1. clients who fail to pay for landscaping work completed, claim they don't have the $ to pay the bill and then travel abroad on two week vacations
2. clients who DO NOT water their newly installed plants and then blame landscape companies when the plants die
3. clients who, after many years of patronizing insured, uniformed, professionally run landscape companies for installation and maintenance services abruptly cancel their business in order to employ a pair of uninsured, non-uniformed and mostly Spanish speaking only Mexicans in a pickup truck who tell the client they'll do the work for $10 per man hour
MSN should be ashamed of this article. The author has wasted readers' time printing "scare tactics" and owes every legitimate landscape professional an apology. The horticulture industry has worked hard to train landscape professionals in proper horticultural practices to erase the image of the "one truck wonder".
Here are some of my beef's with this article:
Pesticides- There are so many regulations on application as well as years of research by manufacturers to ensure the safety of the public. If you are worried about chemical safety do an inventory on the items underneath your sink and see if you have a license to apply those chemicals in your house.
Refunds- Plants are living organisims that need care just like your pet. If your pet dies because you can't take care of it properly do you deserve a refund from the pet shop? NO!
Additional Charges- In this day and age most homeowners are too lazy to take care of their yard so they hire a professional like myself to keep their yard pretty. Landscapes require maintenance for health as well as appearence and that requires time and money. You expect to get paid for your doing your job and so do I. If you want your lawn and shrubs cared for free get your chubby kids off the couch and the video games and put them behind a lawn mower or a hedge trimmer.
Abuse of Property & Beer- First off, who leaves their home for any extended amount of time and does not lock their doors?!?! Anybody with half a brain knows not to enter a clients home without consent of the homeowner. That topic just blows my mind that you would actually print that workers were drinking beer on the job. Abuse of property/controlled substance is the number one no-no if you want to keep your job especially concerning insurance liability. We also do our best to hire good employees especially when it comes to labor coming (legally) from out of the country.