Doing The Landscaping Job Right

Why is it so difficult to find good landscape maintenance companies?

It seems that every time I tell someone that I’m a landscape architect, the first question they ask is, “Can you help me with my back yard?" The second question they ask is, “Do you know a good landscape maintenance contractor?”

If I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard about landscape contractors butchering plants or just becoming complacent over time, I would be sipping a cold fruity drink on a warm tropical island right now instead of sitting at my keyboard.

Humor me for a few moments. Why is it so difficult to find a competent landscape maintenance contractor?

When I first started out in the business, I thought that maybe it was an epidemic only found here in Arizona. But as I’ve grown older and met other landscape architects across the country, I have found it seems to be a widespread problem.

When I first started working in the landscape design industry, I noticed two trends in landscape maintenance companies.

First, most companies here hire workers at minimum wage. How many of them do you think have any formal training on proper landscape maintenance practices?

Second, when a landscape maintenance company starts a new contract, they do good work for the first four to six weeks, then seem to become complacent--improperly trimming trees or shrubs, forgetting to edge or mow in certain areas, or forgetting to clean up a pile of clippings.

Trust me; I think I have seen it all.

For the last 15 years or so, I have seen hundreds of landscape crews show up at a house or commercial property and unload a large turf mower, a few gasoline-powered hedge trimmers and backpack-style blowers and just “blow and go”.

In a matter of a few hours, they trim all the shrubs into hideous balls or squares or cylinders, mow the grass, blow all the clippings into piles and rake them into burlap bags before spraying gravel across the driveway as they head off to their next job.

What ever happened to proper care and maintenance of our landscapes?

We, as homeowners, often invest thousands of dollars in our landscapes. Why, then, are we comfortable hiring someone to come over once a week and destroy this investment?

I hate to think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested and lost over years just in the Phoenix area, much less the whole country, by careless landscapers who are just doing their job.

I remember as a child my grandmother was an avid gardener. She didn’t own hedge trimmers. She didn’t have a hedge to trim. She did, however, have a beautiful rose garden and she owned a pair of Felco #2 pruning shearers. That is how she trimmed her roses and other shrubs.

She invested the time into learning how to properly care for her garden.

I learned at an early age the benefits of doing a job correctly the first time. As with most things in life, taking a shortcut will most always lead to errors and usually requires one to do things over again--correctly--the second time.

Sometimes I know I take an idealized view on things, and this is probably one of those times; but wouldn’t it be something if we could convince landscape contractors to change the way they do business?

How do we get them to stop using the gasoline-consuming, air- and noise-polluting power tools in exchange for the simple hand tools of yesteryear? Of course, that would mean their crews would take longer to do their jobs and it also means their cost of doing business would increase.

I just don’t know how we sell that to today’s always on-the-go, budget-conscious homeowner. Do you?

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on twitter at @CDGLA or email: .