Hiring a landscape professional


Below are some questions and considerations to help select a Landscape Contractor and/or Maintenance Gardener who is experienced with creating and maintaining water efficient landscapes. These are suggestions to help you with your selection process and are not intended to guarantee a specific result.

Education and Experience

1. Are you a licensed landscape contractor? Please provide state license #, bond # and workman’s compensation and liability insurance if you have staff. 

California Law stipulates that work performed for $500 or more for labor and materials must be accomplished by a licensed contractor. Be sure to verify licenses with the Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board.

2. What formal training have you completed? What do you do to further your education?

While there are no specific academic requirements for landscape contractors, many contractors have a background in horticulture, small property design, irrigation, and landscape construction through a 2 year program often resulting in an Associate Degree. Other Landscape Contractors choose to get certified by a professional organization such a California Landscape Contractor Association, Irrigation Association, and ReScape California.

Continuing Education is available through a number of organizations and academic institutions for the landscape contractor to stay up-to-date on the latest techniques and trends.

3. How long have you been practicing?

Typically someone with more years of experience will be able to accomplish a wider variety projects. Look for someone with at least 5 years of experience.

4. Are you a member of any professional landscape organizations?

Example include California Landscape Contractor Association, Irrigation Association, Association of Professional Landscape Designers, ReScape California.

5. Do you have any references I can contact or review online?

Best Practices

6. What practices do you use in your work to encourage healthy, low-water use gardens? 

Qualified contractors will include use of compost, mulch, sheetmulching, low-water use plants, California native plants, Mediterranean plants, organic fertilizers, and organic and recycled materials.

7. What water-saving irrigation methods do you use?

Qualified contractors will:

  • Hydrozone (place plants with similar water needs together on the same irrigation valve)
  • Install drip irrigation in conjunction with flush and pressure release valves
  • Use low flow sprinkler heads
  • Recommend weather-based irrigation controllers
  • Make adjustments for plants that need low to no water in the summer

8. Why do you expect this new landscape to save water over time?

During plant establishment in the first two years, the water use may be similar to prior years. After the establishment of low and very-low water use plants, expect the water use to be much less than a lawn. If using summer-dry plants (plants that do not need irrigation in the summer) the outdoor water use for the landscape should be minimal.

In addition to the plant material, the water efficient irrigation equipment will help to save water.

9. Can I visit any landscapes you have designed, installed, and maintained that demonstrate water efficiency and appropriate plant selections for our region?

Education and Experience

1. How long have you been practicing?

Gardeners who have been practicing longer are going to tend to know more. At least 3 years is recommended.

2. What do you do to strengthen your skills?

Professional gardeners might have a high school diploma up to a Master’s Degree, with relevant fields of study including horticulture or landscape design. Merritt College, Master Gardeners, City College of SF, Laney College, ReScape California Landscape classes have reputable programs. Key skills include plant identification, plant care, weed control, familiarity with gardening tools and irrigation systems, physical stamina and critical thinking.

3. Do you have any landscape or irrigation certificates?

ReScape California Landscape Maintenance Certification, Master Gardener, Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper Certification etc.

4. Do you have any references I can contact or review online?

Gardener may have an example of a landscape water budget for another site to demonstrate ability to manage irrigation within a budget.

Best Practices

5. What practices do you use in your maintenance work to encourage healthy, low-water use gardens?  Do you have a specialty?

Qualified gardeners will mention the use of mulch and compost, low-water use plants, organic and recycled materials. Avoid synthetic quick release fertilizers and herbicides.

6. What water-saving irrigation methods do you use? 

Qualified gardeners will mention the use of mulch, compost, low-water use plants, hydrozoning (placing plants together with the same water needs), high efficiency nozzles, drip irrigation and pressure regulators.

7. How do you maintain a drip irrigation system?

  • Check pressure.  Most drip systems operate in a 20-30psi range.
  • Turn on controller to perform manual run of each valve. Run zone long enough to walk site and check thoroughly for leaks or defective emitters. Mark and fix leaks.
  • Check and clean filter.
  • Cover drip irrigation with mulch. Flow rate, line and emitter spacing, and soil type are used to create irrigation schedule.

8. How do you maintain an irrigation system with high efficiency nozzles?

  • Check pressure. Most high efficiency nozzles run best at 30-40 psi. Review manufacturer’s specifications.  If there is misting, the pressure is too high.
  • Check for head-to-head coverage. Head-to-head coverage refers to the overlap of spray from sprinkler head to sprinkler head.
  • Observe sprinkler performance. Address broken heads, sunken heads, overspray (look for faded areas on fences), heads blocked by plants or structures etc.
  • Maintain match precipitation rates.
  • Select nozzles with < 1”/hour precipitation rate.

9. Do you provide aesthetic pruning and do you work on trees above 12’?

10. What is the frequency and type of services you offer for lawns, pruning, weeding, irrigation management etc?

11. Describe your seasonal maintenance activities.

January-March: Turn irrigation off, fix leaks, winter pruning, weed maintenance, replant  upon plant failure

April-June: Adjust controller program, fix leaks, reapply mulch as needed, weed maintenance

July-September: Adjust controller program, fix leaks, weed maintenance

October-December: Turn irrigation off, fix leaks, prune woody plants, plant, weed maintenance.

12. Are you familiar with operating and repairing the existing irrigation equipment?

13. Can I visit any gardens you maintain that are water-efficient and appropriate for our region?

14. How do I contact you if I run into problems or have questions?

Directories of landscape professionals

Inclusion on these lists does not imply a recommendation or endorsement from EBMUD, nor are the lists exhaustive or all inclusive.

Rescape Qualified Professionals have completed a comprehensive training program and use a sustainable approach to landscape design and management. 

Irrigation Association Certified Professionals share a commitment to sound water management and sustainable solutions.

California Landscape Contractors Association manages a directory of licensed and insured contractors.

WaterSense Certified Professionals have been educated through programs assessing competency in irrigation system design, installation and maintenance, and auditing. 

Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers have passed an EPA WaterSense labeled certification program in irrigation system audits.  

EBMUD Landscape Design Assistance Program designers are part of our design assistance rebate program and have a minimum of five years experience designing waterwise landscapes. Learn more.