“Yeah, I Can Do That”, Landscaping and the Educated Consumer
This blog was inspired after I had yet another meeting with an HOA member whose commercial landscaper had run them through the ringer and they never saw it coming. What I realized however, was that this is a not an HOA problem, or even a commercial vs residential problem but this is a consumer problem so I am going to let you in on some secrets of the (not so honest) side of the landscape trade, so giddy up!
One very common practice of less than honest landscapers/hardscapers is what I like to call the “up sell”. Back in the day long before my husband became a Realtor here in Austin (check him out at dreamkeyrealestate.com for buying or selling anywhere in the country) he was a waiter at a local Mexican restaurant and one of the “up sell” tricks was to “incentivise” the waiters with a $10.00 coupon (at the restaurant they worked at) to sell sides like queso or sour cream which the restaurant made a huge profit margin from. The coupon they gave the employee cost them practically nothing for $10 of free food and the sides made a large profit. Win, win for the restaurant and the same applies for landscapers. If a landscaper sells you things you don’t need they increase their profit margin and you never know the difference. Now in the food scenario, you probably wanted the sour cream to pay extra for it, but do you know that you do not always need landscape fabric in mulched beds, or that you have just purchased too many plants? You do if you are an educated consumer and you are now the “landscape upsellers” worst nightmare.
Another great trick and quite frankly a criminal act to my mind is the “sure, we can do that” comment by someone who cannot in fact “do that”. I am brilliant at what I do if I do say so myself, but I also know what I suck at. I am sure most of you have heard the term “I know just enough to be dangerous”. That is a saying used for those who know enough about a particular subject to speak about it in detail, but may not really be a specialist in that area. For example, I know a lot about trees but I am not a certified Arbor, I can do irrigation under my landscape umbrella, but I am not a licensed irrigation specialist and so on. How do you make this important distinction? With a referral from a friend, coworker or family member. If you are new to an area, check to see if there is a neighborhood website or chat group for trusted referrals there. Do not hire your lawn guy because he says he “can do it”. A lot of “lawnscapers” say they can do things they can in fact not do as is evident by the calls I get to correct the egregious errors made by said land/lawnscapers. Almost ANYTHING I do is on YouTube somewhere. Spend an hour and look up how to install a patio, a basic understanding of irrigation, how to plant a tree and when and so on. Now you are an educated consumer and you can have an intelligent conversation with your installer (or at least tell if they are intelligent).
Now here is where the homework gets tricky…Plants. The GREATEST MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE IS TO TRUST THAT A LANDSCAPER (or lawnscaper) KNOWS PLANTS. In my experience, most do not, and yes I said MOST. Most do not know plants. I know this because I see this to be true over and over again in spaces where the wrong plant was used in the sun, oversized for the space and so on. Now, the flip side is that they do in fact know plants and how big they will eventually get and they screwed you over by jamming 87 plants in a 10′ bed, or they are ignorant and filled up the space with random plants they knew little about. Either way you lose. Why is it so important to know the plants you are getting? The mature size of a plant you have purchased can be vastly different from the little plant you see now. In a few short years that plant could be a maintenance nightmare because it is way too big for the space and needs to be trimmed constantly (builders I am talking to you) or they could have planted taller shrubs in front of shorter ones (one of my favorites), planted sun plants in the shade or they could have left your entire bed with dormant plants that leave you with nothing but bare ground in the winter. Plants and planting are areas that require years of education and more importantly an understanding of growth patterns and natural habits which ONLY comes from hands on training and years of experience, not with the ability to say “sure, I can do that”. For these reasons I suggest you ask for a design (that you pay for) and/or a list of plants you are able to research and verify with your own little eyes. Be sure that the plants are in fact for your area and are the appropriate size and light requirements for the area to be installed. Many free design templates are available for landscapers who do not know plants and most of them include plants that are not for our area. In landscaping, you get what you pay for so don’t be cheap, but do your homework on the people you hire and pay for quality work.
Aside from the “plant up sell” another big one is stone. You need to know how much stone costs. Visit a stone yard to look into the cost of stone so you are not sold expensive stone you do not need. That does not mean you buy the stone yourself, it just means you know your options. For example, here in Austin Texas, limestone is super cheap and readily available. Stones from up north have to be shipped in and cost a lot more. If the patio or hardscape you are building is a large area to cover the cost of stone can triple the cost of your patio over all. Sometimes less is more. However, if the house warrants a pricey upgrade good for you, most times it is just “gilding the lily”.
Lastly, one of my largest areas of contention is the “landscape fabric up sell”. 9 times out of 10 you don’t need fabric. You need deep mulch and that is all. I have been doing this for 20 years and I detest landscape fabric in Texas because it cannot hold up to the Texas heat and breaks down in a few short years becoming a weed harbor. Weeds penetrate the fabric and become one with the universe while conspiring to make you crazy trying to dig the little buggers out of the cloth. Landscape fabric and the labor to install it can cost 3 times what adding a little more mulch would cost so just add 4-6″ of much (read this blog on mulching) and spend your free time and extra money on something more favorable.
Consumer education is as important as the education of the person you are hiring and the key to a successful landscape. It is also important that the service you are provided comes before and after the sale. My clients have access to me for life. Even if you have had your landscape for years and have a question about a plant, send me a photo and an email and I will give you my best answer. There is a value to that to the client, but it also holds me accountable. If I know you can find me for years to come, I am going to be further inspired to do the right thing the first time. If you are hiring fly by night landscapers you don’t know from Adam, you are left with whatever they leave you with, good, bad or ugly.
If you are in the Austin or surrounding area you may want to read about my landscape consultation service which could save you thousands in costly mistakes. However, what ever you choose, do your homework and be sure you are cultivating a relationship for life, not just the best deal.
Lisa’s Landscape & Design (“like” me on Facebook)
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
Check me out on “YouTube“