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Do You Need to Hire a Gardener?

by Kathy Maynard

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Landscaping
In these economically uncertain times, everyone is always looking for that really great deal. The ongoing hunt for the ideal gardener for landscape maintenance is no exception. The services offered by different gardeners vary greatly and the lowest price doesn't always mean the best deal. Value and peace of mind, as well as price, are important factors to consider when selecting a gardener.

The value of a gardener is ultimately determined by the overall day-to-day appearance of the yard he maintains. When interviewing potential gardeners, ask what he will do for you each month (i.e.: mow, blow, prune, fertilize, etc.) Good communication is very important. Make sure you tell your gardener what services you expect to be done each month. Remember, it takes more time to provide full service than it does to just "mow and blow" each week, so expect to pay more for complete care.

Evaluate Your Garden

Before you meet with a gardener it's important for you to evaluate your lawn and decide what you are looking for in a gardener. For instance, do you need just basic maintenance, lawn-mowing and pruning, for example? Or, do you need a gardener who has a strong horticultural background to tend to your formal English garden?

Some things to consider:

  • What style is your garden? What would you like it to be?
    English, Oriental, Woodland, Formal or Informal are all types to consider. And, remember you can also just incorporate elements from each to create your own look. Either way you will want to hire someone with some experience or knowledge in these areas.
  • What do you use your garden area for?
    Will you have garden parties? Is this a place of solitude for you? Will your children play in this area?
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  • Are there other special considerations?
    Do you have or want Xeriscape? Would you like this to be an organic environment with no pesticide use?
  • Do you want to be part of the gardening process?
    Gardening is an art. Will you want this to rest fully on the hands of your gardener? Or, would you like this to be a mutual collaboration of ideas? Either way good communication will be the key to ensuring your garden is exactly as you want.

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Interview Gardeners
It's helpful if your gardener has a general knowledge of horticulture, pesticides, weed control, fertilizing and sprinkler system and timer repair. Without this knowledge and experience, mistakes are more likely to occur. Doing a little questioning at the point of hire could save some big disappointments (or disasters) down the road.

After you've evaluated your garden, you should have a better idea of what you are looking for, so be sure to address those topics in the interview. A couple of other things to ask:

  • Are your ideas realistic? Does the gardener have other suggestions?
    Remember you are hiring this person for their experience and knowledge.
  • How much does he charge?
    If you haven't already talked budget, you better now.
  • Does the gardener carry his own liability insurance and Workers' Compensation insurance?
    Otherwise anything that happens on your property is your responsibility. (Remember, an insured gardener will likely charge a bit more, but is worth it in the long run.)
  • Can he provide references?

Checklist: Planning Your Garden and Landscape
Use the following checklist as a guide when planning tasks with your gardener:

Mow lawn
Mulch grass clippings into lawn
Remove and dispose of grass clippings
Rake leaves
Clear fallen branches and debris
Fertilize lawn and plants
Aerate lawn
Edge garden and grass areas
Prune bushes and shrubs
Control and remove weeds
Spread mulch and wood chips
Thatch grass
Water garden and lawn
Remove small dead trees and shrubs
Flower gardening
Vegetable gardening
Organic gardening
Composting
Diagnose sick plants or trees
Greenhouse tending

Remember, you should expect to pay more for a full-service gardener than for one who will fly through each week. The saying, "You get what you pay for" certainly holds true in the lawn and garden maintenance field.

Kathy Maynard has been matching homeowners with home improvement contractors since 1990 and has written scores of articles advising homeowners how to find, hire and work with reputable service professionals. She also authors Weekend Warrior, a weekly home improvement column in The Sacramento Bee.