Why should I hire a licensed landscape contractor?

If your project costs more than $500, the contractor must be licensed by the state. A landscape contractor must hold a C-27 license. To verify a license, contact the California State License Board by phone at (800) 321-2752 or visit them online at www.cslb.ca.gov.

Contractors must demonstrate a minimum level of competency and financial responsibility to be licensed.

What type of information should a landscape contractor provide with a bid?

Expect to be provided with a reference list and examples of completed projects. Ask to tour projects similar to yours. Visiting a project in progress can be instructive.
Photos of completed projects, letters of appreciation or referral, examples of community work, a biography, and articles the contractor has written are also helpful in making a choice.

What type of work can a licensed landscape contractor perform?

A landscape firm may coordinate many specialties to create your landscape, including:

  • Clearing /grading the land,
  • Ensuring that there is proper and adequate drainage,
  • Creating decks, patios, masonry walls, rockscapes, water features, paving and other creative effects,
  • Installing and managing irrigation systems,
  • Crafting interiorscapes and specialty gardens,
  • Installing lighting for safety and enjoyment,
  • Selecting and planting everything from the most delicate of flowers to massive trees,
  • Managing your garden to promote environmental health, and
  • Auditing water use to eliminate waste.


What type of insurance should a landscape contractor have?

Workers’ compensation insurance protects you in case a worker employed by a contractor is injured on your property.

General liability insurance protects against not-so-natural disasters.

These policies typically offer a minimum coverage of $300,000 to $1 million for residential and at least $1 million for commercial work. Automobile insurance provides additional protection when a contractor’s vehicle is involved in an accident on your property.

What should I look for in a contract?

The law requires that home improvement contracts over $500 must be in writing. But even if your job is less than this amount, you should INSIST ON A WRITTEN CONTRACT FOR YOUR OWN PROTECTION. A contract should contain:

  • the name, address, license number, and telephone number of the contractor, and the registration number of any salesperson involved
  • a complete description of the work to be done, materials to be used (including quantities and sizes of plant material and brands of irrigation equipment)
  • guarantees on work and materials
  • approximate date when work will begin and be completed
  • a statement that the contractor will do any necessary clean up and removal of debris after the job is completed
  • a “Notice to Owner” explaining the state’s mechanics’ lien laws and the ways to protect yourself and your property
  • a statement that the contractor will furnish a payment and performance bond or joint control company, if this has been agreed upon
  • any guarantees made verbally on the work to be done or the materials to be used.

After the contract is signed, any changes that you and the contractor agree to make in the work or materials to be use must be in writing. The written change order must also include any additions or reductions in the total job price.

If you have carefully planned the job and selected a licensed contractor, the job should proceed without any major problems.

What type of payment arrangements are customary?

You should be cautious of contractors who ask for payments prior to beginning the job. Most landscape and irrigation contractors do not require a down payment; full payment is usually requested on completion of the job or in installments if the job will take a period of weeks. If a contractor does ask for a down payment, remember that on home improvement projects (including landscaping) the legal limit which may be asked is ten percent of the full price of the job (excluding finance charges) or $1,000, whichever is less.

If your contract provides a payment and performance bond covering your total job, or if a joint control company approved by the Register of Contractors is used, the cap on the down payment does not apply. Be certain that any down payment or schedule of installment payments is specified in exact dollars and cents in your contract. Make payments by check or money order, not cash.

How many bids should I get?

It’s a good idea to obtain more than one bid so that the prices and work offered can be compared. Request all bids in writing. Remember that the lowest price may not always be the best. The contractor may have made a mistake or may not have included all the work quoted by competitors. Be certain that each bid lists all the preparatory and finish work that the contractor has suggested, as well as the amounts and types of soil amendments, and brand of sprinkler equipment.

What should I look for in a Bond?

A landscape contractor is required to have a license bond posted with the Contractors State License Board. However, this bond does not ensure that your job will be completed.

It’s a good idea to ask your contractor to provide you with a “payment and performance” bond that covers the full price of your job. Although nothing can totally ensure your job will be completed, a payment and performance bond provides a financial guarantee against mechanics’ liens (which can be filed against your property by subcontractors or material suppliers should your contractor fail to pay them).

A payment and performance bond also provides a source of funds for completing the job in the event your contractor does not do so. The bond should be for the full amount of your job, as the bonding company is only liable up to the amount of the bond.

A payment and performance bond will usually add one to five percent to the total contract price, but it can be well worth the cost, particularly on large projects.

A contractor must be financially solvent and have a proven track record to obtain a payment and performance bond. A contractor who is new to the business or who has a small operation may have difficulty in obtaining such a bond.

If your contractor is unable to provide you with a payment and performance bond, or if you want to use an additional method of security, you might consider using a joint control company. A joint control company is an escrow company that specializes in construction. Instead of paying the contractor directly, you pay the joint control company, which in turn pays the contractor(s), material suppliers, etc. A good company will inspect the project before making payments and provide a guarantee against valid mechanics’ liens. In looking for a joint control company, check with your lender or contractor for recommendations.