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When Should I Hire a Landscape Architect?

Here's when you might need to enlist a landscape architect's help.

[Updated: Feb 09, 2021 ] Feb 29, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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It's common practice to hire a landscaper for help with common landscape architecture jobs like lawn care, shrub maintenance, and floral design. But sometimes a landscaper isn't enough when you've got an outdoor project that needs to be tackled; you may need a landscape architect instead. Here, we'll discuss what landscape architects are used for and why it could pay to hire one yourself.

What does a landscape architect do?

A landscape architect is a professional who's equipped to design outdoor spaces and make the most of natural environments. Landscape architects are often hired to work on projects ranging from parks to plazas to golf courses. They're frequently employed in both a private/residential and public capacity, and they're not just reserved for suburban or rural areas; they're often hired for the planning and design of outdoor spaces in urban areas as well, which is where the architecture aspect comes into play.

When you hire a landscape architect, he or she will help you map out a vision for your outdoor space, whether via a hand drawing or a computerized one generated by software (CADD software in particular). Your landscape architect will take numerous factors into consideration when designing your space, including:

  • Climate.
  • Sun exposure.
  • The health and well-being of the people using the space.
  • The budget you have to work with

For some larger project, a landscape architect might employ geographic information systems, which are computerized systems designed to analyze land-related data.

What won't a landscape architect do?

Landscape architects should not be confused with regular landscapers. A landscape architect won't cut your grass or trim your bushes, nor can a landscape architect construct retaining walls, excavate with a backhoe, or build structures in your backyard. Rather, landscape architects are in charge of the design process -- they come up with ideas and use their experience and problem-solving skills to suggest safe, sustainable solutions to maximize outdoor spaces.

What qualifications should a landscape architect have?

Landscape architecture is one of those occupations that requires specific training. It's common for landscape architects to have graduated from a specific landscape architecture program. Any landscape architect you hire will probably, at the very least, have a bachelor’s degree -- specifically, a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA). However, it's common practice to hold an advanced degree in landscape architecture -- a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA).

But most importantly than a degree, landscape architects need a license to do what they do, and to obtain one, they must pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE). Furthermore, 30 states require landscape architects to adhere to continuing education requirements to keep their licenses current.

Generally speaking, landscape architects need creativity and problem-solving skills. These qualities help them make good use of open spaces large and small.

When should you hire a landscape architect?

When you want to make extensive outdoor improvements

In a nutshell, it pays to hire a landscape architect if you have an outdoor space you're not sure what to do with. Imagine you buy a home that sits on two acres -- more land than you've ever owned. A landscape architect can help you maximize that space. That could include building retaining walls to create defined sections within that space, constructing a gazebo or pergola, or putting up a tree line for privacy.

Similarly, if you've purchased a commercial property and aren't sure how to maximize its outdoor space, a landscape architect can help you create walkways or features that minimize congestion and lend to a steady flow of foot traffic.

When you need to solve or prevent outdoor problems

A landscape architect can also help you address specific problems with your land. If your property experiences drainage issues, a landscape architect can suggest ways to regrade your land or make other adjustments to your outdoor environment that prevent ponding or flooding.

A landscape architect can also help if your outdoor space contains a lot of uneven land. In that case, a professional might recommend leveling a portion of your property and constructing a retaining wall around it.

A landscape architect should also be called in if your outdoor space is prone to droughts or is at risk of being hit with wildfires. A professional can help you identify plants and shrubs that are more likely to thrive in dry environments and can plant them strategically to ensure that they thrive.

How to find the right landscape architect

Hiring a landscape architect for help in designing or changing your outdoor space can be a great investment in your property. But if you're going to pay for a landscape architect, it's important to choose the right one. Here are a few questions to ask that will help you narrow down your choices:

  1. Are you a licensed landscape architect? The person you hire should have a professional license that's up to date.
  2. How much hands-on experience do you have with properties like mine? You should aim to hire someone who's well versed in landscape design.
  3. Do you have a portfolio with pictures you can share? A seasoned landscape architect should be able to show you examples of his or her work.
  4. Do you have references? It pays to ask former clients about their experience before hiring someone, especially if the project in question is extensive.
  5. To what extent can you coordinate with builders and other professionals? Ideally, your landscape architect will have contacts in the industry he or she partners with, since he or she won't be the one to bust out a bulldozer or haul in stone to construct a patio or outside wall.
  6. How much will your services cost? It's always a good idea to get multiple estimates before giving over a deposit.
  7. Will you coordinate with my township to obtain the necessary permits for the work you're suggesting? Getting permits can be a hassle, so your landscape architect may be willing to do that legwork -- though you can pretty much count on the cost of those permits being passed on to you.
  8. What sort of ongoing maintenance will your design require? Your landscape architect should let you know if the plans -- or plants -- he or she is suggesting will require a lot of upkeep.
  9. Are there any new landscaping trends I should know about? Capitalizing on these could help increase your property’s resale value.

Do you need a landscape architect?

If you need a professional for simple landscape projects like designing a flower bed or planting bushes, then a regular landscaper will suffice. But if your project is much larger or you have no idea what you want to do with your outdoor space, then it could pay to bring in a landscape architect to make sure you're going in the right direction.

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