Is it better to learn landscaping from others or to experiment?

So you offer lawn care services now that focuses on mowing and maybe fertilization, but you have been considering getting into landscaping. What is the best way to go about crossing over from offering lawn care services to landscaping? Should you work as an apprentice first? Or maybe you feel like you should jump into it head first and experiment as you go? This discussion from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum should really clear the air on what route is best.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I run a part time landscaping service as of right now. I also go to school full-time and work elsewhere part-time. I am a very busy man but I hope by next summer to go full time with the business.

One of my  major goals is to really kick my business into gear and start getting some contractor experience. I want to start working on services that go beyond mowing grass and cleaning gardens. I am talking about pond installs, outdoor kitchens, retaining walls, and so on.

Right now I am reading landscape construction books when I am not studying for horticulture degree stuff. Do you think it is good to get some experience under a landscape contractor or just keep reading and attempt to do it for the first time at someone’s property? It is just really hard trying to find the niche experience along with all the other stuff that comes with it. My wife wants me to work with a landscape contractor to gather some experience, but if I am doing my own thing, why should I spend my time making someone else rich?”

A second lawn care business owner said “in short, the damage you can do can put you out of business so fast it will make your head spin. Excavation may look simple but you have to know how to read grades, and look at a project to see the end result in your head.

Right now 80% of my companies work is landscaping and excavation. There are many community colleges that offer heavy equipment courses, and  that is a good place to start. You might get hired on with a company, however it is doubful they will let you run the gear without some type of training.

You will also need to be insured. Finding insurance to offer excavation work without previous experience may prove to be a difficult task. For light duty excavation insurance, I carry five million is liability insurance, which cost me around $2,600 a year.”

A third landscaper shared “experience is  indispensable. There are several ways to get it too. Work with local landscape contractors, pond installers, university campus landscape departments, etc..

Without experience, nobody can offer good customer service when beginning a business, because there is nothing valuable to serve, even with a guarantee.

Without some hands on experience, providing landscape services can create bad outcomes. I have seen may examples of this. Some people in my area have started up a landscape company and put the word out that they have a lot of in class training yet not have any experience in the field. They tend to crash and burn. Then there are the guys off the street, or with just a year or so of lawn cutting experience and they feel because they cut lawns, they can easily provide landscaping services too. Those I find are not worth a damn and I tend to be called to fix the mistakes they make.

From my point of view, it basically takes at least 5 years to really understand soil, trees, diseases and growth. Anyone who thinks it can be done with less, does not know what they are talking about.

There is a wide knowledge gap between landscape workers, and the actual owner / manager who has to oversee everything. In my state we have two different types landscape licenses. A business license and an individual license which requires a test. The business license is not issued unless someone in the company has the individual license. Only one out of ten people pass all the state’s landscape exams the first time through.

So before you jump to start offering landscape services, check with your state’s laws to see what you need to do to be in compliance. If you are going to start experimenting with landscaping of an sorts, it would be best to experiment on your own property first before you begin selling such services. Learn the ins and out and feel confident in what you are doing.”

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