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July 31, 2012 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Why can't I hire a landscaper? I know how to find one. I know how to show what I want done and how to ask for bids. Why can't I get one of them to accept the job?

I have a double corner lot with a patio, a pond, and some mature landscaping (that I mostly did myself) that I want to finish. "Finishing" involves moving some large chunks of flagstone to make a small patio, laying sod, and renovating (digging out and readying for replanting) some borders. There are also some unskilled jobs I'd like done, such as removing weeds and spreading mulch in the formerly weedy areas. This is neither a huge job or a tiny job.

I've had five different companies/individuals come out and look at the job. Not one of them was inclined to take it on - and it's not that I can't or didn't want to pay what they asked.

What I think might be putting them off is that what I want is not your standard cookie-cutter suburban landscape. I don't want irrigation installed - instead, I want very low-maintenance plants, including buffalo grass sod (which I know where to obtain) instead of Kentucky bluegrass. I already have the flagstone so there goes the big markup they'd get for supplying it. I have a big pile of mulch.

What I can't understand is why, at a time when most contractors are begging for work, I can't get anyone to take this on. It's not highly-skilled work. I would think a client who actually knows what she wants would be ideal for a contractor.

Is it a deal-breaker for a client to know what she wants? Am I doomed to accept all the things I don't want (irrigation, bluegrass) in order to get a landscaper to work for me? Do I have to play dumb? (The guy who was here this morning seemed downright offended when I called my trees ailanthus instead of the local nickname "sumac." And I didn't correct him - he corrected me.) Is there something I don't know about the landscape business going on right now?
posted by caryatid to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you tried a general handyman? You might not need a full-on landscaping contractor. If you know what you want, and there's no specific plant-related or soil-engineering knowledge involved, this is the type of thing some always-looking-for-work handy(wo)men might be happy to take on. Your local handyman market may vary.
posted by sageleaf at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


First of all, a lot of folks who do this work are flakes. If they weren't they'd be working in the corporate world, not doing back-breaking physical labor.

One thing that may be putting them off is that the work you're asking them to do is based upon work you've already done, and they may not think that it's up to par. The idea behind that is that you'll be endlessly complaining that Y isn't looking right and in their minds it's because of the X that you did.

Another reason may be because the irrigation you don't want, is needed for the plants you do want. Who wants to argue with someone about that? You're going to win, and then, when the buffalo grass turns brown, or the sumacs start to droop, you'll be calling them about it.

A signal that you might be absolutely no fun to work with it the calling of your trees by their latin name instead of the common name. Exactly why is that a better thing? It's almost as if you're showing off for the contractor, "Don't screw with me buddy, I know my shit."

Good contractors won't take jobs where they think the customer can't be pleased. There's no profit in it.

I'm very lucky, I have a wonderful landscaper who will come to my house and free birds that get stuck in my downspouts. She's also a friend. Trust me, if she tells me to do X. I'm doing X. But I trust her expertise and if she recommends something, I know it's because that's the right thing to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Maybe it's just as you said; they are not going to make a lot off of your yard, and they'll have to put more work in in terms of not "doing the usual".

You could try calling a local nursery and asking if they know any good landscapers who would do your kind of work. Or trying Angie's List to find some more in your area.

Good luck.
posted by emjaybee at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


What did they say when you asked them why they didn't want to take the job?
posted by Kwine at 2:04 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might try googling/craigslist/whatever exists in your town for a landscaper experienced in xeriscape gardening. That might help you get off on the right foot with someone.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:09 PM on July 31, 2012


What did they say? I didn't ask, because they didn't call back.

Ruthless Bunny, why the hostility? Ailanthus is the name of the tree. My ex-door neighbor the landscape designer (who designed my yard) called the trees by that name, because that is what they are called by people who work with plants, like landscapers. And I know I don't need irrigation for the buffalo grass because I have it in my front yard and it's been doing fine with no irrigation (just a sprinkler) ever since I planted it six years ago. The estimator even remarked that it looks really good.

BlahLaLa, I have tried craigslist. You are not allowed to place a free ad looking for specific workers, you have to pay to place a "help-wanted" ad. I may end up doing that though.
posted by caryatid at 2:27 PM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because there is no margin in what you are asking them to do. Quality professional Landscapers don't make money on marking up labor, they make it on marking up materials. I'm assuming that you are looking to buy the sod yourself and have them install it, or perhaps the only person who sells the sod is retail only? And are there other plant materials required?

You need to get a lawnmower guy to do this.

(Also real landscapers always use the latin names for things other than very common things. I don't even know what the common name is for Ailanthus.)
posted by JPD at 2:31 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ruthless Bunny, why the hostility? Ailanthus is the name of the tree. My ex-door neighbor the landscape designer (who designed my yard) called the trees by that name, because that is what they are called by people who work with plants, like landscapers. And I know I don't need irrigation for the buffalo grass because I have it in my front yard and it's been doing fine with no irrigation (just a sprinkler) ever since I planted it six years ago. The estimator even remarked that it looks really good.

I'm not being hostile, I'm giving you some ideas about why, after interviewing 5 landscapers, not one of them wants your business.

You might be interviewing guys who aren't very professional, or who don't want to do the work you want them to do.

My Dad has a saying, if someone calls you an ass, slug them. If two people call you an ass, buy a saddle.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:37 PM on July 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


You can post a free ad in the labor gigs section of Craigslist. And that's what you are looking for- a guy who is willing to lift and move heavy things for an hourly or daily rate.
posted by rockindata at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, JPD. That is what I suspected, especially when he told me the hourly rate per man to dig out my borders - it's a lot more than I make in a hour.

Ailanthus is very common and it has many common names. It's the tree in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

And Ruthless Bunny, it is a better thing to use the Latin name because that is how people prevent misunderstandings about exactly which plants they are talking about. I also have actual sumac in my yard, so it was necessary to be clear when I said "I'd like all these ailanthus suckers removed, but leave the sumac alone." I'd just as soon not hire a landscaper who doesn't know the difference.

Thanks all, I think I got what I needed.
posted by caryatid at 2:47 PM on July 31, 2012


I am not sure why you are trying to hire a landscaper instead of a gardener. A gardener does the things you ask, and knows botanical names. A landscaper usually is a guy with a truck and a crew that builds stuff and uses gas equipment and doesn't know smack about plants*.


*I'm generalizing, but I've been in the profession for 15 years and this is pretty much how it goes.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:17 PM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


oneirodynia, I suspect you are absolutely correct, because that has been my experience as well - none of these guys knew anything about plants. I will look again under "gardener."
posted by caryatid at 3:36 PM on July 31, 2012


Get laborers if you know what exactly needs to be done. I've used number of them this summer when needing extra manpower to usually work alongside me.

I agree on hourly rate upfront, pay extra and give repeat business for good work.
posted by zeikka at 3:39 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can also try asking your local master gardener's club if they a) know anyone who does that kind of work and/or b) if any of them are interested.
posted by jaimystery at 3:50 PM on July 31, 2012


OK, posted an ad in craigslist gigs. Looked up gardener services and the CO Master Gardeners (through the Colorado extension service).

Y'all are great. A couple of hours ago I had a problem that I was wondering whether it was worth asking about here, and now I have several ideas for a solution. Thanks!
posted by caryatid at 4:04 PM on July 31, 2012


Get laborers if you know what exactly needs to be done. I've used number of them this summer when needing extra manpower to usually work alongside me.

This. What you are describing is textbook for hiring some guys (or women, but the people doing this work are almost always men). You provide materials and most tools, plus lunch and soft drinks if you are nice; they provide strong backs; you pay cash at the end of each day. Or you can hire guys who come with their own truck if you need that; you'll pay a little more but at the end of the day you pay them for their time and their load, and they head off with the load of crap to the dump for you.

Everywhere is different, but around here "landscapers" rely on repeat business and major projects, rather than one-off small jobs like what you are describing. Nor, as you've noticed, to they know anything about plants.
posted by Forktine at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2012


If any of your local community colleges has a horticulture or landscape architecture program, you might check there -- perhaps some eager students looking for extra money would be willing to help. They'd maybe be a little more hungry and a little more enthusiastic.
posted by Ostara at 5:01 PM on July 31, 2012


I don't even know what the common name is for Ailanthus.

Where I grew up, people without a plant background most often called it Ghetto Palm.
posted by BinGregory at 7:41 PM on July 31, 2012


Another viewpoint, that's a bit more general: sometimes, contractors are just not interested in these medium size jobs. Quick little jobs that require little equipment are worth it, big jobs that require lots of equipment and effort are worth it, medium jobs that require lots of equipment and effort are not worth it. Sounds like you're a medium size job.
posted by Kololo at 9:08 PM on July 31, 2012


I would think a client who actually knows what she wants would be ideal for a contractor.

The problem is you are also a client who knows what she doesn't want. So when they screw up, they'll have to fix it. And they are worried that it won't even be screwed up, it will just be different and "wrong" and they'll get stuck on the job fixing things until it's perfect, rather than just one day and done.
posted by smackfu at 9:44 AM on August 2, 2012


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