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Types of Landscape Professionals: Which is Best for Your Next Project?

landscape designer with design plans

When it comes to transforming outdoor spaces into breathtaking and functional environments, there are many landscape pros ready to bring your vision to life, each with their own unique level of expertise and skills.

Lets explore the roles of landscape architects, design-build firms, landscape designers, garden designers, landscape contractors and landscapers. By understanding their specific skill sets, educational backgrounds and pricing structures, you’ll get a comprehensive overview of each type of landscape professional. This will help you make informed decisions when choosing an expert for your next landscape project.

Overview of Landscape Professionals

In a nutshell:

  • Homeowners will rarely hire a landscape architect, as they primarily work on commercial jobs (although some may specialize in complex residential projects).
  • Design-Build firms offer the best all-in-one solution as you can have your project designed and constructed by the same company.
  • If you just need a design plan to get your started, find a landscape designer.
  • If you need help with plant selection and laying out garden beds, hire a garden designer.
  • Landscape contractors will take your landscape plan and/or vision and help you with the construction and installation.
  • Landscapers can help you with the heavy-lifting for all kinds of projects, but lack design expertise and construction experience.

The table below explains each landscape professional’s common projects, education level and typical pricing structures. Note that these are just industry estimates and averages. Every pro will be different.

Type of ProfessionalBest ForEducation (Average)Hourly Rate (Average)Other Costs
Landscape ArchitectCommercial, public or institutional landscape design, some may also specialize in high-end residential landscape designBachelor’s and/or Master’s degree in landscape architecture$100-$250Design fee: $1,000-$6,000; Percentage of construction costs: 10%-20%
Design-Build FirmsLandscape planning, design, installation and maintenance (all in one option)Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture or a related field (varies within the firm)$100-$250Design fee: $1,000-$6,000; Construction fee: $1,000-$2,000 per hour
Landscape DesignerLarger residential projects, such as designing an entire backyard space or full propertyBachelor’s degree in landscape architecture or a related field$50-$150Design fee: $1,000-$6,000 
Garden DesignersPlanting design, garden bed design plans, expertise in plant selectionAssociate’s degree in horticulture or a related field$50-$150Design fee: $500-$3,000
Landscape ContractorsInstallation of hardscaping or simple planting plans (many specialize in various aspects of landscaping)High school diploma or equivalent; certifications or certificates for specializations$50-$150Construction fee: $1,000-$2,000 per hour
LandscapersOngoing landscape maintenance and upkeep, smaller projects like removing hedges or preparing garden beds for planting.High school diploma or equivalent$25-$50Construction fee: $500-$1,000 per hour
An overview of the different types of landscape design professionals, what they’re best hired for, their average level(s) of education and general pricing structures These are just estimates. Every pro will be different.
types of landscape pros infographic

Landscape Architects

Landscape Architects are licensed professionals who have training in technical and design skills. They are experts in the design, planning and construction of outdoor spaces and create a beautiful and functional landscape that meets their client’s needs and budget.

Landscape architects can design attractive and functional public parks, gardens, playgrounds, residential areas, college campuses and public spaces. They can also work on commercial projects, such as office buildings, shopping malls and hotels. 

Some landscape architects may also take on residential projects, but this is less common.

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, sometimes Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture.

Landscape architects are licensed by the state in which they practice. To become licensed, landscape architects must have a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited program and pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.) through the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB).

Landscape architects are the most educated and technical of the types of landscape professionals. Because of this, they are typically the most experienced (and most expensive) type of landscape professional to hire.

Scope of Work

Landscape architects usually take on larger-scale projects (commercial, public and institutional landscapes) instead of small residential ones. Landscape architects are also involved in a variety of other projects, such as environmental, urban and transportation planning.

Some (but not all) landscape architects may specialize in residential landscape design. But as a home owner you generally would NOT be hiring this type of professional.

Services Offered

A Landscape Architect’s services typically include landscape design of outdoor spaces, such as gardens, parks and commercial properties. They use their knowledge of hardscaping and landscape design principles and plants to create beautiful and functional landscapes.

Landscape architects plan outdoor spaces, taking into account factors such as the site’s topography, drainage and sun/shade patterns

They also serve as a project manager, working with clients to develop a budget and timeline.

They will also work with contractors to obtain permits and approvals.

Most landscape architects will also oversee the construction of outdoor spaces, ensuring that they are built according to the design plans. 

In my experience, landscape architects do not typically create robust planting plans (choosing plants) or offer maintenance services. But, every landscape architect is different! Many will also form relationships with other professionals and can guide you to the right person should you also need these services. 

Cost

Hourly rate: $100-$250; Design fee: $1,000-$6,000; Percentage of construction costs: 10%-20%.

The hourly rate of a landscape architect is typically between $100 and $250. This means that they charge this amount for each hour of work they do on your project. 

The design fee is a one-time fee that landscape architects charge for creating a plan for your landscape. The design fee typically ranges from $1,000 to $6,000. 

The percentage of construction costs is a fee that landscape architects charge as a percentage of the total cost of the construction of your project. This fee typically ranges from 10% to 20%.

Example Project Cost Breakdown

Here is an example of how these fees might break down for a landscape project:

  • A landscape architect charges an hourly rate of $150.
  • The landscape architect spends 20 hours working on the project.
  • The design fee is $3,000.
  • The total cost of construction is $100,000.
  • The landscape architect charges a 10% construction fee, which is $10,000.

In this example, the total cost of the landscape project would be $143,000. This includes the landscape architect’s hourly rate, the design fee and the construction fee.

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Licensed professionals with training in technical and design skills.

Can design attractive and functional landscapes for a variety of projects.

Can help you get your landscape design plan approved by your local government.

Can create a comprehensive landscape design plan that includes a site analysis, hardscape elements, plant selection, grading and drainage.

Can serve as a project manager if you have a large project with multiple contractors involved.
Can be more expensive than other types of landscape professionals.

May not be available to work on small projects.

May not be able to provide the level of hands-on care that you need.

May not be the best choice for designing garden beds. 
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Landscape Architect

Design-Build Firms

Design-Build Firms are companies that offer landscape design and installation services. Design-build firms can be a good option if your project requires specialized contractors and you prefer to have a single point of contact. 

Design-Build Firms are a great “all-in-one” solution because they can help you find the right experts to complete your project, while keeping the project on time and on budget.

But, because you’re hiring an entire firm, you may pay a premium for their services. They are often less-flexible than hiring an individual and you may get less personal attention when working with a larger design-build firm.

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture or a related field.

However, it’s important to note that Design-Build Firms are usually companies with many different individuals working there. Staff may have different levels of education and experience, depending on their role. 

Design-build firms are not licensed in any state. However, some design-build firms may choose to become certified by a professional organization.

Scope of Work

Large and small projects, including design, installation and even ongoing maintenance.

Services Offered

Planning, design, installation and maintenance of outdoor spaces

Cost

Hourly rate: $100-$250; Design fee: $1,000-$6,000; Percentage of construction costs: 10%-20% or $1,000-$2,000 per hour

The hourly rate of a design-build firm is typically between $100 and $250. This means that they charge this amount for each hour of work they do on your project. 

The design fee is a one-time fee that design-build firms charge for creating a plan for your landscape. The design fee typically ranges from $1,000 to $6,000. 

The construction fee is a fee that design-build firms charge for the construction of your project. This fee typically ranges from 10% to 20% of the total construction costs. 

Many Design-Build Firms will instead charge a flat rate for each hour of work that their employees put into your project. This means that the total cost of your project will depend on how many hours of work are required.

 There are some pros and cons to this flat rate model vs. charging a percentage of total construction costs:

Pros to Flat RateCons to Flat Rate
More control over the cost (if you’re on a tight/strict budget). You’ll only be charged for the hours that the employees work on your project. Helpful if you’re on a tight budget.

More flexibility (if you are not sure exactly what you want). If you need to make changes to your project during the construction process, the firm can adjust their fee accordingly. 
Can be more difficult to budget for, because the crew can run into problems that will create more hours of work on your project. 

Overall, it may be more expensive than hiring a landscape architect and a contractor separately, because the design-build firm will charge a premium rate for their expertise in both design and construction.
Pros and Cons to Flat Rate Pricing Structure

Example Project Cost Breakdown

Here is an example of how these fees might break down for a landscape project:

  • A design-build firm charges an hourly rate of $150.
  • The design-build firm spends 20 hours working on the project.
  • The design fee is $3,000.
  • The total cost of construction is $100,000.
  • The construction crew spends 10 hours installing the project.
  • The design-build firm charges a $1,500 hourly construction fee.

In this example, the total cost of the landscape project would be $121,000. This includes the design-build firm’s hourly rate, the design fee and the construction fee.

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Can provide you with a single point of contact for your project.

Can help you get your landscape design plan approved by your local government.

Can handle all aspects of your landscape project, from design to construction and installation, which can save time and aggravation.

Typically has a team of professionals with different skills and expertise, which can help to ensure that your project is done correctly.

May be able to offer you a warranty on their work.
Can be more expensive than hiring a landscape architect or designer and a landscape contractor separately.

May not be available to work on small projects.

May not be as flexible as hiring independent professionals (may have to wait for their other projects to complete, etc.).
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Design-Build Firm

Landscape Designers

Photo of upscale furniture on a patio

Landscape Designers are professionals with training in landscape design but may not be licensed as a landscape architect. Landscape designers typically have a degree in landscape design or a related field. They can provide landscape design plans for residential and/or commercial projects. 

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture or a related field.

Landscape designers are not licensed in all states. In states where they are licensed, landscape designers must meet certain education and experience requirements.

Many landscape designers I know are members of the Association for Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). Members of the APLD can join at different tiers and must meet certain educational requirements to maintain their membership. 

Through the APLD, landscape designers can obtain a Certified Professional Landscape Designer (CPLD) designation. On the APLD website, you can find their members with and without this certification. This is a great way to find a landscape designer in your area!

Scope of Work

Landscape designers typically work on smaller projects, such as residential gardens and patios. They are a great resource for small projects, such as private gardens.

Services Offered

Landscape designers may offer a narrower range of services than landscape architects, such as landscape design and installation. But the good news is that they are more likely to work on residential projects.

Getting a plan designed by a landscape designer means that your space will be both functional and beautiful. While not all landscape designers are experienced in issues regarding grading and drainage, you will definitely find some who are. 

A landscape designer is probably the right choice for you if you have a larger residential project with many moving parts. For example, you want to create a backyard oasis with walkways, patios, retaining walls or tiered garden beds.

In my experience, the landscape designer will not be the one who actually installs the project. They may just give you the plan and send you on your way. Some landscape designers will serve as your point of contact and oversee the different contractors needed to accomplish the scope of work for your project. So, it’s important to ask if they will assist with the installation, if that’s something you’ll want.

Cost

Hourly rate: $50-$150; Design fee: $1,000-$6,000

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Trained in landscape design but may not be licensed as a landscape architect.

Can provide you with a landscape design plan at a lower cost than a landscape architect.

May be available to work on small projects.

May be less expensive than landscape architects.

May be able to provide more hands-on care than landscape architects.

Some may serve as a project manager (but not all).
May or may not be certified (it varies).

May not be able to get your landscape design plan approved by your local government.

May not have the same level of knowledge and experience as landscape architects.

Landscape plan may not include a site analysis or a grading and drainage plan.

May not assist in installation of the project (just design plans).
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Landscape Designer

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Garden Designers

photo of purple flowers and ferns along paver path
Garden designers focus on the planting plan and making your garden beds beautiful. They typically have a degree in horticulture or a related field.

A garden designer is a professional who designs gardens and outdoor spaces. They are sometimes referred to as Planting Designers.

Garden Designers typically have a degree in horticulture or a related field. They are skilled in choosing plants and designing gardens that are appropriate for the climate, soil conditions and the needs of their clients. They typically work on smaller projects, such as private gardens and may also offer maintenance services.

Most garden designers will just help you with the planning phase of your project and you’ll have to find your someone to bring the vision to life.

Less often, some garden designers will have a team and oversee the installation of the garden based on their design plan. They will work with the contractor to ensure that the garden is built to their specifications. Garden designers who do this are usually considered as Design-Build Firms (mentioned earlier in the article).

Here are some of the things that garden designers do:

  • Conduct site surveys: Garden designers will visit your property and take measurements to assess the space and its potential. They will also consider the climate, soil conditions, your budget and your wish list.
  • Develop a design plan: The garden designer will create a design plan of your space. This may only involve planting plan(s) for your garden beds. It may also include the layout of the garden, the types of plants and hardscaping materials and designing the overall look and feel of the space (often referred to as your garden style).
  • Choose plants and materials: Garden designers will work with you to choose plants and materials that are appropriate for your climate, soil conditions and budget. They will also consider your personal preferences and the overall look and feel of the space.
  • Provide maintenance advice: Garden designers can also provide maintenance advice to help you keep your garden looking its best.

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: Associate’s degree in horticulture or a related field.

Garden designers are not licensed in any state. However, some garden designers may choose to become certified by a professional organization.

Scope of Work

Garden designers usually take on small projects, such as creating garden bed designs for residential properties. It’s important to find out what type of services your garden designer offers because their project sizes and scope of work can vary greatly from one to the next.

Some garden designers only design planting plans for their clients. This means they select the appropriate plants and arrange the layout of those plants within the garden beds. They can also assist in designing your planters/containers.

Other garden designers will take on larger projects, too! This can include helping you create the overall look and feel of your property and laying out a basic plan for your project. Depending on the scope of the project, this can involve laying out the whole space (paths, patios, features, etc.) and assisting in the selection of plants and hardscaping materials that match your unique style.

Garden designers typically won’t have the skills to assist in complex projects or deliver extremely detailed design plans like a landscape designer or landscape architect will. But, you will save quite a bit of money hiring them for the job. Especially if the space is small and the design is simple.

Services Offered

Garden designers can design simple landscape layouts, planting plans, choose plants and sometimes plant the plants for you.

However, they typically do not build decks, install hardscaping, or install landscaping. If you need these services, you will need to hire a different type of landscape professional, like a Design-Build firm. 

In my experience, you can ask your garden designer for references. Some garden designers will work with other professionals in the field that can help you with these types of projects. At the very least, they may be able to give you a referral. 

Cost

Hourly rate: $50-$150; Design fee: $500-$3,000.

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Focuses on the design and creation of gardens.

May have a degree in horticulture or a related field.

May be less expensive than landscape architects or landscape designers.

May be more available to take on small projects.

May be able to provide more hands-on care than landscape architects or landscape designers.

Experts in the selection and placement of plants.

Can create planting plans.
May not have the same level of knowledge and experience as landscape architects or landscape designers.

May not be able to create a landscape that is as functional or sustainable as a landscape created by a landscape architect or landscape designer.

May not provide a comprehensive landscape design plan that includes drainage and grading.

May not help with design or installation hardscape elements like patios, walkways and retaining walls.
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Garden Designer

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Landscape Contractors

Landscape Contractors are professionals who specialize in installing landscape features, such as patios, walkways and retaining walls. 

Landscape contractors can also plant trees, shrubs and flowers, but typically will not create a robust planting plan for you. So, you’ll have to know what you want to plant or hire a garden designer to create a planting plan for your landscape contractor to install.

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: High school diploma or equivalent.

Landscape contractors are not licensed in all states. In states where they are licensed, landscape contractors must meet certain education and experience requirements.

Most landscape contractors will carry insurance. It’s important to ask about this to make sure you’re protected if something goes wrong during the project.

Scope of Work

Landscape contractors typically work on smaller landscape projects, such as the installation of patios, walkways, fencing and retaining walls. You will typically need to provide them with a landscape design plan or have a very clear vision as to what you want. They are more about bringing the vision you already have to life through their installation skills and expertise.

Services Offered

The services of landscape contractors can vary, but typically include the Installation of landscape features.

Some may be able to help you with suggestions and recommendations for your space. If they have been in the industry a long time, they actually may be quite good at this. But, in general, they don’t have a degree or background in a design field and you should already have a vision going into the project.

Oftentimes, landscape contractors are specialized in one area of landscaping, such as fence installation, masonry, decking, drainage, etc.  So, multiple landscape contractors may be needed to complete all of the aspects of your project.

Cost

Hourly rate: $50-$150; Construction fee: $1,000-$2,000 per hour.

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Typically less expensive than landscape architects or landscape designers.

May be more available to take on small projects.

May be able to provide more hands-on care than landscape architects or landscape designers
May not be able to provide you with a landscape design plan.

May not have the same level of knowledge and experience as landscape architects or landscape designers.

May not be able to create a landscape that is as functional or sustainable as a landscape created by a landscape architect or landscape designer.
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Landscape Contractor

Landscapers

Landscaper is a general term for someone who provides landscape maintenance services. Landscapers may also offer some landscape design and installation services. They will often take on smaller projects that a landscape architect or landscape designer won’t take on.

Depending on their level of experience and area of expertise, they may also be able to assist in smaller landscaping projects like installing walkways or even a small patio or deck. 

Education and Training Requirements

Typical Education: High school diploma or equivalent.

Landscapers are not licensed in any state. However, some landscapers may choose to become certified by a professional organization.

Scope of Work

Landscapers are great for ongoing maintenance of landscapes and smaller landscape projects that don’t require a high level of skill or expertise. They often aren’t trained in design or construction. For example, they won’t design robust landscape plans or solve for more complex situations like drainage and irrigation.

With that said, every landscaper is different and may have special skills in different aspects of landscaping.

Services Offered

I like to consider landscapers as the “outdoor handyman.” They are great for small one-off projects you may need for maintenance and upkeep, offering services such as mowing, trimming, weeding and mulching. They are also a great option for completing smaller projects like removing hedges or preparing garden beds for planting. 

Some landscapers may even have the knowledge and expertise to lay a walkway or install a simple patio or deck. This will vary from professional to professional.

Cost

Hourly rate: $25-$50; Construction fee: $500-$1,000 per hour

Benefits and Drawbacks

ProsCons
Typically has the skills and experience to install and maintain a landscape, such as mowing, trimming and weeding.

May also offer some landscape design and installation services.

May be less expensive than landscape architects or landscape designers.
May be more available to take on small projects.
May not be able to provide you with a landscape design plan or even a drawing.

May not have the same level of knowledge and experience as the other professionals.

May not be able to create a landscape that is as functional or sustainable as a landscape created by a landscape architect or landscape designer
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Landscaper

How to Choose Which Landscape Professional is Right For You

Ultimately, the best way to choose the right landscape professional for your project is to consider your needs and budget. If you are looking for a complete landscape design and installation service, a design-build firm may be the best option for you. If you have a smaller budget or are only interested in landscape design, you may want to hire a landscape architect or designer. If you only need landscape maintenance services, you can hire a landscaper.

Here are some tips for choosing a landscape professional:

  • Get multiple estimates. This will help you compare prices and services.
  • Ask for references. Check with past clients to get an idea of the professional’s work quality and customer service.
  • Make sure the professional is licensed and insured. This will protect you in case something goes wrong during the project.
  • Get everything in writing. This includes the scope of work, the timeline, the budget and the payment terms.

Here are some other criteria that you may want to consider when choosing a landscape professional:

Experience 

How long has the professional been in business? Do they have experience with projects like yours?

Education

What is the professional’s educational background? Do they have a degree in landscape architecture or a related field?

References

Ask the professional for references from past clients. This will give you an idea of their work quality and customer service.

Cost

How much does the professional charge for their services? Be sure to get multiple estimates to compare prices.

The cost of hiring a landscape professional will vary depending on the scope of your project, the materials you choose and the location of your project. 

In general, landscape architects are the most expensive type of landscape professional, followed by design-build firms, landscape designers, garden designers, landscape contractors and landscapers.

If you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider hiring a landscaper or a landscape designer. Landscapers typically offer more affordable landscape maintenance services, while landscape designers can provide you with a landscape design plan at a lower cost than a landscape architect. 

If you have a larger budget and are looking for a complete landscape design and installation service, you may want to consider hiring a design-build firm. Design-build firms can handle all aspects of your project, from design to installation. However, design-build firms can be more expensive than hiring a landscape architect or designer and a landscape contractor separately.

Ultimately, the best way to choose the right landscape professional for your project is to consider your needs and budget. If you are looking for a complete landscape design and installation service, a design-build firm may be the best option for you. If you have a smaller budget or are only interested in landscape design, you may want to hire a landscape architect or designer. If you only need landscape maintenance services, you can hire a landscaper.

Licensing and insurance

It is important to note that licensing requirements vary from state to state. If you are considering hiring a landscape professional, it is important to check the licensing requirements in your state. You can find information on licensing requirements from the National Association of State Boards of Landscape Architecture (NASBLA).

Make sure the professional is licensed and insured. This will protect you in case something goes wrong during the project.

Wrapping Up

With this information, I’m sure you’ll be able to choose the right professional for your next landscaping project!

Here are some final tips for choosing the right landscape professional for you.

  • Get multiple estimates. This will help you compare prices and services.
  • Ask for references. Check with past clients to get an idea of the professional’s work quality and customer service.
  • Licenses and insurance. Make sure the professional is licensed and insured. This will protect you in case something goes wrong during the project.
  • Get everything in writing. This includes the scope of work, the timeline, the budget and the payment terms.

You can also educate yourself in landscape design with my Plant Perfect Activity Book and learn how to design a gorgeous planting plan in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. If you’re a DIYer who wants to learn HOW to do these things instead of just hiring the job out, these are great resources!

Remember that there’s no “right” or “wrong” professional to choose. Select the one that will best suit your unique needs.

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