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Q. What advice do you have for hiring a landscaper?

A. With spring just around the corner, you may be thinking about hiring professional help to freshen up or re-imagine your landscaping. Regardless of the size or complexity of the project you are considering, its success may well depend on careful planning and hiring a qualified professional landscaper.

If you just need maintenance help you are looking for a landscape maintenance contractor. But if your plans include installations — anything from new plants to ponds, walkways, and waterfalls to irrigation systems or lighting — you want a landscape installation contractor.

State law requires contractors to be licensed by the Department of Labor and Industries. Licensed contractors are regulated by laws designed to protect consumers. An unlicensed contractor could leave you financially responsible for injuries or property damage if it occurs on the job. You want to be sure the firm you are considering is licensed either as a general contractor or a specialty contractor.

Licensed general landscape contractors must post a $12,000 bond and maintain a minimum $50,000 of property damage insurance. They will have an IRS employer account number, an employment security number, an industrial insurance number and a state revenue tax number. Specialty contractors must post at least a $6,000 bond, have the same IRS, tax and industrial insurance numbers, also carry $50,000 insurance policy and can only register as a specialty contractor in two trades.

Although your landscape project may not seem that complicated, producing a finished job that looks professional and will endure requires skills and knowledge of landscape materials as well as proper installation techniques. Washington state recognizes two certifications: Certified Landscape Technician (CLT) and Certified Landscape Professional (CLP). Companies with these certifications show a commitment to producing a quality product.

Another fact that surprises a lot of consumers is that many landscaping elements have industry standards or industry minimums. For example:

• All irrigation systems that tie into a municipal water supply must have backflow preventers or double check valves and must be tested and certified after installation.

• Irrigation mainlines must be buried 18 inches deep and lateral lines should be buried 12 inches deep.

Other landscape elements such as soil preparation or the depth and type of mulch used do not have industry standards or minimums and will depend upon existing soil conditions and the types vegetation planned.

Ask a lot of questions about how your contractor intends on preparing the soil for planting beds and lawn areas and make sure you understand fully the level of maintenance that will be required once the landscaping is done.

As with any home improvement project, make sure your contractor has a clear understanding of what you want and the desired outcome.

Professional landscaping can increase the value of your property, enhance your enjoyment, save energy and provide safety for pets and children. These tips will help ensure the success of your landscape project:

• Determine your budget and keep in mind that choices in materials and the complexity of the project can affect the cost.

• Your project could require a landscape design, so it’s a good idea to set aside funds for a professional design.

• Meet with prospective firms, always ask for references and make sure you feel comfortable with the person you hire and can communicate effectively with them.

• Always get proposals in writing and make sure you understand the scope of the work before signing any contract. A low bid could mean some of the work is not included in the proposal.

That flyer stuffed in your mailbox might seem tempting but making sure you hire a qualified professional will protect you and your property and provide lasting beauty.

Jeff Svik, president of Berg’s Landscaping in Woodinville, is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council and provided the information contained in this article. If you would like more information or have questions about home improvement send them to Sorry no personal replies. Always consult with local codes and contractors.