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What’s the Difference between Landscape Designers, Landscape Architects, and Landscape Contractors?

These broad definitions apply to the United States only. Laws vary from state to state regarding the work performed by landscape designers, landscape architects and landscape contractors. Some need to be licensed by the state; others do not. Permits may or may not be required for landscape work performed in your state or locality.

Landscape designers typically have training in landscape design and horticulture through formal education or on-the-job experience. The Association of Professional Landscape Designer’s certification program confers professional recognition to landscape designers based on experience and established standards of excellence. Landscape designers provide design concepts, landscape plans, and selection of materials. Some designers provide only design services, others work closely with contractors during installation and some provide construction services themselves as permitted by state law. Many landscape designers are also professional horticulturists. Landscape designers can provide design services for both residential and commercial clients, although many specialize in residential design.

Landscape architects have obtained a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school. Only those who have have met their respective state requirements may call themselves landscape architects. A landscape architecture curriculum usually emphasizes site analysis, design, presentation and construction techniques rather than horticulture. In addition to the types of plans provided by a landscape designer, many landscape architects produce plans and construction -ready documents for institutional and commercial projects.

Landscape contractors perform a wide range of services, including garden and lawn installation, garden maintenance, masonry, carpentry, other landscape elements and sometimes design. Many work for nurseries or design/build companies and others have their own firms. When working with a landscape contractor, be sure to clarify the design process used, whether you will receive drawings for your review and approval, or whether you have just a verbal description of the landscape to be installed.

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Recycled materials provide both environmentally friendly and economically favorable options for sustainable landscaping.

Another key to a highly successful green landscaping project is the use of recycled materials such as mulch, other soil amendments, and landscape construction materials. With high lumber costs and forest land in short supply, recycled materials provide both environmentally friendly and economically favorable options for sustainable landscaping. For instance, recycled plastic bender board never rots, it’s less costly than redwood, and it’s faster to install for decks and landscape edging. The same goes for recycled mulches—they’re inexpensive, easy to come by, and applying them will not require much of your time.

Recycled materials can be incorporated into the hardscape as well. The term hardscape refers to the stonework portion of a landscaping project, typically including flagstone paths and patios, and stone retaining walls. Broken-up concrete, which is widely available from construction sites and always free, can make an attractive substitute for flagstone, and many people also build retaining walls from this material. Recycled brick is another great option for creating beautiful paths and patios.

Using recycled materials in the hardscape ensures that the consumer is not inadvertently supporting environmental degradation by buying stone and rock trucked from far away places. Instead of using expensive lumber that risks damage to the environment, use one of the many recycled plastic products that can be substituted for decks and landscape edging. These recycled materials also last longer because they are not susceptible to rot, like wood, making them a highly attractive option for the hardscape.

Green landscaping offers the homeowner a chance to save money, time, and resources while establishing healthier plants and soil, and adding to the diverse ecosystems of the planet. The future of sustainable landscaping lies in our capacity to accurately mimic the processes of nature for maximum efficiency—not with short-term, quick-fix, chemical solutions that push our plants and poison our earth. Look for organic fertilizer for your plants and follow our tips for the cleanest and greenest landscape solutions.

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