Lawn & Garden Landscaping

Do I Need a License for a Lawn Care Business?

Starting a lawn care business will likely require at least a general business license, but entrepreneurs may need additional licenses depending on where they live.
Do I Need a License for a Lawn Care Business?


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Q: I want to start a lawn care business in my local area, but I’m not sure of the legal process. What licenses do I need to get started, and do I need a landscaping certification to offer my services?

A: Aesthetics and maintenance of outdoor areas hold significant value nowadays, allowing a ripe opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to launch their own lawn service business. However, before laying the groundwork for such a venture, prospective business owners will need to familiarize themselves with the legalities involved.

When opening a lawn care business, entrepreneurs will want to understand the licensing requirements, which vary depending on the state. While obtaining a general business license is generally required at a minimum, additional licenses or certifications may be necessary, especially if the business plans to offer services that are more specialized.

Aspiring entrepreneurs will need to learn the legal basics of starting a lawn care business. This might include the types of licenses required and the steps involved in securing them, as well as administrative aspects, such as naming the business, applying for a federal employer identification number (EIN), and obtaining business insurance coverage.

Most states require entrepreneurs to obtain a general business license to operate legally within their state.

In most states, getting a general business license is a nonnegotiable step for entrepreneurs looking to legally establish their company. This requirement is a fundamental compliance measure that ensures businesses operate within the legal framework set by state authorities.

To get this license, prospective business owners can apply to their state or local government body, which comes with a fee. Holding a general business license is often the first step in acquiring specialized permits or licenses, especially in the lawn care industry where additional qualifications may be required.

Do I Need a License for a Lawn Care Business?

The specific licenses needed for a lawn care company will depend on the types of services offered.

The licenses required for a lawn care company depend on the types of services it will offer and the amount of business it plans to do. A basic lawn mowing service might be required to hold only a general business license, depending on the state. For instance, Quinten O’Dea, owner of Pittsburgh-based Q&A Landscaping, notes that in Pennsylvania, a lawn care business only needs a home improvement contractor license through the attorney general’s office if it completes over $5,000 worth of work in a calendar year.

“You do not need any specific licenses for lawn care and landscaping, but if you want to do fertilization and chemical treatments you will need to get a pesticide applicator license in Pennsylvania,” O’Dea explains. “You will also need to apply for a DOT [Department of Transportation] number for any commercial vehicles.”

To determine which types of business licenses are required in their state, entrepreneurs can reach out to their secretary of state’s office or their local government office.

Lawn care businesses that work with pesticides will likely need to obtain an additional license.

If a company plans to provide specialized services, such as pesticide application, a more specific lawn care business license and/or certification may be required. These specialized licenses ensure that businesses are not only compliant with state and local regulations but also possess the expertise and knowledge to safely and effectively perform these services.

To get a pesticide application license, business owners must have specific training and pass an examination that tests on safe handling, application techniques, environmental impact, and relevant laws and regulations. This licensing process ensures that those applying pesticides are capable of implementing practices that minimize harmful effects.

The name of the specialized license needed for applying pesticides may vary by state. Mark Marino, owner and operator of Bellingham, Massachusetts–based turf nutrition and weed control company Lawn Phix Inc., explains that in Massachusetts, the primary license is called the Applicator License (Core).

“This pesticide license allows you to apply fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides on residential and commercial properties, excluding restricted-use products,” Marino says.

In some states, lawn care businesses that perform tree pruning or removal will need a specific license.

In certain states, a lawn maintenance business that includes tree pruning or removal services is required to obtain a specific license to do so. This requirement is due to the risky nature of tree work, which often involves operating at heights, handling heavy equipment, and managing the unpredictable behavior of falling branches or trees.

The licensing process for tree pruning and removal is designed to ensure that businesses engaging in these services have the right expertise and adhere to safety standards to mitigate risks to workers, clients, and property. To acquire this license, businesses typically need to provide proof of experience, pass a practical and/or written exam, and show evidence of insurance to cover potential liability.

Lawn care businesses that offer landscaping services may need a specific landscape contractor license.

A lawn care contractor who wants to extend their offerings to include comprehensive landscaping services may find it necessary to secure a specific landscape contractor license. This type of license is for companies that undertake complex and extensive landscaping projects, such as garden design, hardscaping, irrigation systems, or substantial terrain alterations.

Becoming a licensed landscaper typically involves meeting certain criteria, which may include proving a certain level of experience in the field, passing a licensing exam, and in some cases, showing proof of liability insurance. The test usually covers a range of topics including landscape design, plant knowledge, construction techniques, and an understanding of local environmental regulations. This rigorous process ensures that the licensed contractor is well equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to safely and effectively execute landscaping projects, adhering to the highest standards of quality and compliance.

Lawn care business license costs will also vary depending on the municipality in which the business operates.

Securing a business license is a necessary lawn care business start-up cost, and that cost can vary significantly depending on the municipality in which the business operates. This variation in cost is due to the differing regulations and fees set by local governments. In some areas, the cost might be relatively modest, reflecting only the basic administrative expenses of processing the license. In others, the fees can be higher, particularly in municipalities that require additional permits or have stricter laws.

Furthermore, the cost can also fluctuate based on the scope of services the lawn care business intends to offer; specialized services such as pesticide application or landscape design may incur additional licensing fees. Entrepreneurs in the lawn care industry will want to thoroughly research the licensing fees in their specific locality, as they represent a critical piece of the lawn care business start-up costs and annual operating budget. This research helps entrepreneurs with planning and budgeting, ensuring that the business complies with all local regulations and avoids any potential legal implications or fines. It can also help them price their services to ensure they’re making a profit. Additionally, knowing the average cost to mow a lawn or the cost of other related services in their area can help business owners create a pricing strategy that will be both competitive and lucrative.

Do I Need a License for a Lawn Care Business?

In addition to researching licensing requirements, entrepreneurs will need to determine a business structure and register their business name.

Before a lawn care business can apply for any requisite business licenses, it will need a properly registered business name and legal structure. These two elements lay the foundational legal framework for any business.

Choosing the right business structure—whether it be a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation—has significant implications for taxation, personal liability, and the ability to raise capital. Each structure offers distinct advantages and limitations, and the choice depends largely on the business owner’s future plans, financial situation, and risk tolerance. Business owners can work with one of the best LLC services, such as LegalZoom or Northwest Registered Agent, to help ensure they check all the required legal boxes.

Once the business structure is decided, the next step is for the owner to register the business name. This involves checking the name to ensure it’s not already in use and then registering it with the appropriate state or local authorities. Registering the business name not only secures the name legally but also adds to the business’s credibility and professionalism, allowing it to compete with the best landscaping companies in the area.

Business owners will also need to get an employer identification number (EIN) to be able to pay state and federal taxes.

Obtaining an employer identification number (EIN) is another critical step for business owners in the lawn care industry, especially when it comes to fulfilling tax obligations. An EIN, essentially a Social Security number for a business, is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and is used to identify a business entity for tax purposes. It is a mandatory requirement for businesses that plan to hire employees, as it is used in the process of reporting and paying both state and federal taxes. Moreover, an EIN is typically required by banks when an entrepreneur opens a business bank account, and it can be necessary during the process of applying for business permits or licenses.

Getting an EIN for a business is relatively straightforward and can be completed online through the IRS website. Having an EIN keeps the business’s tax affairs in order while also enhancing the legitimacy and professionalism of the enterprise. An EIN is a clear indication that the business is recognized by the IRS and is compliant with its obligations, which can provide peace of mind to business owners, employees, and clients alike.

Most states also require lawn care businesses to carry adequate liability insurance coverage.

Regardless of the business’s location, most lawn care businesses will need to carry general liability insurance coverage. Liability insurance is designed to protect the business from financial losses stemming from accidents or damages that occur during business operations. This includes, but is not limited to, damages or injuries to third parties.

The specifics of the insurance requirement can vary from state to state, with different minimum coverage limits and policy stipulations. Given the nature of lawn care work, which often involves heavy machinery and tools, the potential for unforeseen incidents is significant, making liability insurance not just a legal requirement but a practical necessity.

Many lawn care business owners opt to take out a business owner’s policy (BOP), which typically combines general liability insurance with business property insurance and business interruption insurance under one policy. The addition of business property insurance (also called commercial property insurance) helps cover the business’s physical location (whether rented or owned) and the tools and equipment it uses for business operations. Business interruption insurance helps cover the business if it’s forced to close unexpectedly.

“You will need [insurance] to protect yourself, your staff, and your equipment just in case something happens on one of your lawn care jobs,” said Jeremy Yamaguchi, founder of Lawn Love, a company that connects customers with local lawn care professionals. “This is also for your security in case someone ever decides to sue your business. Depending on the coverage you choose, [an insurance policy] helps protect against things like financial losses, theft, fire, wind, damage from falling objects, and lightning.”

Marino notes that finding adequate coverage can be difficult for brand-new lawn care businesses—especially those that apply pesticides, as federal regulations require pesticide applicators to be licensed and insured. Such businesses may have trouble finding adequate insurance coverage.

“As a first-year applicator, finding an affordable insurance company was challenging,” explains Marino. “They want to see some prior experience applying pesticides. However, working with your local insurance agent is an excellent way to quickly shop for many [types of] insurance [policies].”

For business owners, carrying the right amount of insurance and types of coverage ensures compliance with state laws and can instill confidence in clients, signaling that the business is responsible and prepared to handle any damages it’s liable for professionally. Furthermore, having adequate insurance coverage can be a deciding factor for clients when they are awarding contracts, as many clients and commercial entities prefer or require their service providers to be fully insured. Business owners will want to get quotes from several of the best lawn care business insurance companies (such as NEXT or Thimble) and compare them to find the one that best fits their coverage needs and budget.

Starting a legally operational lawn care business involves navigating a series of important legal and administrative steps. From obtaining the necessary general business license (and potentially additional specialized licenses) to choosing the appropriate business structure and registering the business name, a business owner will find that each step is integral to establishing a solid foundation for the business. Once these basics are taken care of, a lawn care business owner can then move on to other essential steps, such as setting lawn care prices, developing a marketing plan, and investing in the best lawn care scheduling software (such as Jobber).

“Get an app or software to help manage your client list, jobs, schedule, invoicing, etc.,” Marino advises. “These are an all-in-one solution for lawn care operators. Depending on your operation and location, you may need to keep track of your chemical usage and applications. These tools help you stay organized.”

One of the most important factors for entrepreneurs to take into account when starting a lawn care business is the types of licenses they will need to operate legally. Business owners can contact their local business license issuing office or secretary of state’s office to better understand legal licensing requirements and ensure they start their business off on the right track.