Lawn & Garden Landscaping

How to Get a Landscaping License: Requirements by State

Learning how to get a landscaping license is an important step to ensure a landscaping business complies with local regulations, and doing so can boost its reputation in the marketplace.
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How to Get a Landscaping License

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One of the many landscaping job requirements business owners need to address when starting a business includes obtaining the licenses required to operate in their state. It also boosts the company’s credibility in the community and can increase earning potential, even if the state doesn’t require a license to operate. For this reason, aspiring business owners will want to make sure they look into how to get a landscaping license and include license fees in their landscape or lawn care business start-up costs.

Navigating the landscaping license process can quickly become overwhelming, but following the steps outlined in this article will help business owners learn how to obtain and maintain a license in the state where they’re operating to start building a successful business.

Before You Begin…

When planning a new landscaping business, entrepreneurs will need to recognize how critical it is to carry a license when operating such a business. If a business owner declines to follow the proper procedures when applying for a license or decides not to get a license at all where it is mandated, they can face serious penalties. Ignoring the rules can result in hefty fines, jail time, and business closure, not to mention destroying the company’s and owner’s reputation. While applying for a license may seem like a daunting task for any aspiring business owner, it is still the best approach to protect and legally operate the business.

Tips for How to Get a Landscaping License

How to Get a Landscaping License
  • Conduct thorough research to understand what is required in the state where the company is doing business.
  • Understand the specific experience and education requirements before pursuing a license.
  • Spend adequate time preparing for the exam, if required.
  • Gather the requested documents before submitting the application.
  • Determine the cost of the license, how long the application approval process will take, and how often the license needs to be renewed.

Documents Needed to Get a Landscaping License

Depending on the state or local jurisdiction, a business owner applying for a landscaping license may need to present some or all of the following documents and materials. Certain states may require items that are not included on this list, so entrepreneurs will want to confirm local requirements.

  • A valid government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a federal tax number
  • A separate state tax ID number, which may be required in some states
  • Professional references
  • Proof of liability insurance
  • A surety bond
  • Work experience verification
  • Landscaping certifications
  • Passing grade on any required exams
  • Background check

STEP 1: Check the licensing requirements in your state for landscaping businesses.

Landscaping business license requirements vary by state, so it is important for an entrepreneur to thoroughly research what is involved with obtaining a license in that particular area. Some states base licensing on the amount of work done, while others limit what type of work can be completed, such as softscaping or hardscaping projects. Before starting to research license requirements, aspiring business owners will want to determine the specific services their business will offer. There may be different requirements depending on what services the business offers, whether it’s basic lawn mowing and landscape maintenance or more involved services, such as landscape design, installing and maintaining irrigation systems, or building hardscapes and structures.

To determine specific landscape license requirements, entrepreneurs will want to check with the appropriate state licensing agency. Additional resources for business owners to consider include asking other landscapers in the area and contacting the local chambers of commerce and small business associations in the service area.

Aspiring landscape business owners can refer to the table below for each state’s specific landscaping licensing requirements and links to the state agency that oversees the licensing application process. They’ll want to ask for the specific names of licenses needed and whether there are multiple ones required based on the landscaping services they plan to offer.

StateLandscaping License Requirements
AlabamaLicense and exam required for landscaping contractors; issued by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
AlaskaLicense required for landscaping contractors; issued by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.
ArizonaNo state license required.
ArkansasLicense required for landscape contractors; issued by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
CaliforniaC-27 landscaping contractor license required; issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board.
ColoradoNo state license required.
ConnecticutNo state license required.
DelawareNo state license required.
FloridaNo state license required.
GeorgiaNo state license required.
HawaiiC-27 landscaping contractor license required; issued by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
IdahoNursery, Florist, & Landscaping license required; issued by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
IllinoisNo state license required.
IndianaNo state license required.
IowaNo state license required.
KansasNo state license required.
KentuckyNo state license required.
LouisianaLicense required for landscapers; issued by the Horticulture Commission of Louisiana, Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
MaineNo state license required.
MarylandHome improvement license and exam required for landscaping and sod installation; issued by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.
MassachusettsNo state license required.
MichiganNo state license required.
MinnesotaNo state license required.
MississippiLicense required; issued by the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry.
MissouriNo state license required.
MontanaNo state license required.
NebraskaNo state license required.
NevadaClassification C-10 Landscape Contracting license required; issued by the Nevada State Contractors Board.
New HampshireNo state license required.
New JerseyNo state license required.
New MexicoNo state license required.
New YorkNo state license required.
North CarolinaState contract required for planting, repairing, and managing gardens, lawns, shrubs, vines, trees, and other decorative vegetation; issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
North DakotaNo state license required.
OhioNo state license required.
OklahomaNo state license required.
OregonLandscape construction professional license and exams required; issued by the Oregon Landscape Contractors Board.
PennsylvaniaNo state license required.
Rhode IslandNo state license required.
South CarolinaNo state license required.
South DakotaNo state license required.
TennesseeLandscaping (HRA-E.2) license and exams required; issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance.
TexasNo state license required.
UtahS-330 Landscaping Contractor license required; issued by the Utah Department of Commerce.
VermontNo state license required.
VirginiaLicense required for landscapers who do construction, excavation, or grading work; issued by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
WashingtonNo state license required.
West VirginiaLicense required for landscapers who prepare and alter land and install concrete, brick, gravel, and stone; issued by the West Virginia Division of Labor.
WisconsinNo state license required.
WyomingNo state license required.
How to Get a Landscaping License

STEP 2: Check to see if your state requires a license to legally use pesticides.

Federal law requires landscaping contractors to be certified by the state to use commercial pesticides. Sometimes the state regulations are stricter than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) requirements, so it is critical for a business owner to check with the state certifying agency to confirm licensing details.

States have some discretion about granting certification to landscaping and lawn care providers. To become certified, landscapers typically need to pass an exam in every state where they will be applying pesticides. Entrepreneurs can refer to the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials to find the correct state agency. The local certifying agency may offer a pesticide safety education program with training information and study materials to aid prospective business owners in preparing for the certification exam.

STEP 3: Research the exam and educational requirements for getting a landscaping license.

If a license is required in the state, it will be necessary for the applicant to research the details of any exam and educational requirements before submitting an application. Indeed, it will be necessary to meet the basic requirements before proceeding with the process. The best way for a business owner to do this is to contact the state licensing board.

Most states require landscapers to have a certain level of education or industry experience in the field to be eligible for a landscaping license. These expectations will vary depending on the state. For example, landscapers in Oregon only need 2 years of landscaping-related experience, but those in California need at least 4 years of relevant work experience.

To prove the level of experience, the state may ask to see written documentation from a licensed contractor certifying the applicant has the required level of experience. Other proof may include a Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program, or official transcripts from an accredited college or university program in the field of landscape architecture, landscape design, landscape horticulture, or a related field. Entrepreneurs who aren’t interested in getting a degree can consider signing up for one of the best online landscape design courses to improve their knowledge and broaden the types of jobs they can take on.

STEP 4: Choose your business structure and register your business.

Landscaping companies will most likely need to set up their business structure before applying for a landscape contractor license, since some materials needed for the application (such as an EIN) are based on having a business structure in place. Also, the business structure may help determine the landscaping services offered by the company, which also comes into play when the business owner applies for a landscaping license.

There are several types of business structures to choose from: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company (LLC).

  • A sole proprietorship is the default entity to start a business in which there is only one owner and no distinction between the owner’s personal assets and the business’s.
  • A partnership allows multiple people to go into business together, all typically playing a role in managing the company and sharing profits.
  • A corporation is a more complex business structure; its assets are completely separated from the owners’ assets, and the company itself can enter into contracts, borrow money, and pay taxes.
  • An LLC is a business structure that’s easier to set up than a corporation, and it can provide additional benefits to a business owner beyond what they’d have with a sole proprietorship, including separation of personal assets.

Business owners can opt to work with one of the best LLC services (such as LegalZoom or Northwest Registered Agent) to register their business as an LLC. Although it’s possible to complete the process alone, working with experts can help assure business owners that they have checked all the necessary boxes to operate their business legally within their state.

STEP 5: Get business insurance coverage per your state’s requirements.

Operating a landscaping business comes with various risks, prompting some states to mandate specific insurance coverage before a business owner applies for a landscaping license. For instance, workers’ compensation insurance is mandatory in certain states to protect employees if they are injured or become ill while on the job. Even if insurance is not required by the state, it’s a good idea for a business owner to purchase at least general liability coverage to shield the business in the event of an accident or injuries to third parties. Business owners will want to include landscape insurance costs in their budget to meet state requirements and protect their business assets. When applying to get a license, an applicant may be asked to present a Certificate of Insurance proving that insurance has indeed been obtained.

While many landscaping businesses have general liability insurance as a baseline protection, additional types of insurance may be essential, such as the following:

  • Commercial auto insurance: Protects business-owned vehicles against accidents, theft, or vandalism in addition to providing liability coverage in the event a business-owned vehicle is involved in an accident with damages to others.
  • Commercial property insurance: Protects physical office buildings from covered events, including fire, explosions, storm and weather damage, theft, and vandalism.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): Combines general liability and commercial property coverage into a comprehensive policy.
  • Contractor’s tools and equipment insurance: Covers repair or replacement costs for damaged, stolen, or lost tools.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance: Provides coverage for medical expenses and lost wages in the event a worker is injured or becomes ill while on the job.
  • Cyber liability insurance: Safeguards against damages that occur due to data breaches or software viruses.

In addition to obtaining coverage from one of the best insurance companies for lawn care businesses (such as NEXT or Thimble), a landscaping company may need to get a surety bond as part of the licensing process. This serves as a type of guarantee that the landscaping company will follow through with its contracts and legal obligations, protecting the landscapers’ customers.

STEP 6: Sign up for the licensing exam through your state board of contractors, if required.

As part of the licensing procedure, landscapers may be required to pass an exam to verify their competency for the job. These exams commonly evaluate understanding across a range of landscaping subjects, including landscape design, soil composition, drainage systems, erosion control, fertilizers, mowing techniques, plant care, irrigation, safety protocols, and more. Business owners will want to check with their state licensing agency to determine what the exam will cover.

To register for the exam, applicants can contact the appropriate state licensing agency. Many states require examinations to be conducted in person at designated testing facilities. Before proceeding, the applicant will want to confirm the fee to take the exam, the locations where it is administered, the length and content of the exam, the scoring method, and the average time frame for results to be released. Some states require that the exam be taken prior to submitting a license application, while others allow it to be taken only after the application is approved.

How to Get a Landscaping License

STEP 7: Study for the exam using example tests and study materials available through your state licensing board.

Once it is clear what exactly is on the exam and the format, the applicant will want to collect all study materials to effectively prepare for it. Some states post study guides and/or examples of test questions online for reference. Applicants can inquire about such resources by contacting the state licensing board. They can also look for a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page with details about the test on the state licensing board’s website.

Another helpful resource is the National Association of Landscape Professionals, which provides educational materials about the landscaping certification process and study guides to help the applicant prepare. It is also important for an applicant to take advantage of any practice exams available to truly get acquainted with the test and the types of questions included. They’ll want to plan ahead and be sure to review the study materials to maximize prep time and minimize stress.

Tom Smith, owner of Desert Designer Landscape and Development in Tempe, Arizona, learned all about the licensing requirements through the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. “There was a lot of information on the website about licensing, and that is where I started,” he says. He also shares how he prepared for the exam: “The license itself requires real-world experience. There is a business section to make sure that you know what is necessary to run your small business and a section that pertains to exactly what you are applying for within landscaping. I used a study course provided by an outside vendor since the state at the time did not provide tools to study with. It did not take long to prepare for the license.”

STEP 8: Take the exam, pass a background check if necessary, pay the application fee, and apply for a license.

Once test preparation is complete, the applicant can take the exam. Receiving a passing grade on the first attempt is the hope; however, if that doesn’t happen, they can ask the licensing agency how many times the exam can be taken and if a certain time must pass between tries.

After an applicant successfully completes the exam, it may be necessary for them to undergo a background check before submitting the landscaping license application to the state licensing agency for review. The results of the exam, plus a fee for the license, will need to be sent in along with the application. When filling out the application, the applicant will want to check that all the necessary information is included correctly to prevent any hold-ups or denials during the application approval process. Because instructions may be detailed and confusing, it’s a good idea for them to take their time and read all the instructions carefully.

Applicants will want to make sure they include any supporting documentation required, such as the exam score, EIN or Social Security number and proof of insurance. Also, they’ll want to confirm where the application package needs to be dropped off. Some states require the applicant to bring materials and the fee in person to the county courthouse or county clerk’s office. Other states may allow the application to be sent online or by regular mail.

Once the application is submitted, the applicant must wait to receive their license. It can take several days or weeks (or even months) for a landscaping license to get approved. Each state’s timeline varies, so applicants will want to ask when they begin this process to start a landscpaing or lawn care business.

STEP 9: Renew your license annually or as required by your state.

Even once the license has been received, the work is still not over. Many licenses have an expiration date and will need to be renewed. Business owners will want to ensure they don’t let all that hard work and time and money invested go to waste—they’ll want to know exactly when the license needs to be renewed and set up a system to track renewals. Some states require a yearly license renewal, so this will become a new annual habit for the business.

Most renewals involve simply filling out an application form that is similar to the original application. In addition, a renewal fee will need to be submitted. Some states also require continuing education credits, so business owners will need to plan ahead to meet appropriate deadlines.

Understanding the process of obtaining a state landscaping license and keeping it current helps ensure success for those starting a mowing business or landscaping business. From establishing a business structure to passing required exams and securing the necessary insurance policies, each step of the process is crucual for a landscaping business owner to build a solid foundation for offering landscaping services legally—and safely—in their state. This can allow them to compete with the best landscaping companies or the best gardening services in their area.