DIY Lawn Care & Gardening

5 Unmistakable Signs You Hired the Wrong Landscaper—And How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake Twice

Letting someone else do the heavy lifting of landscaping can be a weight off a homeowner’s mind—but having the wrong landscaper can make the process miserable. Know the signs so you can move on to another service if necessary.
Meghan Wentland Avatar
An aerial shot of a landscaped lawn.
Photo: welcomia

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What You Need to Know

  • In some cases, a landscaper and client may simply not be a good fit. Other times, dishonest or unprofessional behavior from the landscaper may mean it’s time for a client to discontinue their services.
  • Some signs you hired the wrong landscaper include poor communication, missed appointments, lawn damage, the company having a different specialization than what is needed, and services not meeting expectations. 
  • The three main options clients have if they hire the wrong landscaper are to speak to them about their concerns, give them a probationary period to make the problem right, or terminate the contract.
  • When hiring a landscaper, homeowners will want to look for red flags like a lack of contract, no proof of insurance, a demand for up-front payment, and poor reviews from past clients. 
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Managing a yard, even a small one, can be a costly and physically exhausting process. Hiring one of the best landscaping companies to take care of some or all of the tasks that are necessary to keeping the property attractive and orderly (or wild and naturalized, if that’s your style) can mean more time to enjoy the outdoors instead of working on it. However, as with any contractor hired to work around the home, sometimes there’s a mismatch between a homeowner’s expectations and what the landscaper provides after hire. Sometimes this is simply the result of miscommunication. Other times, though, the landscaper may be at fault or just isn’t the right fit for the project. 

If you’re already asking yourself if you hired the wrong landscaper, the answer is likely yes. But in order to be certain, there are a few telltale signs it’s time to reconsider working with your landscaper.

5 Signs You Hired the Wrong Landscaper

Many unfortunate outcomes of landscaping work and business can be avoided by insisting on a clear and specific contract prior to work being done on the yard. Once work has begun, however, these signs will let you know that it’s time to make a change. 

1. Their communication has been inconsistent or unprofessional. 

A view of a red lawn mower sitting on grass.
Photo: Dmytro Pokulityi

Good communication is critical between any customer and service provider. The customer’s job is to be clear about their expectations and wishes, and the service provider needs to be prompt, responsive, and available at expected times. While it’s generally unreasonable to expect an immediate response outside business hours, it’s a problem when a customer reaches out and doesn’t get a response within a day or two. It’s worth keeping in mind that communication can be tougher for small landscaping companies that don’t have an office staff since the majority of the crew may be busy working outdoors. But if the phone always goes to voicemail and there’s never a return call, it may be time to consider choosing a different company. 

Another component of good communication is how the company addresses complaints or problems. A professional landscaper will listen to the complaint, discuss the best way to approach the problem, and do their best to remedy it. Landscapers who ignore requests or become immediately defensive are probably not contractors you want to work with. 

Finally, clear communication about costs for landscaping services and payment methods and time frame is critical. Unexpected fees for using credit cards or bank cards, or late fees when there’s no specified due date, are concerns that can be avoided through the execution of a clear, complete contract when the landscaper is hired. Otherwise, it’s difficult to know if you’ve hired the wrong contractor or you’re just envisioning a different kind of relationship with regard to services and payment. 

2. They’re constantly late or miss scheduled appointments. 

Landscapers’ schedules can be difficult to maintain as they are somewhat dependent on the weather. Even if the lawn is mowed every Thursday morning, a really heavy rainstorm on Tuesday and Wednesday means it’s probably better to wait until the grass finishes drying out. Also, a landscaper’s schedule can be disrupted by weather days before your appointment. Clear communication can prevent this from becoming a problem. But if there’s no obvious reason and no communication when a landscaper doesn’t show up for a job, it’s a sign that this won’t be a relationship that you want to continue. In addition to being inconvenient, missed appointments can damage the lawn and garden. Some treatments need to be repeated on a specific cycle, and a delay in those treatments can let weeds or pests creep in that will then require additional services to remove. If you find yourself taking care of tasks yourself because your landscaper isn’t showing up, you might as well save money by switching to one of the best DIY lawn care programs, such as Sunday

3. They’ve damaged your lawn by scalping it or spilling chemicals. 

To grow well, grass needs enough length to draw energy from the sun and enough root depth to pull water from the soil. Mowing the lawn too short, or “scalping” it, is a good way to reduce a lush lawn to short brown stubble. The most likely cause is setting the blade on the mower too low. If a landscaper has cut the lawn too short, probably because they were in a rush to get to the next job, it can’t grow well and will be patchy and thin.

Another problem that can arise is chemical burns to the lawn. Fertilizer isn’t just a powder or liquid grass food: it’s actually a very powerful chemical that is partially activated by the sun. So if a landscaper uses a spreader to dispense granulated fertilizer on the lawn and overlaps the rows too much, the lawn will have stripes of burned, dead grass in between beautiful bright green patches that weren’t double fertilized. When fertilizer is loaded into a spreader or liquid fertilizer is poured into a sprayer, spills or overflow can also land on the grass, creating a hyper-fertilized spot that burns and prevents other grass from growing. 

These are common errors made by homeowners when cutting and treating their lawns, but professional lawn care companies should know how to avoid them. If the lawn has odd stripes of color or dead areas, large splotches of burned-out turf, or has divots and oddly cut areas in gullies or hills, the landscaper isn’t taking the time or care to do the job correctly.

A worker in a green shirt rides a riding lawn mower.
Photo: Syldavia

4. They don’t specialize in the type of work you hired them to do. 

Landscaping services aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Although most companies offer general maintenance, they often have a specialty, whether it’s lawn care, plant and shrub maintenance, xeriscaping, or landscaping design. Some of the best lawn care services (such as TruGreen and Lawn Love) offer just about every service you need to keep your lawn looking nice, but they don’t necessarily install hardscaping or water features. The opposite may be true of other companies. It’s important to investigate what an individual company’s areas of focus are to avoid hiring someone who doesn’t specialize in the issues on the property. 

Beyond areas of specialty, landscaping companies also have a larger-scale focus on either commercial or residential landscapes. While some companies may service both types of properties, the scheduling and requirements of commercial properties are different from the more individualized needs of homeowners. For this reason, it’s best to choose a company that is zeroed in on the type of property to be serviced.

5. Their work doesn’t meet your expectations. 

In the end, you’ve hired a company to do a job. If the job isn’t being done to your satisfaction, the landscaper isn’t the right one. This can mean that little things are being missed on a regular basis, even after they’ve been addressed with the contractor. It might be that clumps of clippings are left on top of the grass that kill everything underneath; dead leaves are covered up with mulch; or mulch is pushed up around the trunks of young shrubs and trees, causing rot. 

Or it can simply mean that you’re unhappy with the quality of the lawn care—if you hired a lawn maintenance company because you wanted thick, green, uniform grass, and instead it looks the same way it did when you were mowing and fertilizing yourself, then it’s probably just not the right landscaping company for you. Being frustrated after each visit from the landscaper means it is likely time for a change.

A close up of mowed grass next to overgrown grass.
Photo: lutavia

How to Handle a Bad Landscaper

It’s unpleasant to come to terms with the fact that the landscaper you hired isn’t a good fit. But if this is the case, there are a few steps to take to move forward from the situation with the best outcome. 

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Speak to them about your concerns.

In almost every situation, having a conversation with the landscaper is the best first step. Until you’ve made your concerns known to the landscaper, there’s no way to know if the problem is a one-time error, a miscommunication or misunderstanding, or something they won’t choose to do differently. A clear, polite conversation or email explaining the problem and asking for a response is the best way to proceed. 

Getting the problem fixed may be as simple as letting them know that there is one; other times, a renegotiation of the contract terms may be necessary. If the landscaper is unwilling to discuss or address the concerns, it’s probably time to cancel the contract. On the other hand, it’s wise to be realistic about expectations based on the contract you chose. Upon revisiting the details, it may turn out that the services you’re looking for aren’t included in the level of service currently outlined in the contract. Either way, a good, open conversation can clarify things.

Put them on probation. 

If the problems are egregious, it might be worth deciding on a probationary period in which the landscaper will have a chance to make the changes requested of them in their work. Some suggest that it often takes a new landscaping company between 1 and 3 months to really learn the quirks and details of a new property. After speaking with the landscaper, determine how long you’re willing to give the landscaper to make changes. 

Especially if you’ve signed a contract for a set period of time, it’s a good idea to document the landscaper’s visits, noting what’s improved alongside problems that persist, especially if those problems are in violation of the contract. In the event that the contract is canceled, this documentation may be helpful in getting money refunded or getting out of a time-specific contract. 

Terminate your contract. 

Canceling a contract can be uncomfortable, but if it’s the right decision, don’t be tempted to ghost the contractor, even if they have behaved unprofessionally. Canceling a contract may require specific steps or may involve a certain period of notice, especially if it’s a subscription, and if you violate your end of the contract it may be more difficult to extract yourself from the agreement.

First, carefully review the clauses in the contract that address cancellation. Check for early termination fees, notice periods, and any required method of notification. Next, schedule or request a phone call or face-to-face meeting with the landscaper. Explain that you’d like to terminate the contract according to the procedures outlined in the contract, and why. Further requests (refunds for prepaid services) can also be voiced during this meeting, but be aware that if those requests aren’t covered by the contract, they may not be granted. 

When the service has been very substandard and has also been documented, it may be possible to press for accommodations by suggesting the company hasn’t lived up to its end of the contract. However, it may be necessary to go to court if the contract doesn’t stipulate that clients are entitled to money back. If a notice period is indicated in the contract, clients may be obligated to pay for services through the end of the notice period. Although to protect the property from additional poor work, you might choose to pay for the service but ask that it not be provided.

Hiring Red Flags to Know

Sometimes a landscaper and a homeowner are just a mismatch, and no amount of legwork ahead of time can catch the mismatch until it’s too late. There are, however, some red flags to watch out for when interviewing landscaping companies that may indicate that problems lie ahead.

  • The landscaper doesn’t offer a contract. Contracts are the basis of any professional relationship, where the expectations, compensation, and procedures are laid out. Unless you’re hiring a teenager next door to cut the grass while you’re on vacation, a contract should be in place before any work is completed.
  • The landscaper can’t provide proof of insurance. Landscapers work with blades, saws, and powerful machinery, so the chance that they will be injured while working on your property or accidentally damage your property isn’t insignificant. The landscaper needs to carry liability insurance and, if there are employees, workers’ compensation insurance. If they can’t provide proof of insurance, it’s not wise to hire them to work on the property. 
  • The landscaper demands payment up front. Demanding payment or using high-pressure sales techniques to upsell you on more services than you need are major red flags. It’s not unreasonable for a landscaper to request a deposit to guarantee a spot on their schedule. However, asking for an enormous prepayment or pressuring you to purchase unwanted services isn’t appropriate. 
  • The landscaper’s initial quote is too good to be true. It’s generally a good idea to get quotes from at least three professionals to get the best landscaping or lawn care price. If one service offers prices that are suspiciously lower than other services, it’s likely that the quality of service will be low or they intend to upcharge you later on.
  • The landscaper has poor reviews and lacks quality references. Certainly, even established and well-known services like Lawn Doctor or TruGreen have a poor review or two from unhappy customers. However, if the bulk of online reviews aren’t great and the landscaper can’t produce references from customers who are happy with the work they’ve done, consider hiring someone else.

After addressing the issue of having hired the wrong landscaper, it’s important to take steps to avoid repeating this misfortune. In addition to avoiding red flags, it’s important to nail down exactly the services you want and ensure that the chosen landscaper is capable of providing them. It’s worth comparing several companies to do so. You may find that if you have minimal landscaping needs that DIY application of fertilizer and pesticides will be sufficient. Just know that when comparing a DIY service like Sunday Lawn Care vs. TruGreen, which is a full-service lawn care business, these businesses will have vastly different offerings available. 

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