Lawn & Garden Landscaping

What Licenses Are Needed to Start a Landscaping Business? A State-by-State Breakdown

Depending on a landscaping business’s location, the owner may be required to obtain one or more types of licenses to legally operate.
What Licenses Are Needed to Start a Landscaping Business

Photo: istock.com

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

Q: I’m thinking about starting a professional landscaping business, but I’m not sure what I need to do in terms of licensing in my state. What licenses are needed to start a landscaping business in my area, and how do I go about getting them?

A: For those wondering how to become a landscaper and how to start a landscaping business, the process can quickly become overwhelming. In addition to having a solid landscaping business plan, an aspiring entrepreneur looking to enter the market alongside the best landscaping companies will need to consider costs, competition, and any local license and permit requirements necessary to own and operate their company. Not only does having the appropriate licenses protect a landscaping business—including employees and customers—but it also distinguishes a company as being qualified and credible. On the other hand, if a landscaping business operates without the legally required licenses, it can face fines, penalties, and even business closure.

This is why it is imperative for landscaping business owners to understand how to get a business license in their locality.

What Licenses Are Needed to Start a Landscaping Business
Photo: istock.com

Licensing requirements for landscaping businesses vary from state to state.

Each state has different licensing requirements for landscaping businesses—and even if a specific license isn’t required to start a landscaping company, there may be other necessary licenses for the business owner to obtain. “Federal rules and regulations can be stricter if a state chooses to impose different restrictions,” explains Sonja B. Thomas, pesticide applicator training coordinator at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.

Most states, for example, mandate a license to apply pesticides even if a general landscaping license is not required. Other licenses may be necessary to install lawns and irrigation systems; plant trees and shrubs; and install or maintain landscaping architecture such as patios, decks, retaining walls, fences, pools, and fountains.

For those business owners looking into how to get a landscaping license, the best first step is to do some research to see what the state’s requirements are. The following table lists each state’s landscaping license rules and links to the state agency that oversees the licensing application process. Entrepreneurs will always want to ask for the specific names of the licenses needed and inquire whether there are multiple ones required based on the landscaping services they 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.

Even if an individual’s state doesn’t require a license, their city or county might.

Even if a state does not require a landscape contractor license, it may require other licenses for a landscaper to work in the area. While this may take some investigative work, it is crucial for a landscaper to research the types of business licenses that are required at the city and county level as well. First, they’ll want to determine all the cities and counties where the business will be operating. Business owners can contact the business licensing agencies in each of those jurisdictions and ask what, if any, licenses are required for a landscaping business. It is also common for the state and city business landscaping licenses to have different fee structures, so business owners will want to look into this as well during the application process.

It can also be beneficial to reach out to other local landscapers as well as local chambers of commerce and small-business associations in the service area. At the very least, a general business license is probably required, which will cost a fee. A typical business license can cost anywhere from $25 to $550. Business owners will also want to inquire about additional local license requirements, such as a tax license, license to use pesticides, or a permit to use heavy equipment.

What Licenses Are Needed to Start a Landscaping Business
Photo: istock.com

In addition to a license, a state may require a landscaping business to carry insurance coverage, such as general liability insurance.

Since there are risks involved with operating a landscaping business, some states may require that a company carry different types of insurance. For example, some states require that landscaping businesses have workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Even if insurance isn’t required, it’s a good idea for a business owner to research the best insurance for lawn care businesses (such as a policy from NEXT or Thimble) to protect the business in the event an accident, property damage, or injury to others (or an employee) were to occur. Insurance can also potentially cover damaged or stolen equipment.

At a minimum, many landscaping businesses have general liability insurance, which insures against common business risks such as customer injury and damage to a client’s property. Landscaping insurance costs about $45 per month for general liability coverage. Depending on the needs of the business, more extensive insurance coverage may be necessary. Some options include:

  • A business owner’s policy (BOP) that combines general liability and commercial property coverage into a single policy.
  • Commercial auto insurance to cover business-owned vehicles in case of an accident or if the vehicles are stolen or vandalized. This coverage also provides liability protection in case the vehicles are involved in an accident and there are damages to other vehicles or personal injuries.
  • Contractor’s tools and equipment insurance to cover the repair or replacement of tools if they are damaged, stolen, or lost.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance to cover medical care and lost wages if an employee becomes ill or is injured while on the job.
  • Cyber liability insurance to protect the business from losses they may incur due to a data breach.

Some states may require a landscaping business owner to get a separate license or certification to use pesticides.

Even though more than half of the states in the country don’t require a general landscape license to operate a landscaping business, all states require a specific license to buy and use pesticides because of the potential health risks they pose. According to Thomas, “EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] requires anyone offering pesticide services to be certified and trained on the safe use of pesticides. This applies to those who supervise the use of restricted use pesticides to control pests of ornamental plants and turf. This benefits the environment, applicator, and the client.” These regulations are in place to ensure that all pesticide applicators know how to apply restricted-use pesticides (RUPs) properly and effectively in order to protect both workers and public health overall.

Landscapers need to be certified by the state to use commercial pesticides. Sometimes the state regulations are stricter than EPA regulations, so it is necessary for a landscaper to check with the state certifying agency to clarify licensing details. Individuals can refer to the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials to find the correct state agency. They’ll want to ask if an exam is part of the licensing process. Finally, landscapers who use organic products for lawn care will want to check with the local agency to confirm whether they need a license.

Failure to obtain a license to apply pesticides has varying consequences by state. “The enforcement can include fines and loss of licenses,” explains Thomas. “For more egregious misapplications, jail time and other federal and civil penalties may occur.”

What Licenses Are Needed to Start a Landscaping Business
Photo: istock.com

To get a landscaping business license, the owner may need to take and pass an exam.

Part of the licensing process may entail passing an exam to ensure landscapers are capable of doing the job. Such exams typically test knowledge on the following landscaping topics: landscape design, ecology, soil composition, drainage, erosion control, fertilizers, lawn care, lawn mowing, planting methods, plant maintenance, patio and sidewalk installation, irrigation system installation, safety requirements, and how to make job bids and estimates. Specifications and exam content will vary among states.

Some states post study materials and/or examples of test questions online for reference. Business owners will want to make sure they ask the state licensing board for these resources and all instructions for preparing, registering, and taking the exam. Another helpful source of information is the National Association of Landscape Professionals, which provides materials about the landscaping certification process and educational opportunities to prepare.

Following the exam, it may be necessary for a business owner 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 check or money order for the business license cost, will need to be sent in along with the application.

Landscaping business owners may also need to purchase a contractor license bond to help protect the business and its customers.

In several states, landscape contractors also need to obtain a surety bond, or license bond, before starting any work. A surety bond is a contract between the landscaping business, their clients, and the insurance company. It serves as a protective measure to ensure that the contractor’s clients are protected. In other words, it is a financial guarantee that ensures the customer will be reimbursed if the landscaper fails to complete the services they were contracted to do.

Some states, such as North Carolina and Oregon, require landscapers to have a contractor license surety bond. This proof of the landscaper’s financial responsibility may be required when a landscaper is seeking a state license. Business owners will want to keep in mind that there is a fee for a bond. For example, in North Carolina, a landscape contractor can pay between $100 and $300 to obtain a $10,000 bond. The better a business owner’s personal and business finances are, the smaller their bond cost will be. Business owners will want to ask the state licensing agency about any surety bond requirements to understand what is expected.

Landscaping business owners may want to pursue professional certifications to help grow their business.

Prior to launching a landscaping business, and especially if applying for a license, it is helpful (and sometimes necessary) for an entrepreneur to have a combination of education credentials and hands-on experience. Holding a special certification in the industry highlights knowledge and experience to customers, helping a landscaping business stand out among competition and potentially increase their landscaping costs for customers (and therefore their profits). Furthermore, certifications help owners gain respect as they become part of a professional community of certified landscapers.

Many of the best online landscaping courses can help boost a landscaping business’s credentials, with a certification from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) being the most popular. Some of the professional certification options offered by NALP include certified manager, exterior and interior technicians, horticultural technician, lawn care manager, and lawn care technician. Some landscapers may even decide to enhance their credentials by getting a landscape architect license. Entrepreneurs will want to check with local and state licensing boards to find out what, if any, certifications are required in the area when starting a landscaping business.