If you are new to landscaping, you may wonder who to call for various services. Below is a description of some landscape professions. This summary is applicable within the state of California.
Landscape Designers prepare conceptual drawings for single family dwellings. They can provide specifications for plant selection and placement but cannot provide grading or drainage plans, construction details, or specifications for the built landscape. They can create conceptual drawings for the design and placement of tangible objects and landscape features. Landscape Designers do not hold a license from the state.
Landscape Architects hold a license obtained by the state in which they practice in. They perform services for landscape preservation, development, and enhancement such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, planning, design, preparation of drawings, construction documents and specifications, and construction observation. Landscape architects typically develop plans for public projects such as parks, commercial landscapes, developments, HOAs, and large residential sites.
Landscape Contractors hold a C-27 landscape license. They install both residential and commercial landscapes including hardscapes (walking surfaces, walls, patio covers, fire pits, outdoor kitchens and more), irrigation, planting, grading, drainage, etc. They are allowed to design the project that they are installing, although most contractors are not trained in design.
Irrigation Consultants can provide consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, design, and preparation of drawings and specifications and supervision, where the dominant purpose is the design of landscape irrigation. Irrigation consultants do not hold a license from the state.
Now the simple explanation. If you need a residential landscape plan, start with a Landscape Designer. Make sure that they have a degree or certificate from a college landscape design program, or equivalent experience. Ensure that they have good credentials, are committed to continuing education, and belong to a professional association that adheres to a professional code of standards (apld.org). For most residential projects, a Landscape Designer is all you will need. Make sure that they work with C-27 licensed Landscape Contractors for installation of the project.
For any public project, including multi-family dwellings, call a licensed Landscape Architect. If you need any detailed construction drawings, make sure that you get them from a licensed Landscape Architect, licensed Landscape Contractor, or licensed Architect. One exception is an Irrigation Consultant. They can prepare all specifications for irrigation plans, as well as irrigation advice. Make sure that person has been trained in Irrigation design either from a community college program, or an Irrigation Association program or equivalent.
If you need someone to install your landscape, always hire a C-27 licensed Landscape Contractor. They are trained and responsible for their work. They are also required to carry insurance and workers compensation for their employees.
To find out more information, go to APLD.org (or APLDCA.org)- the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, ASLA.org (the American Society of Landscape Architects), or CLCA.org (the California Landscape Contractors Association). These are great places to start if you need to hire someone in your area.