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Guidelines for Hiring a Florida-Friendly Landscape Professional

Esen Momol, Claire Lewis, Tom Wichmann, Elisha Cash, Jennifer Marvin, Michelle Atkinson, Julie McConnell, Kristina McIntyre, Chris Marble, Bryan Unruh, Lynn Barber, Stacie Greco, Ben Bolusky, Merry Mott, Deirdre Irwin, Betsy McGill, Cheryl Harris, Emily Brown, Michael Scheinkman, and Amanda Peck

This document is intended to provide guidance to residents and entities such as HOA community associations when hiring a landscape professional.

Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) is the state of Florida’s premier Extension program that promotes sustainable alternatives to “conventional” landscaping, providing guidance on low-impact, environmentally friendly, science-based landscape practices that use less water and reduce pollutant loading to Florida waters. Since 1993, FFL has served Florida as a partnership between the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension (UF/IFAS Extension) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

The FFL approach is based on the 9 FFL Principles: (1) Right Plant, Right Place; (2) Water Efficiently; (3) Fertilize Appropriately; (4) Mulch; (5) Attract Wildlife; (6) Manage Yard Pests Responsibly; (7) Recycle; (8) Reduce Stormwater Runoff; and (9) Protect the Waterfront. The overall goal is to reduce nonpoint source pollution through UF/IFAS-recommended fertilization, irrigation, and pesticide use on residential and commercial landscapes.

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) Program offers two professional certifications to help ensure that current and future Florida landscapes are sustainable and resilient, the Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMP) and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Certified Professional (FFLCP).

  1. The Green Industries Best Management Practices training program is legislatively mandated for those landscape professionals who apply fertilizer commercially.
  2. The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Certified Professional is a voluntary certification for individuals who have completed the required training in FFL principles and are familiar with the latest UF/IFAS recommendations.

Professionals who are educated in and practice Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) will set your landscape up for success. Plants, when selected, planted, and maintained sustainably, can live longer and resist pests, saving money over the long term.

Many residents evaluate their landscape professionals on price alone; however, healthy and sustainable landscapes are an investment in your property. Knowing what qualifications to look for when hiring a landscape professional will help you get the most for your investment, ensure your yard reaches its greatest potential, and protect Florida’s water and other natural resources.

Helpful Resources

Evaluate Your Needs

Your search for a landscape professional should begin with an evaluation of your landscape needs and wants. When evaluating, consider your immediate and future needs, the desired visual aesthetic or “look” of the landscape, and the tasks that you are willing to do yourself versus the ones you want to pay a professional for.

Research local options and compare them. Look for companies with experience in the services you are seeking and strong references from past clients with the same or similar needs that you have. Check websites, social media profiles, and online reviews.

Make sure you note the services you need and want and clearly convey this to your potential landscape company. When interviewing professionals, they may suggest other services that you are not familiar with or may not even need. Some questions to consider may be:

  • Are you looking for a lawn service company to mow your lawn regularly, or do you require additional services like weeding, pruning, planting seasonal flowers, pest control, and fertilization?
  • Do you need more specialized services, such as landscape design and irrigation installation or repairs?

Select a Landscape Professional

When selecting a Florida-Friendly landscape professional, the most important question to ask is if they follow the nine FFL Principles. For a more detailed conversation about how a landscape professional implements the nine FFL principles, try using the Checklist for Hiring a Landscape Professional.

Additional things to consider when selecting a landscape professional:

Check If the Business Is Licensed and Insured

Hire professionals who meet all state and local license and insurance requirements for the contracted work. Consult with your local UF/IFAS Extension agents about other appropriate insurance coverage.

  • Workers' compensation insurance—verify coverage.
  • General liability insurance—ask for proof of insurance.

Florida law requires licenses for specific services such as applying fertilizers or pesticides. Below is a list of licenses to be aware of when choosing a lawn service provider. Check with the company and use the links below to be sure they are properly licensed.

  • Fertilization application: Limited urban commercial fertilizer applicator certification—verify limited fertilizer license.
  • Pesticide (including herbicide) application: Certified pest control operator license holders or their ID cardholders can apply pesticides in turf and landscape bed areas. Limited commercial landscape maintenance pesticide license holders are restricted to apply in landscape beds only—verify pest control and pesticide licenses.

Certificates and Certifications for Landscape Professionals

Depending on the type of work needed, there are a variety of qualifications to look for in a landscape professional. A professional does not need all the listed certifications, but if you have numerous trees or a complex landscape, you should consider the professional organizations that offer specialized certification and training. The following are common examples.

  • Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMP) training certificateverify GI-BMP credentials. The GI-BMP training program is managed by the FFL program and teaches proper landscape maintenance practices to landscape professionals. This training includes landscape management, irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide application information. The GI-BMP certificate is required for those who seek a state limited commercial fertilizer applicator license, and it is beneficial for all landscape professionals.
  • Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Certified Professional (FFLCP)certified professional list. The FFLCP certification introduces participants to the nine principles of the FFL program as well as Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ design considerations and maintenance best management practices. These individuals are educated and trained to recognize and address common landscape issues by using environmentally sustainable landscape management practices that help preserve and protect Florida’s natural resources.
  • Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) certificationsverify FNGLA credentials.
    • Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP) program is the industry standard for measuring horticulture knowledge on everything from plant and pest identification to landscape management.
    • Certified Landscape Technician (FCLT) program measures the skills of practicing landscape installation technicians.
    • Certified Landscape Maintenance Technician (FCLMT) program measures the skills of practicing landscape maintenance technicians. This certification relies heavily on Green Industries Best Management Practices.
    • Certified Landscape Designer (FCLD) program offers a professional designation for practicing landscape designers. 
    • Certified Landscape Contractor (FCLC) program is the highest level of certification available to Florida's landscape installation professionals.
    • Certified Landscape Irrigation Service Technician (FCLIST) program measures skills specific to landscape irrigation service technicians. 
  • Florida Water Star™ Accredited Professional (FWS-AP) certificationverify FWS-AP certification through FNGLA. Accreditation for landscape and irrigation professionals. FWS-AP has two designations: landscape and irrigation.
  • Irrigation Association (IA) certificationverify IA certification.  The Irrigation Association offers a number of certification programs for professionals specializing in turf, landscape, and golf irrigation.
  • International Society of Arborists (ISA) certificationverify ISA certification. ISA Certified Arborists® are held to a code of ethics and are encouraged to follow industry standards.

Professional Associations to Consider

Checklist for Hiring a Landscape Professional

Hiring a landscape professional who works best for your yard, your wallet and our environment does not need to be overwhelming. When hiring a landscape professional, use this checklist to keep track of the professional’s qualifications and experience with Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. Select questions from this checklist to help you evaluate your prospective landscape professional.

Name of Company:

Work to be Performed:

Are they licensed and insured?

The following questions can be asked over the phone prior to the site visit.

Do they have additional certifications?

Questions and Observations for Your Landscape Professionals

The following questions and observations can serve as a helpful tool when consulting with a landscape professional and ensuring they use Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles in your yard. Review the checklist and select the questions that are relevant to your property in preparation for your conversation with potential landscapers.

QUESTION FOR ALL LANDSCAPE PROFESSIONALS:

IRRIGATION—Does the landscape professional:

MOWING—Does the landscape professional:

PRUNING/TRIMMING—Does the landscape professional:

TURF FERTILIZATION APPLICATION—Does the landscape professional:

LANDSCAPE PLANT FERTILIZATION APPLICATION—Does the landscape professional:

PEST MANAGEMENT—Does the landscape professional:

LANDSCAPE DESIGN—Does the landscape professional:

PLANT INSTALLATION—Does the landscape professional:

 

Peer Reviewed

Publication #ENH1350

Date: 2/22/2022

Fact Sheet
Homeowner

About this Publication

This document is ENH1350, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date February 2022. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Esen Momol, director, UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program; Claire Lewis, statewide FFC coordinator, UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program; Tom Wichmann, assistant director and statewide GI-BMP coordinator, UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program, UF/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency; Elisha Cash, GI-BMP regional coordinator, UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program; Jennifer Marvin, statewide FYN coordinator, UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program; Michelle Atkinson, Extension agent II, MS, environmental horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County; Julie McConnell, Extension agent II, MS, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County; Kristina McIntyre, Extension agent I, MS, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, UF/IFAS Extension Seminole County; Chris Marble, associate professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Bryan Unruh, professor and associate center director, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; Lynn Barber, program county Extension agent II, Florida Friendly Landscaping™, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County; Stacie Greco, water conservation coordinator, Alachua County Environmental Protection Department; Ben Bolusky, chief executive officer, Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association; Merry Mott, director of certifications and career development, Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association; Deirdre Irwin, water conservation coordinator, St. Johns River Water Management District; Betsy McGill, executive director, Turfgrass Producers of Florida; Cheryl Harris, executive director, Florida Irrigation Society; Emily Brown, project manager, nonpoint source education coordinator, FDEP; Michael Scheinkman, project manager, nonpoint source education coordinator, FDEP; and Amanda Peck, program administrator, Nonpoint Source Management Program, FDEP; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Contacts

  • Claire Lewis