More than seven out of 10 Washington D.C. realtors believe your landscape is one key consideration for a buyer's decision. An investment in your landscape would not only improve your curb appeal but also increase your home market price by up to 20 percent. In the same vein, a good landscaper in the city would be able to save you more on this investment by earning rebates under the RiverSmart Homes Program.
When contracting a landscaper in the District of Columbia, make sure to get satisfactory answers to the following questions:
- Are You Licensed to Practice as a Landscaper in Washington D.C.?
- How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other Landscapers in Washington D.C.?
- Do You Comply with the Washington D.C. Landscape Ordinance?
- Will You Get the Landscaping Permit Required as per the Washington D.C. Code?
- What Kind of Landscaping Services Do You Offer?
- What are the Best Types of Grass for Lawns in Washington D.C.?
- Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for Landscapers in Washington D.C.?
The activities of landscapers that operate in Washington D.C. are regulated by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). This department issues two types of licenses to landscapers that wish to conduct business in the area, namely:
- General Contractor/Construction Manager Licenses: Landscapers that possess this license can perform work on all types of buildings and structures and can also co-ordinate the activities of other professionals that may be involved in the project
- Home Improvement Contractor Licenses: Landscapers that possess this license are only authorized to work on residential buildings and structures
Applications for either of these licenses can be made online through the DCRA's DC Business Portal or in person at the DCRA office located at:
- 1100 4th Street SW
- 2nd Floor
- Washington, DC 20024
Note that online applicants will be required to create a user account to complete the application process. The payment of a fee and the submission of documents like proof of liability insurance, tax registration, corporate registration, and other DCRA-requested documentation are also typically required during this process. Landscapers that fail to complete the licensing process and obtain an appropriate license before offering their services to residents of Washington D.C. can face Class 1 infraction charges. This offense is punishable by a fine of no less than $2,000 for first-time offenders, and repeat offenders may face even steeper civil or criminal penalties.
Confirming that your intended landscape contractor possesses an appropriate DCRA-issued license can go a long way in ensuring a successful outcome to your landscaping project, and you can do this by calling (202) 442-4400. License verifications can also be done online via the DCRA's Access DC portal. However, it should be noted that the creation of a user account is required to utilize this portal.
Landscapers in Washington D.C. typically consider several variables when charging consumers for their services. These variables include the nature and scope of the landscaping project, the types of material that will be used for the project, the size of the area that needs landscaping, and the labor intensity of the job. When searching for landscapers in the district, you should consider getting and comparing quotes from several contractors in the area. Also, make sure that these contractors indicate the billing structure that will be applied to each service that you require. This is because, some landscapers charge hourly rates for their services, while others may utilize a flat fee structure or charge per square foot or linear foot of landscaping done. By comparing quotes from several landscapers, you can get an idea of the estimated cost of your landscaping project and also spot contractors whose quotes are way higher than the average rates.
A landscaper in Washington D.C. earns an average wage of $35,760, annually. The table below provides a cost comparison of the average hourly wages of landscaping and groundskeeping workers in Washington D.C. against those of this category of individuals across other major American cities:Washington D.C. Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$17.19New York City Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$18.58Los Angeles Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$19.04Chicago Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$16.89Houston Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$14.69Phoenix Landscapers Hourly Average Wage$14.91
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Washington D.C. Grass and Weed Regulations is a local ordinance that regulates the growth of certain types of landscaping and plant materials in the district. Per the requirements of this law, all property owners in the district must maintain their exterior property and premises and ensure that weed and plant growth on their properties never exceeds a height of eight inches. This law also prohibits the following types of vegetative growth, regardless of their height:
- Shrubbery that is detrimental to public health, safety, or welfare
- Vegetative growth that creates concealment or harbor. This includes vegetative growth that can be used as hiding places for persons or to conceal refuse or trash
- Unintended vegetative growth
- Vegetative growth that creates a noxious or unpleasant odor
- Vegetative growth that constitutes a fire hazard
- Vegetative growth that can harbor or provide refuge for snakes, rodents, and other vermin
- Vegetative growth that creates a breeding place for mosquitoes
- Dead or diseased vegetative growth
However, certain types of landscaping and vegetative growth are exempted from the requirements of the Grass and Weed Regulations, such as:
- Healthy plants, shrubbery, or grasses in tended gardens, grounds, and landscape-designed yards. These types of vegetative growth are allowed to exceed eight inches in height
- Weeds, grasses, and any other vegetation that is planted for agricultural use, provided that these weeds, grasses, and vegetation are located no less than 150 feet from a property that is zoned for nonagricultural use
Failure to adhere to the requirements of the Washington D.C. Grass and Weed Regulations can lead to fines of $500 per violation as well as other sanctions. Note that several other local laws apply to landscaping activities in the district. For example, Section 11-C715 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations provides mandatory landscaping requirements for surface parking lots. These requirements include the devotion of at least 10 percent of the total area of parking lots with 10 or more parking spaces to landscaping materials like trees and shrubs. As such, it is always a good idea to make sure that your landscaper is well versed in the district's local laws, especially the aspects of these laws that apply to landscaping activities. It is also a good idea to contact the DCRA at (202) 442-4400 or via email before commencing your landscaping project to get information on any relevant local laws that may pertain to it.
Permits are required for landscaping activities that involve trees in Washington D.C. These permits are issued by the Urban Forestry Division of the district's Department of Transportation (DDOT), and this division classifies permits based on the type of tree that is involved in the landscaping activity:
- Public Space Tree Permits: These permits are required for the planting, pruning, or removal of public street trees that are within the public right of way
- Special Tree Removal Permits: These permits are required for the removal of private property trees that are between 44 inches and 99.9 inches in circumference
Applications for public space tree and special tree removal permits can be made online via the department's Transportation Online Permitting System, and first-time applicants will be required to register a user account on this system. Alternatively, applications for public space tree permits can also be made in person at:
- District Department of Transportation
- Planning and Sustainability Division
- Public Space Permit Branch
- 1100 4th Street SW
- 2nd Floor
- Washington, DC 20024
- Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays
The submission of landscape plans is typically required for both types of permits. It should be noted that trees with a circumference of 100 inches or more are considered heritage trees in Washington D.C. Per the district's Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016, these types of trees cannot be topped, cut down, removed, girdled, broken or destroyed unless they have been designated as hazardous. If a heritage tree is within the limits of disturbance of your project, you may be required to submit a Tree Preservation Plan for this project. Queries concerning Washington D.C. tree permits can be directed to the DDOT at (202) 671-5133.
Finally, while specific permits are not required for regular landscaping activities, if your landscaping involves construction-related activities like installing new decks and patios or building a retaining wall that is more than four feet in height, then you require a building permit. Building permits are issued by the DCRA and they can be obtained via the following platforms:
- The DCRA Permit Wizard Portal for projects that involve one or two-family residences
- The DCRA Citizen Access Portal for projects that involve commercial property
Applicants are advised to contact the DC Office of Zoning at (202) 727-6311 to find out whether any development restrictions apply to their project before submitting their permit applications. Applicants may also be required to submit building plans and other additional documentation online via the DCRA's ProjectDox platform. Note that permitted work is subject to inspection by authorized DCRA officials to ensure compliance with all relevant district laws. Information on the Washington D.C. building permit issuance process can be gotten by contacting the DCRA at:
- 1100 4th Street SW
- Washington, DC 20024
Queries can also be directed to this department via email or by calling (202) 442-4400 and (202) 442-8959.
Getting the most out of your landscaping projects means ensuring that the landscaper you contract with has the right level of expertise and the proper tools needed to provide your required service. Professional landscapers in Washington D.C. generally provide a wide variety of landscaping services, ranging from landscape installation and design to lawn maintenance and upkeep services. Requesting references of past clients and a portfolio of the landscaper's completed work for your perusal is a good way to find out if they are capable of performing the type of landscaping that you need done. It is a red flag if a landscaper cannot provide this information, as this is usually an indication that they are unqualified for the job.
Cost estimates for common Washington D.C. landscaping services are listed below:Landscape installation$53 - $91 per hour (labor only)Lawn mowing and maintenance$44 - $107 per visitLawn fertilization$73 - $122 per applicationResidential landscape design$76 - $102 per hourCommercial landscape design$5 - $25 per square footGarden Planning$65 - $100 per hourGeneral Bed Maintenance/Detailing$40 - $85Spring/Fall clean-up$150 - $450Pruning/Hedging$40 - $105Lawn irrigation system installation$1,300 - $2,750Mulching$87 - $107 per cubic yardLeaf removal$140 - $650Sodding$1.77 - $2.13 per square footWeed Control$60 - $115
Washington D.C. has relatively mild weather when compared to other parts of the country, with average summer temperatures ranging from 65 - 95 degrees and fall temperatures ranging from 40 - 80 degrees. Likewise, winter and spring seasons have average temperature ranges of 30 - 50 degrees and 40 - 75 degrees respectively. As such, cool-season grasses are usually the best options for lawns in the district. Examples of these types of grasses include:
- Tall fescue
- Fine fescue
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Perennial ryegrass
Note that warm-season grasses like bermudagrass and zoysiagrass may also thrive in your lawn. However, you should always consult a landscaper before deciding on the type of grass to plant on your lawn. You can get referrals to professional landscape contractors in the district through online resources like the DCRA's Find a Contractor platform or organizations like the Better Business Bureau, and the Landscape Contractors Association MD-DC-VA.
The DCRA imposes mandatory liability insurance requirements on all contractors that it issues licenses to, and the minimum required coverage per occurrence is primarily dependent on the type of license that the contractor possesses. For example, landscapers that possess a General Contractor/Construction Manager License are required to have minimum coverage that ranges from $500,000 to $2,500,000 per occurrence, based on the monetary limitations of the contractor's license. Likewise, Home Improvement Contractor License holders must have a minimum liability insurance coverage of $50,000 for bodily injury or death per person in any single accident or $100,000 in aggregate for more than one person in any single accident. These contractors must also have at least $10,000 liability insurance coverage for property damage per accident and post a surety bond of $25,000.
Always make sure that your landscaper is properly insured and also duly bonded where applicable. Failure to do so can make you liable for any on-the-job accidents, injuries, or damages that may occur during your project. You can confirm landscapers' insurance and bonding statuses by requesting copies of their insurance and bonding certificates and contacting the appropriate issuing organizations to validate these documents. You can also contact the DCRA at (202) 442-4400 to get more information on its insurance and bonding requirements for landscape contractors.
Unsuspecting home and property owners seeking landscaping services in Washington D.C. risk falling victim to a landscaping or home improvement scam at the hands of unscrupulous contractors if they are not careful. These contractors defraud homeowners by deliberately overcharging for their services, requesting full payment for services before starting or completing the required work, or using inferior materials for jobs despite charging premium prices for these materials. According to the Consumer Federation of America's 2019 Consumer Complaint Survey Report, home improvement scams topped its list of worst complaints made by consumers across several locations, including Washington D.C. You can protect yourself against potential scams when searching for landscapers in the district by doing the following:
- Never hire unsolicited contractors. Get referrals to landscapers from reputable sources, such as relatives, trusted real estate professionals, or online directories like the Better Business Bureau and the DCRA's Find a Contractor platform
- Always verify the contractor's licensing status by calling (202) 442-4400 or via the DCRA's Access DC portal
- Get and compare quotes for your project from several contractors
- Make sure that the contractor provides a written contract for the project. Take the time to read this contract and clearly understand its terms before signing it to avoid any misunderstandings down the road
- Do not pay the full cost of your project upfront. Any advance payments you make should never be more than 30 percent of your project's total value and subsequent payments should be made based on the job's progress. Make sure that the project is satisfactorily completed before you make the final payment
- Be wary of landscapers that insist on cash payments
- Keep all contracts, warranties, receipts, invoices, and other important documents related to the project
In 2019, the District of Columbia's Attorney General filed a lawsuit against a local home improvement company for defrauding homeowners in the area. Allegations made against the company include misrepresenting the quality of its goods and services and damaging consumers' properties. You can report landscaping scams to the District of Columbia's Attorney General Office online, via email, by calling (202) 442-9828, or by texting complaint to (202) 738-5212. Complaints concerning landscapers can also be filed with the DCRA online. Finally, you can take private legal actions against fraudulent landscape contractors in Washington D.C. by filing a lawsuit at an appropriate Superior Court Division of the District of Columbia Courts. Note that you should always consult with a licensed attorney before taking legal actions of any kind.