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8 Simple Steps to Get Your Landscaping License 

Landscaping service is an attractive choice for an entrepreneur. You get to be outdoors, creating beautiful spaces for people to enjoy. And your finished product will continue to evolve over time, leaving a lasting impression. 

However, to perform landscaping work in many states, you need a landscaping license. Learn why this is necessary and the benefits it brings. 

The good news is it doesn’t have to be a difficult process. We’ll give you a step-by-step checklist to help you apply for a landscaping license. And provide expert tips to help you as you start the application process for your business. 

What Are the Benefits of Being a Licensed Landscaping Professional? 

Being a licensed landscaper (versus unlicensed) means you have a specific credential from your state. This qualification may involve one or more of the following: 

  • Demonstrating a certain level of professional experience 
  • Passing a written exam on landscaping 
  • Finishing landscaping coursework from an accredited college or university 
  • Showing proof of landscaping business insurance and/or bond 

Why insurance? This protects clients in case your business is at fault in an incident where someone or their property is harmed. You may also need workers’ compensation insurance if an employee is injured on the job. 

Depending on where you intend to work, you may also have to pass a background check and pay a fee for your license. The background check may include fingerprinting, like in California

You should be at least 18 years old and have either a Social Security number or an Employer Identification Number (EIN). An EIN is the business version of a personal Social Security number. 

Some states require additional licensing for using toxic materials, like herbicides and insecticides. 

To run your own landscaping business in many states, you need a landscaping license as proof of your capability in the field. This tells clients that you know what you’re doing, and they can trust your expertise. 

General contractors in most states may perform some landscaping duties without a second license. Examples include planting trees along a newly constructed fence. However, they cannot do more complicated work, such as installing irrigation systems. 

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Licensing makes sense when you think about many of the tasks involved in landscaping. A lack of knowledge or experience could result in disaster for your client. Examples include flooding from faulty irrigation installation or illness from improper pesticide application. 

Having a landscaping license shows you’re serious about your profession and puts clients at ease. It gives you more authority when bidding on jobs and establishing your reputation in the community. 

The industry has grown at a rate of over 5% per year during much of the last decade. While that’s great for business overall, it means landscapers need to be continually more competitive to gain clients. Licensing can help you in that quest. 

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Additionally, a landscaping license opens up opportunities for you. Your landscaping company can bid on jobs that would be closed to others. For instance, most municipal and federal projects require contractors to be licensed in their state of operation. 

Remember that your employees may be required to be licensed, too. Also, landscaping licensure becomes much stricter with more complicated work. Your state may not require a license to mow lawns and trim beds. But, they might demand a license for irrigation work, landscape design, and hardscaping. 

Maintaining Compliance With a Landscaping License 

Working without a landscaping license in states where one is required is ill-advised. If caught, you could be cited and fined by the state. 

A civil penalty for noncompliance with licensing laws can ruin the reputation of a landscaping business. You could lose clients and find it tough to get work in the future. And you may be unable to get a license in the future. 

What if you perform landscaping without the proper license, and the client files a liability claim? Perhaps you damaged their property. Or their pets got sick from the herbicides you used. 

Your insurance may refuse to cover the incident, leaving you to pay for damages out of your own pocket. If you get sued, you’re less likely to have a favorable income because you’ve already shown your disregard for following the rules. 

To ensure compliance with your state’s licensing laws, follow these tips: 

  • Check with your state’s licensing entity before performing any work to see if a license is required. 
  • Talk to your insurance carrier or agent to make certain your insurance is sufficient for your state’s licensing. 
  • When hiring employees, check their licensing credentials or be willing to pay for them to obtain a license. 
  • Stay current with fees, renewals, and law changes by checking periodically with your state. 
  • Put important licensing dates on a digital calendar with alerts to submit fees on time. 

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8 Simple Steps To Get Your Landscaping License 

Let’s break down getting your landscaping license into some simple steps. You can use this as a checklist when it’s time to get your own license.  

Note that you might need to change the order of a few of these steps if your state needs one requirement before another. 

Step 1: Check Your State’s Licensing Requirements. 

Your state may or may not require a landscaping license. It’s your responsibility to see if they do and, if so, what the unique requirements are. 

Every state handles licensing differently. You may only need it to lay turf, install ornamental plants, or work on trees. Various agencies manage landscaping licensing, such as: 

  • Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing 
  • Department of Agriculture 
  • Division of Consumer Affairs 
  • Department of Energy and Environmental Protection 
  • Contractors Licensing Board 
  • Department of Public Health 
  • Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation 

In some states, no license is required for landscapers. However, there may still be local or county requirements you should satisfy. 

Step 2: Make Sure You Have the Proper Experience and/or Education. 

Once you have your state’s requirements, ensure your background satisfies them. You may need to provide a diploma or transcripts from your college or university. 

In lieu of education, experience may be accepted. So, you might need proof of prior employment as a landscaper or landscaper’s apprentice. 

Don’t forget that you may need additional training or certification to apply pesticides. 

Step 3: Sit for Your Trade Exam, if Necessary. 

As mentioned above, some states require landscapers to pass a specific contractor’s exam. The licensing entity should be able to tell you where, when, and how to take this. 

Step 4: Establish Your Business Entity. 

In most cases—even if the state does not require it—you’ll want to set up your landscaping company as a formal business. This both protects your personal assets and gives you more credibility with clients. It may also be requested to set up a business bank account. 

You will likely choose between one of these business types: 

  • Sole proprietorship 
  • LLC (limited liability corporation) 
  • Corporation 
  • Partnership 
  • Certificate of Assumed Name (aka “Doing Business As” or “DBA”) 

Your state’s labor division can walk you through this, and there are services that will facilitate it for you for a fee. 

Step 5: Create an Employer Identification Number (EIN). 

As discussed previously, this is your business’s version of a Social Security number that functions as a unique identity. You can obtain this online from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

A few states also require a state tax ID number. It’s worth checking with your state to see if it requires one. 

Step 6: Purchase Landscaping Business Insurance. 

You’ll want to have this anyway, but your state will ask for it. Typical coverage includes: 

  • General liability insurance 
  • Commercial auto insurance 
  • Business property insurance 
  • Workers compensation insurance 

Step 7: Get Bonded, if Required. 

Some states require an additional type of insurance called a surety bond. This assures clients you will complete jobs as promised and up to industry standards. 

You can usually purchase a bond from your insurance agent. Your state will tell you how much the bond must be for. 

Step 8: Assemble Your Documents and Submit Your Application. 

Now, it’s time to put everything together and submit your licensing application to the state. You’ll likely have to pay a fee at the time of filing. 

When you apply, be sure to ask when you need to renew. Give yourself plenty of time then so you don’t have a lapse in your license. 

Top Takeaway Tips for Getting Your Landscaping License 

Ready to get started on your landscaping license? Here are a few final expert tips to help you through the process: 

  • You may have sticker shock when you add up all the fees involved in incorporating, buying insurance, and getting your license. It’s worth it, though, when you’re able to start working. When you set up your budget, be sure to include plenty of funding for this aspect of your business. 
  • Some landscapers hire an attorney to review all their paperwork before applying for a license. This can help you catch any errors and make sure every box is checked for the best outcome. 
  • Have questions or can’t reach a busy state agency? Reach out to your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office or Chamber of Commerce. They should have the information you need. 
  • Some states process licensing requests quickly. Others can take roughly 6 to 8 weeks for approval. Be sure to check with your state and allow for any needed time before you accept work. 
  • Did you hold a landscaper’s license in another state and move recently? See if your new state has reciprocity with your old one. You may, for instance, be able to skip taking a contractor’s exam again. 
  • Once you get your license, you can use it on all your correspondence and documents. Most landscapers print their license numbers on their business cards, invoices, and estimates. 

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