According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), 80 percent of the contractors surveyed for the “Landscape Management Industry Pulse Report 2014” described the state of the market as “very healthy” compared to just 56 percent just two years earlier in 2012. What may be even more promising is that a survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the NALP found that 67 percent of Americans in the survey agree that “professional landscape help would allow them to have a nicer yard.”
What is known for sure, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-16 edition (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics), is that “more workers will be needed to keep up with the increasing demand for lawn care, landscaping and cleaning services from large institutions, including universities and corporate campuses.”
The market they serve is huge. In 2015, the market size of the landscaping services industry was $76 billion, according to IBISWorld’s report “Landscaping Services in the U.S.” (NAICS, November 2015) with an annual growth expectation of 3.3 percent through 2020. According to Recruiter, demand for tree trimmers and pruners, for example, is supposed to continue upward over the next few years with a predicted annual increase of 6.41 percent in new jobs.
Who’s driving this industry? The nearly 76 million aging baby boomers, many of whom are affluent homeowners. They recognize the value of a well-kept lawn and beautifully designed and landscaped yard, but they often don’t have the time or inclination to do the maintenance themselves.
Of course, baby boomers aren’t the only ones who go online or look in the phone book to find a reputable lawn or landscape professional. Other potential customers for landscaping include:
- Homeowners who don’t have the vision, skill or tools to design their own landscaping
- New homeowners who wish to update their existing landscaping
- Homeowners who plan to put their homes on the market and want to improve curb appeal with fresh or updated landscaping
- Builders of both residential and commercial properties who don’t already have their own landscapers on staff
Potential customers for lawn maintenance include:
- Homeowners who are frequently out of town on business
- Retirees who don’t care to do their own maintenance any longer
- “Snowbirds” with winter homes in warmer climates
- Golf course managers who may need help with maintenance
- Rental property or condominium association managers who are personnel-impaired
- Facilities managers for botanical gardens, historic buildings, municipalities and other government entities, universities, cemeteries and other public places with green spaces
Some of these commercial contracts may already be spoken for by an on-staff, veteran landscaper, but you never know when an opportunity may arise, either because a potential client isn’t happy with the service they’ve been receiving or because someone retires or leaves an organization. Timing is everything, so keep connecting with potential new opportunities.
Exactly how much can you earn? The sky’s truly the limit. The lawn care and landscaping business owners we interviewed earned anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 in their first year, and as much as $160,000 to $280,000 once they were in business a few years. They offer services ranging from basic mowing and trimming to landscape design, installation and maintenance, xeriscape renovation, natural pest control and fertilizing and chemical application.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2014 industry-specific wage estimates show average wages for landscaping-related jobs as follows: landscaping and groundskeeping workers, $26,190; grounds maintenance workers, $26,890; pest control workers, $32,690; pesticide handlers, $32,950; tree trimmers/pruners, $33,880.
Types of green industry service businesses
There are numerous ways to get into the lawn and landscaping industry. The major career paths for landscapers include:
Gardener/groundskeeper. This type of green industry professional is usually in charge of keeping up appearances -- they may care for plants and other greenery, and may perform that work in a garden, greenhouse or work shed. What sets gardeners and groundskeepers apart from other landscape professionals is that they normally don’t do any design work; rather, they tend existing landscapes, although they may render other services like applying pesticides and herbicides, mowing lawns, doing spring and fall cleanups, composting etc. They need a good working knowledge of horticulture and plant varieties.
Interiorscaper (aka interior landscaper). You can build an entire business caring for plants in office buildings, shopping malls and other public places. Interior landscapers are usually contractors who provide general maintenance and care, as well as give advice about the types of plants and planters that will best complement a building’s interior design. Interiorscapers often give advice about plant selection, supervise and/or set up or tear down holiday decorations and offer other services loosely related to interior design. While you don’t need a design background to be successful, it helps if you have an eye for color, shape, texture and form and can translate that into green focal points that will complement beautifully arranged interiors.
Landscaper. In the most general sense, this is the type of person who installs and maintains plants, flowers, trees, sod and other natural materials like rocks and mulch. Lawn care often is part of the landscape maintenance professional’s menu of services, plus they may also offer basic design services (a good eye and an equally good design software package make it possible). Finally, landscapers may offer add-on services, such as sprinkler installation or hardscape construction, to stay busy. Most states require landscapers to be licensed. Check with your state’s department of licensing, labor or contracting board to find out the requirements.
Landscape architect/designer. Planning verdant spaces is the job of the landscape architect (aka landscape designer). Landscape architects often work side by side with building architects, surveyors and engineers to design and plan projects like new subdivisions, public parks, college campuses, shopping centers, golf courses and industrial parks, and then produce detailed drawings to pull the projects together. They may specialize in a certain type of project, such as waterfront development, site construction or environmental remediation (e.g., preserving wetlands). Landscape architects also play an important role in historic landscape preservation and restoration.
This is the most technical of the four, and a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture is usually required to enter the field. If you already hold a degree in another field, you may be able to pursue a three-year master’s degree in landscape architecture to get the background you need. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, 69 colleges and universities offer undergraduate or graduate programs in landscape architecture that are accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board. Most states require licensing or registration for practitioners in the field, which means you will be required to take and pass a proficiency exam, and renew and pay for the license every year.