A Guide to Estimating Landscaping Jobs

If you own a landscaping company, creating accurate estimates is critical to your business success. Although not binding, an estimate allows you to provide your customers with an idea of how much your landscaping services will cost based on your approximation of materials and labor costs. If your guesstimate is too low, you won't calculate a large-enough profit margin for the job.

Your per-job profit margin will ultimately determine your company's overall profit margin — the bottom line. If you consistently break even or, worse, lose money on jobs, your business will fail to make money. Learning to create accurate estimates on landscaping work ensures you can turn a profit on every job, increasing the overall profitability of your business.

If you've never created an estimate before, you might not know where to start. This step-by-step guide shows you how it's done and how Skynova can help.

What Do Most Landscapers Charge per Hour?

One of the biggest elements you're charging for as a landscape designer is your time (and that of any workers). You should establish a set hourly wage upfront to support the accurate calculation of estimates. The national average for hourly landscaping is $50 to $100 per hour, with fees varying depending on the location, size of the job, and the materials and manpower required.

Technical experience is also a factor, and you may want to set hourly rates for different workers depending on the level of expertise required. When it comes time to provide a customer with an estimate, you can specify how many workers of each expertise level the job needs, provide their hourly rate, and your guesstimate as to the time input needed. This allows for a comprehensive and detailed overview of total manpower costs.

For example, say your customer wants to create a rose garden. For the job, you need some basic laborers to handle tasks like digging, mowing, and installing dirt. However, you also need a worker with horticulture knowledge to choose the right roses — which breeds are best for the job, given the location, climate, and soil quality? The hourly rates for the two workers likely differ. You may want to create a table of laborers and their relative hourly fees to ensure consistency.

How Do You Estimate a Landscaping Job?

Of course, landscaping doesn't just require manpower. Your work also requires you to invest in materials costs for every job, and your customer should pay you for the cost of these materials. If you're revamping a customer's garden and adding a patio, you will have to account for the costs of soil, shrubs and flowers, and hardscaping materials (e.g., cement). There is also the cost of services and machinery — in this case, you'd need a cement mixer, for example.

Keeping track of all these details to produce an accurate estimate can be challenging. This step-by-step guide simplifies the process.

Discuss the Job With the Customer

Landscaping is a challenging business because you have to create and deliver another person's vision. Say a customer tells you they want an English country-style garden, for example. The term "English country-style" could mean different things to different people. As the landscaper, it's on you to determine what the customer wants and make sure they get it.

The problem is that people who aren't landscapers may lack the knowledge and vocabulary to convey their wishes. For example, an English country-style garden could include wide paths, precise edging, roses, a trellis, pergola, sundial, rose arch, or a similar focal point. Your customer may not know that — but if you show them photos of gardens featuring those characteristics, they may be able to say, "Yes, that's what I mean!"

Before you start any job, you want to discuss it in detail with your customer. This doesn't just ensure you can deliver their vision. It also helps you to create a detailed and accurate estimate. Start by asking your customer for a list of their requests and then sit down and talk with them about the details, asking questions for clarification as needed.

When discussing the job with the customer, consider the following points:

  • Customer's desired landscaping style or design (Japanese, English, etc.): If they aren't sure, bringing in landscaping and gardening magazines with pictures to flip through can help determine what they do and don't like.
  • Features required, like a stone trellis, sundial, archway, or pond: Also consider hardscaping needs, such as pathways or patios. When it comes to hardscaping, ask about the purpose. Do they want this space for a fire pit or a barbecue, for instance? These details help determine factors that impact cost, like the type of hardscaping materials to use.
  • Types of plants and materials required: Again, keep in mind that your customer may not have the vocabulary to communicate what they want. Bring in catalogs with pictures of bushes, shrubbery, plants, and flowers. They can easily identify the type of foliage they like.
  • Location: Larger landscaping jobs may be located in rural areas. If you and your team are going to have a long daily commute to the job site every day, you may need to factor this into the estimate. A half-hour commute means one hour of lost time every day.
  • Soil quality: Different types of soils are suited to different purposes. For example, if the soil is very sandy, you will likely have to add clay to accommodate hardscaping. A sandy base layer will be too unstable. You may also have to add nutrients to the soil to accommodate the healthy growth of plants.
  • Need to remove or add soil: Soil is heavy. If you are undertaking any digging (for example, to install a pond), you will have dirt left over. Your customer likely doesn't want piles of leftover soil sitting in their beautiful new garden. Factor in the costs to remove soil. Alternatively, you may have to bring in fresh soil to accommodate your landscaping project.
  • Sod installation vs. seeding: A lush, green lawn is a basic element of any successful landscaping project. If your customer's current lawn is sparse or brown, this will be a major focus point. Consider the cost of freshly seeding the lawn or bringing in sod to refresh it completely.
  • Need to grade or re-slope the land: If you plan to add major elements, like a patio or a pond, you need to ensure an even surface. Re-sloping the land may require major machinery like bulldozers and can add significant costs.
  • The current condition of the yard: If a yard has been neglected for an extended period, some basic preliminary care may be needed to get it in shape for more detailed landscaping. A neglected tract of land may require aeration, fertilization, and more before it's ready for further landscaping.
  • Need to get rid of plants or features like a pathway or patio: A large-scale landscaping project requires you to start with a blank canvas. Sometimes, you have to create that blank canvas yourself by removing old landscaping and hardscaping elements, like plants, pathways, or patios. This will add significant time and manpower needs to the project.

Use an Estimate Template

Use a template to ensure that your landscaping and lawn care estimate is clear, well-organized, and comprehensive. A template will allow you to create estimates more quickly and make it easier to add up the various costs of each landscaping project. Skynova's free estimate template allows you to create professional estimates in a matter of minutes. Using one template regularly also ensures consistency and makes for a more professional appearance.

Estimate Overhead Costs

Any overhead costs need to be taken into account when pricing an estimate for your potential customer. Overhead costs are distinct from costs related to the actual landscaping work, like manpower and materials. They might include expenses like vehicles, gas, tools, and equipment repair and maintenance (e.g., mowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, and sprinklers). There are also general fees related to running the business, like business cellphones, worker uniforms, the rent of office space, accountants, and insurance.

Estimate Materials Costs

When it comes to the actual landscaping work, you have to account for a diversity of materials costs. What you have to charge your customer depends on what they're looking for. The easiest way to determine this is to make a list of the different jobs required and then make a list of the materials needed to do each job. For example, if the customer wants a new flower bed, materials might include dirt, fertilizer, bulbs, and mulch.

Here are some possible types of materials to account for:

  • Plants, shrubbery, trees, flowers, and/or seeds
  • Riprap
  • Sand and aggregate
  • River rock, cobble, or beach pebbles
  • Topsoil and fill dirt
  • Mulches, soil mixes, and compost
  • Decorative landscape rocks
  • Blocks
  • Gravel
  • Flagstone and building stone
  • Decorative items like trellises, sundials, or fountains
  • Pond basins, linings, pumps, etc.

Keep in mind that you also have to determine how much of each material you need. For example, if you're going to get gravel for a walkway, you will need to calculate the square footage of the area to be covered and the depth of the gravel layer. A landscaping cost calculator can be helpful. Again, costs will vary depending on where you're located in the United States. The price of mulch in Ashburn, North Carolina, may differ from the price for the same material in Miami, Florida.

Estimate Subcontractor and Labor Costs

In addition to material costs, you have the cost of manpower to account for. Determine how many professionals you'll need to complete each aspect of the job, their hourly rate, and the anticipated number of hours it will take to finish the job. Multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours for each professional. Add these figures up, and you'll have your basic labor costs.

You may also have to include subcontractor costs. For example, if you don't have a dedicated hardscaping professional on your team, you likely have an individual or company you consistently work with to take care of jobs involving patios, walkways, etc. This is technically a subcontractor, and you have to include the costs of their labor in your estimate.

You may also need to include the cost of external experts. Say a homeowner wants a full Japanese-style garden designed according to feng shui principles, for example. Your expertise is landscape design, not feng shui. What do you do? Instead of passing up on this lucrative job, you'd likely hire a feng shui expert to consult on the project. You will also have to add the cost of this expert consultation to the estimate.

Calculate the Total With Markup

To create your final estimate, add up the costs described above, and add a final markup. Your markup should be applied to the total costs of performing the job. This is how you ensure you're turning a profit. Experts recommend a markup of 15% to 20% for residential landscaping work and 10% to 15% for commercial landscaping work. For landscape maintenance, a markup of 10% to 12% is common. However, prices will vary depending on your location.

To calculate your total estimate price, add up the landscaping costs from the steps above (overhead, materials, labor, and subcontractors). Then, calculate your markup and add that. Depending on your state, you'll likely also have to add a sales tax. Check your state's local sales tax regulations to find out what percentage to charge.

Use Skynova's Software to Help Manage Your Estimates

Accurate and professional-looking bids and estimates will support the success of your landscaping and lawn care service business. Skynova's templates can help you create the business documentation you need quickly and easily. Using a single platform for all your accounting and business paperwork, you can keep everything you need in one place and ensure consistent and well-organized documentation.