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I reside in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and wish to start out on minor landscaping projects, and continue to work my way up.

Do I need formal certification that is required by law to operate? I realize that there are courses available, but is a license required to operate? For softscaping, do I need permits? Do I need permits for hardscaping? As long as I do not touch any buildings, remove walls etc. do I need a permit to dig and modify outside land?

  • It will depend on your local regulations. Here in the US/California, you need permits to do this type of work. – JStorage Jun 21 '16 at 20:40
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this has nothing to do with gardening, but laws. – black thumb Jun 21 '16 at 22:38
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    I don't agree to close. This SE is about Gardening & Landscaping. Just such things are difficult to answer because laws are very local, but we are a "crowsourcing" QA. With a large community, someone could answer it and so other people will find the answer. – Giacomo Catenazzi Jun 22 '16 at 8:12
  • Such answers are too localised and not suitable for this site. – Graham Chiu Jun 23 '16 at 9:34
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As a former landscaper who lives in Ontario I can answer this question. If you advertise yourself as a Landscape Architect then you must be one and a member of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. Degrees and diplomas from other countries or provinces may be accepted as credit towards a degree in Ontario.

Landscape firms are another matter. There are hundreds in the city where I live ranging from one person and a truck to multi million dollar operations. They often have "landscape designers" whose qualifications may range from nothing, community college diploma,certifications or more.

Do I need formal certification to operate as a landscape designer or landscaper? No

Do you need some paperwork to operate as a business? Yes: charging HST/GST, business insurance requires some preparation. Consider

  • Employees require paying salaries, Workers Compensation, Canada Pension etc
  • Contractors require payment so you need a business bank account

Normally a truck is considered a minimum entry level to the trade which can imply a bank loan, insurance, backup plan when the truck breaks during the most inconvenient time

For softscaping, do I need permits? No

Do I need permits for hardscaping? No unless your work involves extensive grade changes

Do I need a permit to dig and modify outside land? No

Things you must do:

  • call Ontario One call before you dig. Even after calling them to locate utilities I guarantee you will hit telephone, cable, water, gas, sewer sooner or later. Your only protection is to have done your due diligence and called them first.
  • have some type of business insurance: liability at a minimum
  • know your competition: many firms offer a free landscape design if you sign with them to do the hard and soft scaping. Can you compete with free?
  • know your market and margins: a typical landscape design build is $200 of design, $20,000 of interlock and some plants and shrubs to fill in the rest. Margins on interlock are slim for small quantities so you make money on labour.

Most suburban buyers are not interested in a unique experience that shows your talents. They want low maintenance, cheap and fast. You can make money if do volume quickly.

Stormy's answer has some excellent points. A good deal of thought is required before entering the industry. Although possibly out of scope for this question this joke has the ring of truth for many:

A landscaper won a large amount of money in a lottery. When asked what they were going to do with it they replied:

Just keep landscaping till the money's gone.

  • Excellent kevinsky, glad to hear Canada is still a cool country!! What about permeable surface percentages? Got to also get a resale certificate if one wants to make any money on softscape. How about warranties? How about a contract...won't protect you but shows you are doing due dillegence and is critical to communicate with clients. Most clients DON'T know what they want or need and rely on your knowledge. If the largest thing one does is to call locate, that is just sad. For both you and the client. Don't ever give away designs. Doing more than one specialty makes a general cont... – stormy Jun 21 '16 at 22:39
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    Oh, the irony! I went into it because it's a passion, but, in my experience, you're 100% correct when you say 'most suburban buyers are not interested in a unique experience'.... but its only true if landscaping's all you're doing to make a living, if you can pick and choose, and just pick the ones you'll enjoy for people you like, ah, then its a joy... as I've discovered now I'm older! The money, in 'gardening' is in high turnover, boring, tedious maintenance... – Bamboo Jun 22 '16 at 10:58
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To use the title 'Landscape Architect' you have to be a licensed Landscape Architect. That license, as I know well, is a humongous testing after (usually people do a few years in the field before taking the exams for licensing) going through the entire curriculum minimum of 4 years after being accepted...in a certified Landscape Architecture program. akin to Lawyers and Doctors. Not kidding. Akin to saying one is a black belt when only a white belt in martial arts.

I am sure you can call yourself a landscape designer but that is it. I am not absolutely sure this is true in Canada, I've not looked but I couldn't believe such a cool country would allow anyone to call themselves a Landscape Architect without rigorous curriculum and testing...same with a lawyer/doctor.

Lucky for you...most people have no idea what Landscape Architects are taught to be able to do! People actually allow anyone with a pickup truck that mows their lawns to give them advice on landscaping! Sad.

Can't believe anyone who wants to excel and be responsible to work in this field would not go get the education and get the proper licenses. Have you passed the pesticide applicator licenses? Master Gardener licenses? Just to get those licenses you'll begin to see the necessity and how greatly this education would blast you past the other yayhoos deceiving others in your competitive field.

Landscape Architecture will open your world and humble you. It is a wonderful occupation that requires far more knowledge than Architects, Lawyers and Doctors!! Seriously. If you could enroll to become a Landscape Architect, you might be able to pass the test to actually call yourself a Landscape Architect. You would be very very glad you spent the time and money!! So would any client that depends on you!

Hardscape depends on permeable surface percentages within any codes, whether or not it could be construed as a 'building', using water (water features), lighting absolutely! Low voltage is now regulated. Like you said, can't be attached to the already permitted buildings, then there is drainage constraints (a big big deal and one of my specialties, so I taught a 6 credit core program in grading and drainage), adding boulders/yards of soil/gravels and especially anything that will affect the neighbors, the sewer waters. Stuff like 'landscape fabric' is one of the horrors you need to watch for...have to remove that crap. Have to be able to educate your clients! How about insurance? Weedwackers are high velocity weapons...you do all your work by yourself or are you hiring employees that you just might to have to be there on the site supervising?? Oh gosh, I could go on and on...landscape designers are best used within the envelope of a larger company with insurance and others that can educate and know what needs permits and what doesn't...they can design like crazy without any of the knowledge 4-5 years formal education and testing. Kind of irresponsible and when you really really know what you are SELLING you will thrive. Otherwise...takes one bummed customer to ruin you completely.

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