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Landscape designers often come from other design disciplines (Engstrom worked eight years in interior design, for instance) and are unregulated; that is, they are not required to pass a certification test to work in the field. Designers tend to be a cost-effective option for most residential projects that don't require heavy engineering expertise. For this reason, they typically charge less; most are in the $50-$100 per hour range. Professionals such as Engstrom have earned voluntary certification from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. The association's Web site is a good place to look for APLD-certified designers.

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Landscape architects, by contrast, have four-year degrees in their discipline; serve a lengthy apprenticeship; must pass the Landscape Architect Registration Exam; are licensed in 47 states; and typically work on commercial and public works projects as well as larger residential projects. They may be a good choice if your landscaping challenge involves unusual grade changes or extensive hardscaping, where some engineering expertise might come in handy. But be prepared for steep fees: Top landscape architects fetch anywhere from $150-$250 per hour or more. You can find one at the American Society of Landscape Architects Web site.

Engstrom says she spends about 30 hours and bills about $1,500 for the average residential landscape design; $2,000 if it involves acreage.

Maca says if you're considering using a landscape designer, hire them before you build.

"Many times, people don't contact a landscape architect until after the sidewalk is poured, the driveway is poured, the deck is built, and the landscaper comes in and says, 'Oh wow, we could do this if this wasn't already done.' You should contact the designer early; they can turn that rectilinear straight walk into a nice curving path. We can use brickwork and stone to give it a higher aesthetic quality than just concrete."

You just might save a few trees, plants and other foliage in the process.

"Hiring a landscape designer can help you see the future and design for the present," he says. "I have yet to find a client who was not happy they did it. Most of them say they wish they'd done it years ago."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Sept. 8, 2005
 
 
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