A Career in Garden Maintenance
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2. Benefits of a career in garden maintenance
3. Disadvantages of a career in garden maintenance
4. Get qualified
5. Benefits of paying tax and being insured
6. Your customers
7. Your work
8. Offering a professional garden maintenance service
9. Plan ahead
11. What to charge
13. Your Health
Gardening can be a profitable
business and provide a good work/life balance when managed properly.
This simple guide
will help anyone who is looking to start a career as a domestic
maintenance gardener. To be successful you need to be one of the best!
Although there is no minimum criteria required to start a garden
business you should seek some training so that you can stand out from
well meaning amateur labourers. For this reason, members of The Gardeners Guild must
have at least one horticultural qualification. This guide will help
you make your gardening business profitable and appealing to your
2. Benefits of a
career in garden maintenance
many benefits to a career in garden maintenance:
Regular, reliable work - whatever you earn this month you will
likely earn again next month.
- Developing a good relationship with your customers – seeing some of
them every week.
- Healthy, enjoyable, challenging, outdoor work.
- Flexible working hours.
- Potential to earn a good wage.
- Practically recession proof – a maintenance gardener’s customers are typically
retired and have fixed incomes.
of a career in garden maintenance
You need to be
aware of the disadvantages so that you can plan to avoid them:
- Less work during
- Some days lost due to bad weather - but not as much as you might think.
- Competition from casual labourers.
- Labour intensive work.
- Unpaid travel time between work.
- Supplies, equipment and tool maintenance is expensive.
- The cost of repairing damage to your tools or customers property is
usually higher than you would have earned doing the job. For example, charge someone £10 to cut a small
lawn only to have a stone flung from the mower smashing a window (the
tip of a mower blade spins at 200mph!) - a new glass pane in a patio door
can cost in excess of £400.
- Danger – as well as hiring a gardener to do a job that the customer
physically can not do themselves or that requires special equipment, you
may also be hired to do a job that is dangerous or difficult to access.
qualified and be proud to be a professional maintenance gardener.
While no single
qualification covers every aspect of horticulture, achieving any
nationally recognised horticultural qualification is evidence that
enthusiasm for gardening has resulted in practical skills worth paying
before there is no minimum standard required to work in garden
maintenance. However, you need to be competent. Most of your
customers will hire you because they can’t physically keep up
with the garden maintenance themselves and not because they don’t
know how. A customer will quickly notice if you don’t know what you are
doing and won't value your labour.
If you want to be successful you
need to be the best – qualifications will help you.
qualified you are the easier it will be to justify your fees.
Do your circumstances allow you to do a full-time course?
If so, contact your local college and see what’s on offer.
If not, it is possible to do
an RHS correspondence course and some colleges will do day/part time courses on
You can also seek training for use of particular
equipment such as pesticides or chain saws.
A NPTC license can be gained in 2 days and City and Guilds offer
part-time courses (also available on a correspondence basis).
Training and Skills page). Training isn't expensive (often
starting at £125) - and once you have the qualification you have
it for life. A qualification can cost less than the price of a
good lawn mower! Any nationally recognised horticultural
qualification is acceptable for membership of The Gardeners
5. Benefits of
and being insured
Though no one
likes doing it - there are many benefits to paying tax and having an
- It shows you are
professional and dedicated to gardening as your career.
- Your accountant will prepare an accounts report – essential if you
ever want to get a loan / mortgage.
- An accounts history will help if you ever want to sell your business.
- Your accountant will ensure that you make best use of any tax
deductable expenses – even some you may not know about.
- Your accountant will want you to pay all your earnings into your
business account. This is a good idea as your bank will often grant an
overdraft equal to the amount paid into the account each month. This
will help with your cash flow during the winter.
- You don’t get in trouble with the Inland Revenue. If you don’t keep
good accounts they can decide how much they think you earned and tax you
accordingly – even if you earned less! It will be up to you to prove
You will need to
call the Inland Revenue and notify them that you are self employed.
Insurance is also essential. Accidental damage to property
is all too easy and common. The cost of repairing damage will
often exceed the amount you were earning. For example, replacing
the glass in a conservatory door broken by a stone flung by the
grass strimmer can cost over £200 to replace but you may only
earn £10 to cut the grass. The customer is entitled to recover
those costs from you whether you have insurance or not.
Insurance protects you as the tradesman from being presented
with a repair bill you cant afford to pay and gives the customer
confidence that any damage will be repaired if and when
You will need to contact an independent insurance broker to
arrange this cover. Insurance starts from around £20pm.
6. Your Customers
Some private residences have bigger gardens than the shared
gardens around flats and residential estates - so it is not
unusual for even an individual gardener to work on communal
gardens, commercial grounds and public spaces.
Customers requiring help with their garden maintenance are
typically people who are retired or are busy professionals.
Garden maintenance is also required for gardens around flats and
communal areas on many new housing estates. Sometimes these are
managed by an independent property management company.
to keep costs low the residents may form their own management
company and look for local tradesmen.
Large, national maintenance contractors often have a high minimum
charge which makes them unappealing to smaller maintenance
contracts - but ideal for a small, professional, local garden
maintenance business. For the same reason, there will be many
opportunities for small commercial contracts.
The work you receive will often be through people you know - do
you know anyone who lives in flats or works for a local
The government is also looking to give small contracts ('small'
being under £100,000!) to local traders.
A local gardener can offer a friendly, personal service. Look
after your customers and they will look after you.
In summary, local gardeners are regularly hired by:
Large private gardens and grounds
Small domestic gardens
Anyone with temporary or permanent physical limitations
Estate and Letting Agents
Housing and residents associations
Solicitors and estate executors
Flats with shared gardens
Property Management Companies
Local councils for public spaces
7. Your work
Different maintenance gardeners operate in different ways. Some
gardeners have just 5 customers with large gardens, others have
100's of lawn customers, others will have around 40 customers
but do everything for them, others just do flats, some
specialise in borders or even just climbers, some maintain
ponds, some just do hedge trimming and some gardeners charge
more but offer a 'be there in one hour' service for people who
need a quick tidy up before a weekend BBQ!
The service you offer will evolve over time and depend on the
people in the area you live. Think about the kind of garden
maintenance work you want to do most and market yourself for
those services. Of course, it is good to be flexible and offer a
broad range of services as the kind of work you can do will vary
with the weather and seasons. Gardeners who are choosy about the work
they do often have that luxury because they are so busy.
8. Offering a
professional garden maintenance service
Every gardener is different but
all trade on their reputation.
In addition to
your gardening knowledge give some consideration to how you are
perceived by potential customers. For example:
– this can cost as little as £20pm but tells your customers that you
have their interests in mind. For this you will need to visit an
insurance broker who will help you find the best deal.
– This shows consideration for your customer and their neighbours.
Neighbours pay attention to what’s happening in the street. A van with a
clear logo will put their mind at ease as to who you are and why you are
– This doesn’t have to be much – even just a T-Shirt with your logo.
These cost around £12 each but look professional and give neighbours
peace of mind when they see you in the garden. Staff uniforms and van
logos advertise your business and make you more approachable – a good
source of new business.
Easy to Contact
– a good gardener will be easy to contact – a well known community
figure. Ensure that your customers know your phone number and feel
confident that they can contact you if they need you. A website will help
or simply being included in the member register on this site.
– Chain saw license, use of pesticides and waste carriers license all
indicate that you take the law, environment and safety seriously. They
show that you are dedicated to garden maintenance as a career, that
you are worth your
fees and that you are obeying the law.
Clear Pricing Policy
– If people understand your prices they are more likely to ask you to do
work and recommend you.
Every gardener is
different and the type of service you offer will vary according to where
you live. However, here are some tips:
Timing is everything
– as a gardener you are at the mercy of the seasons. Use this to your
Landscaping, hard pruning, fencing etc
Spring: Planting, weeding, feeding, fence painting
Summer: Lawns, hedge trimming,
Autumn: Pruning, leaf clearance, lawn treatment (aeration, scarifying
customers and encourage them to delay work until the appropriate time.
Manicure or Maintenance?
– Be clear about the kind of service you offer. Some customers just want
their garden kept under control (maintenance) – others will want a
perfect (manicured) garden. A garden 'manicure' service is often charged by the
hour whereas many garden maintenance customers will prefer a fixed price.
Minimum call-out charge
– Much of your time could be wasted with unpaid
travel time between jobs. Many tradesman have a minimum call out charge.
This ensures that your
customers only call you if they have enough work to make it worth your
travelling to them. If they don’t have much for you to do – you still
You must tell your customers that you have a minimum
charge before work starts. It is best to do this in writing.
Don’t be fooled
– a big garden does not necessarily give you more work than a small
garden. A customer with a large garden may argue that you should charge
them less because they give you more work. However, a big garden can be
a very simple garden while a small garden can be well stocked and need
more time and attention. In fact, when cutting lawns, smaller gardens can be more profitable. A big garden is only
beneficial if you are guaranteed a certain number of hours work.
– Lawn cutting is profitable for many reasons:
- You can charge a fixed price for each lawn rather than an hourly rate.
Because your professional tools help you work quickly and efficiently,
the faster you work the more you earn - easily £20 - £40 an hour.
- Your lawn
customers will likely offer you pruning and planting work in the autumn
/ winter. In contrast, manicured (but not necessarily well stocked)
gardens will likely have less work in the winter because you have been
maintaining them all year.
Vary your work
– Even if you focus on lawn cutting you will still be offered other
gardening work. If poor
weather stops you cutting lawns, a varied work schedule will give you
the option to rearrange your diary to do a pruning job
– You may need to consider cutting your costs at home until
work increases. Try to avoid having big bills during the winter when
there could be less work i.e. vehicle tax and MOT. Pay all your income
into your business account - this will help you get a bigger over draft
for emergencies. Domestic customers generally pay quickly. Invoice terms
generally require 30 days payment but are frequently late. Try to build
up reserve funds.
your business as a shop
– Labour is your most basic service. However, as a gardener you can
offer additional services such as waste removal (if you have a waste
weed killer, collect and deliver plants etc from local garden centres,
lawn treatments or even charge for advice alone. These are extra
services in addition to your basic hourly rate for labour. Having a
clear pricing policy will give people the option to ‘buy’ these extra
services from you as and when they need it.
Get paid on time -
Encourage customers to either be in when you call or pay by
standing order (direct debit is usually only available to organisations
with a turnover of £100K pa).
Alternatively, you may use a PDQ machine. These are now completely
The benefits include being able to take payment over the phone,
payments go direct to your bank, receipt printed automatically for your
customer, makes it easy for you to do your accounts.
These machines cost from £15 pm plus a small fee for each transaction
(around 50p) which most retailers pass on to the customer. The customer benefits from
this service as they needn't keep any cash in the house, have an instant
receipt and can pay from an account that's convenient for them.
For more information do an internet search for 'PDQ machines'.
– Eye/face protection, helmets, steel toe-capped boots, long sleeves, tough
trousers, gloves, first aid kit. You will use all of these regularly and
its well worth buying top quality safety equipment. You should also
think about treatment for insect bites - Mosquitoes are most well known
but spiders will bite if they fall down your top! Horse Flies are among
the worst as they look like house flies but actually suck blood -
sometimes biting off a lump of skin to eat later! They are common in
long grass towards the end of the summer.
flexible elastic trouser waist will be more comfortable as you
spend much time bending and lifting.
– Having your own tools shows that you have invested in and are
dedicated to a career in garden maintenance. You can easily spend £3000 + on
basic maintenance tools. Think about what you are likely to really need.
For example, a mower, strimmer and hedge trimmer are essential but a
chainsaw, chipper and stump grinder will be rarely used unless you
really advertise those services.
garden tool specialists:
- They will give you good advice
- They will stock spare parts for the equipment they sell
- They can tell you what other gardeners are buying
- Manufacturers often make two versions of their tools – a cheap version
for the large DIY stores and a trade version for the independent stores.
Although slightly more expensive they give much greater value for money.
Avoid tools that
are a green colour – they are too easy to lose in a customer’s garden!
Mostly this applies to hand tools as they are small and easy to lose.
Your tools will likely, on average, need replacing every 3
years either due to ware and tear, breakages, theft or, if they
are green, simply getting lost! Remember to factor into your
these costs into your income target.
– Your van is probably your most expensive tool but one of the most
useful with many different applications. Your van is also one of the best adverts you can have. Try to get a van
with a divider between the cab and rear storage – otherwise your cab
will be filled with flies, spiders and creepy crawlies by the next
morning! Your van is also a source of income – even when not gardening
you can use it to transport goods or remove waste etc. Gardeners who use
their cars are missing useful extra revenue.
11. What to
Most tradesman aim to earn a minimum of around £150 per
day. However, this may vary from region to region. You should
increase your charges as the level of danger increases. You should also
charge extra for weed killer, waste removal, carriage of goods in your
van etc. You may decide to have one hourly rate for manual tools and
another higher hourly rate for petrol tools. This will cover the extra
cost of fuel, tool maintenance and increased danger to you. Again,
people are happy to pay if they know why you charge what you charge.
Fixed price services such as lawn cutting, lawn
treatments, weed killer etc will depend upon local competition and you
will soon get a feel for what you can charge.
The cost of a lawn cut should normally be less than your minimum
call out charge – otherwise your customer might as well book you for a
couple of hours and find something else to fill the time.
You will likely earn more per-working-hour by quoting for
each job individually. This is most common for the type of work
you would only do once a year - hard pruning, soft landscaping,
hedge reduction etc. However, if you want to quote per job for
all your work you will have to spend more on advertising in
order to find new customers and spend more time visiting
customers to survey the site. Remember, you won't get every job
you quote for and they may not use you again if they always look
for the cheapest quote.
A gardener may therefore offer a:
- Fixed price service for very simple,
regular work i.e. lawn cutting
- An hourly rate for general, regular garden maintenance with a
higher hourly rate for petrol tools.
- Quote per job for irregular/annual work or regular maintenance
contracts for flats/commercial grounds.
- Have a minimum call out charge
- Charge separately for waste removal, weed killer etc.
If you charge by the hour then separating costs such as
fuel, weedkiller, waste removal etc from your hourly rate may
also make it easier to adjust your prices should specific
expenses increase - without giving the impression that your
prices are going up. For example, if the cost of tipping fees
increases you can increase the cost of waste removal without
increasing your hourly rate.
When calculating your income consider:
- Your basic domestic bills
- Your regular professional overheads (insurance, mobile phone,
- Irregular overheads - petrol, oils, lubricants,
- Annual costs - MOT, vehicle servicing, Road TAX, tool
servicing, waste carriers license, tyres
- Maintenance costs - tool depreciation and replacement
This sets the basic amount you need to earn to cover your costs!
You will need to add to this an amount that you would like to
earn as profit for yourself. Genuine business expenses are tax
deductable but all other earnings could be liable to income tax.
Remember that work will likely be quiet during January and
February. Calculate how much you need to earn in a year and then
aim to earn this during Spring, Summer and Autumn (8 to 10
months depending on your local climate).
Advertising is a science. A good advertising campaign is
regular and consistent and utilises many different kinds of
Advertising on radio and in local newspapers and magazines
can be expensive. However, many people who advertise in papers and
on radio comment that they didn't get any replies from their
adverts. Others will say that they get all of their work from
these adverts. Why the difference? It is said that people need
to hear/see something 3 times before they will remember it for
the long term. So a regular, re-occurring advert will have more
success than a one-off.
One franchise charges 2.5% of a franchisees
income to spend on advertising (in addition to management fees).
Could you afford to do this?
There are ways to advertise for free. Guild
membership includes an element of advertising (Google 'find a
gardener'). There are also many free online trade directories
Hotfrog, Yell.com, My Hammer, Rated People, Juggle frogs to name
a few - why not join them all? Your van is also an advert - as
is your staff uniform. You may decide to form an unofficial
partnership with a landscape gardener or designer - you give
them the landscaping work and they pass you the garden
Building a good reputation for quality work
and reliability will help you to get referrals. Don't be afraid
to ask your customers for work - tell them you are looking for
more. Don't be shy to ask for recommendations as well.
13. Your Health
You will be working
outside in the sun - try to cover your skin and always use sun
Many gardeners suffer from bad backs. Do not strain to lift. Do
You will often be asked to do work that is dangerous, dirty or
difficult. NO amount of money is worth damaging your health. Do
not feel pressured to rush or cut corners.
Inland Revenue - Register as self-employed
The Environment Agency - Get info on waste carriers
'Training and Skills'
page of our site for details of trainers and the courses on
Landscaper's Survival Manual -
From APL founder and TGG consultant Alan Sargent.
TGG member Kev Jones says 'I
found it very interesting and some of the experience in this
book reminds me of my time with my mentor the head gardener I
trained with in Wales. I recommend this book for any gardener
who needs to run a garden the way it should be.'
A guide to starting and running a
successful gardening business from your home.