What is a Landscaping Contractor?
- Constructs, Maintains, Repairs, Installs, and Develops Landscape Systems
- Works on facilities for public and private gardens
- Architecturally and Horticulturally Improve grounds within or surrounding a structure
- Prepares or grades plots and areas of land for the installation of decorative treatment or arrangement
- Landscaping contractors are some of the highest-paid tradesmen in the construction industry.
- The Landscaping industry often times serves a segment of the public that has higher levels of disposable income
- The cost of maintaining pristine landscapes is often factored into the operating expenses of brick-and-mortar businesses.
Do you need a license to do landscaping in California?
The answer is yes.
The C-27 License is a requirement for anyone charging over $500 for landscape services.
A landscape contractor is not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of general landscaping and gardening work.
Duties of a Landscaping Contractor
The duties of landscaping contractors tend to vary on the needs of a client.
Typically they engage in a wide range of activities including:
- Planting flowers, trees, and shrubs
- Installing retaining walls, sprinkler systems, and low-voltage lighting systems
- Soil preparation and testing
- Constructing decks, fountains, and planters
- Lawn repair and maintenance
- Bidding, estimating, creating invoices, accounting, and book-keeping
- Maintaining a safe job site
Landscaping services tend to deal directly with the consumer public.
The CSLB considers the C-27 license to be very important in order to protect the interests of:
- Homeowners, Schools, and Churches
- Small businesses and Government Agencies
All of whom employ the services of a landscaping contractor.
What is a Landscaping Subcontractor?
Typically landscapers work directly with homeowners or clients.
However, a landscaping business may also be subcontracted by a General Contractor.
Landscaping services may have been offered as part of a bid by a General Contractor.
Therefore, an individual or company holding the C-27 license would be in charge of executing the landscaping portion of the construction process.
For a deeper look at the General Contractor License, check out this article.
California Landscape License Look Up
The CSLB allows the consumer public to check any license number at any time.
To check the license number of a landscape contractor you can visit the Contractors State License Board official license look-up page.
The consumer public is encouraged to do extensive research before hiring any contractor.
Utilize the resources available to you.
For landscape contractors, your reputation and license number are very important. Do everything you can to protect this number.
How to get the Landscaping License
To get the C-27 License you have to meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Have a valid driver's license or USA Issued Identification
- Have a Social Security or ITIN #
- Not currently on probation or parole
You must also have:
- 4 years of journeyman-level experience
- A Certifier to sign off on your experience
- A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation
What is Journey Level Experience?
Journeyman-level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full-time for an electrical company, or contractor that holds the C-27 License.
- A journeyman landscaper can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.
The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years.
The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total.
Signature of a Certifier
The following people can sign off on your experience:
- Licensed General Contractor
- C-27 License Holder
- Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
- Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
- Business Associate
- Fellow Journeyman
- Union Representative
Proving Your Work Experience for the C-27 License
You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have.
The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.
- Tax Returns
- Check Stubs
- Material Order Invoices or Receipts
The CSLB receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience.
However, if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something.
The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.
Filling out the C-27 License Application
This person you choose to sign for you will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skill set.
How this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted.
“Jorge is a nice guy he has trimmed grass…” is not going to be accepted by the CSLB
The CSLB will want to see something more like:
Jorge has prepared and tested soil, installed lawns, transplanted trees, maintained gardens, installed drainage systems, etc.
Application Processing, Fees, and Criminal History
The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.
Typically you can expect:
- 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
- 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date
I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and somewhere they got their test date much later.
The most common reasons your application would get held up are:
- Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays)
- Criminal History
- Proving Experience
- Mistakes on your application
Application Costs for the C-27 License
The Current CSLB fees are:
- State Application Fee
- License Activation Fee (after you pass the exam)
- Bond Fee (What is a Construction Bond?)
Can you get a Contractor's License with a Felony in California?
Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-27 License.
The key is, to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.
BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting.
See the CSLB's verbiage below:
Just because you have been convicted of a crime does not automatically mean
your application will be denied. CSLB's Criminal Background Unit (CBU) reviews
all criminal convictions to determine if the crime is substantially related to
the duties, qualifications, and/or functions of a contractor. Since no two
conviction records are the same, they are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The
criteria used by CSLB include whether the crime shows the present or potential
unfitness of an applicant or licensee to perform the functions authorized by
the license in a manner consistent with the public health, safety, or welfare.
In addition, CSLB reviews and considers any evidence of rehabilitation
submitted by the applicant or licensee. Please see the above link to the
California Code of Regulations sections 868 and 869 for more specific
information on the criteria for determining substantial relationship and
Learn more about the Background Check Process here:
The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis.
Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public.
In my experience, they are primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with:
In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any state license even if they have been expunged.
You will need to be prepared to submit anything they ask for regarding your criminal history.
C-27 License Exam
Contractor licenses are broken down into four categories:
1) A-General Engineering (LAW + TRADE EXAM )
2) B-General Building (LAW + TRADE EXAM)
3) C-Specialty Classes (LAW + TRADE EXAM )
4) C-61/D- Limited Specialty (LAW TEST ONLY EXAM)
The (C-27 License) Landscaping Examination consists of six major sections:
1. Planning and Estimation (23%)
- Project planning
- Hardscape, Drainage, and Irrigation Design
- Project estimating
2. Construction Preparation (13%)
- Site Planning
- Erosion Control
- Trenching and grading
3. Hardscape Installation (16%)
- Posts, Fences, and Retaining Walls
- Water features
4. Drainage, Irrigation, Lighting, and Plant Installation (23%)
- Drainage Systems and Bioswales
- Irrigation Valves and Controllers
- Lighting Controllers and Transformers
- Plant, Tree, and Mulch Installation
5. Maintenance and Repair (9%)
- Pruning and Tree Removal
- Troubleshooting Irrigation Systems
- Repairing Hardscapes
6. Safety (16%)
- Employee and Job Site Safety
- Tree Work Safety
CSLB Test Locations
The CSLB has exam centers all over the state of California. Once your
application is approved you will be given a list of locations you can go and
take the exam based on your zip code.
These are proctored facilities with cubicles where you take the exam on a
computer. The computer will have a calculator for your use. You will not be
able to bring in a phone, notes, or personal calculator to the exam center.
Landscaping Contractors License Practice tests, study guides, and schools
- The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
- Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
- You will see questions about things you may have never done before
- Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large-scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once.
- Know all aspects of your trade
I have helped all types of construction professionals from various backgrounds and experience levels get licenses, and most are startled by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience.
Be as prepared as you possibly can.
Studying just 10 minutes a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.
Focus on and study ONLY the information that you need to pass the C-27 License exam.
If you don’t have the four years required journeyman-level experience to obtain the C-27 Contractor License, not to worry.
Your journey begins here!
Highly skilled landscapers are always in demand. Whether you are completely new or have some experience already, there are resources available to you.
Generally, someone looking to become a landscaping contractor would want to look into an apprenticeship or certification program.
For a detailed explanation of this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman!
Blueprint Reading Course
It is critical for the landscaping contractors to be able to follow specific designs and blueprints to identify exterior elevations correctly, site works, and irrigation systems as well as other plans that affect the landscape work.
As their duties are limited to the exterior, identifying plot plans is a very important skill.
Blueprint Reading Skills are also critical to pass the General Contractor exam.
Check out this Blue Print Reading Course for a basic introduction to the concepts you will want to know about.
Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The most profitable landscaping contractors are the ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgeable and helpful to their clients.
Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one-day 8-hour course.
Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also to the safety of your customers.
For a complete guide on how to get the EPA Certification, check out this article.
Becoming a licensed and bonded landscaper can be a huge step up in your career. Be sure to take the time to explore our website for other helpful resources and landscaping licenses in other states!