In North Carolina, anyone who engages in landscaping construction or contracting work must be licensed by the North Carolina Landscape Contractors’ Licensing Board. This includes activities like planting, managing, or advising clients on landscaping designs.

Landscaping contractor work that requires a license includes:

  • Installing decorative plantings like trees, shrubs, flowers, and sod
  • Constructing hardscapes like walkways, retaining walls, and water features
  • Providing drainage solutions like French drains or drywells
  • Maintaining established landscaping beds through pruning, fertilizing, etc.
  • Designing conceptual landscape plans for residential or commercial properties

Failing to obtain a landscaping contractor license when required can result in civil penalties up to $5,000 per violation. It is also a class 2 misdemeanor for unlicensed practice. So it’s important to thoroughly understand the licensing rules in North Carolina to avoid any penalties.

Proper licensing also demonstrates to clients that you have met the state’s competency requirements. It helps legitimize your business and brings credibility when bidding for jobs. This guide will walk through everything you need to know about becoming a licensed landscaping contractor in North Carolina.

Detailed Requirements for Obtaining a License in North Carolina

To qualify for a landscaping contractor license in North Carolina, applicants must meet several criteria set forth by the Landscape Contractors’ Licensing Board. Here are the requirements in detail:

Age and Residency

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a physical address in North Carolina

Good Moral Character

  • Submit 5 reference letters – 3 from personal references and 2 from professional/work references
  • These letters should speak to your overall moral character and trustworthiness
  • Disclose any criminal convictions and provide court documentation
  • Reveal any current or prior disciplinary action from an occupational licensing board

Business Identification

  • Provide the business name(s) you will be operating under as a contractor
  • Submit a filed certificate of assumed name if using a designated trade name

Financial Responsibility

  • Obtain either:
  • A $10,000 surety bond
  • An irrevocable letter of credit for $10,000
  • This must remain continuously in effect for the duration of licensure
  • If allowing your bond or letter of credit to lapse, your license can be revoked

Application

  • Submit a completed license application
  • Pay the $75 non-refundable application fee
  • Have your application notarized prior to submission

Exam

  • Pass the NC Landscape Contractors’ Exam within 1 year of application approval
  • Exam has 3 sections that must all be passed:
    • Landscape design
    • General horticultural knowledge
    • Plant and pest identification
  • Pay the $150 non-refundable exam fee before scheduling your test

Meeting all of these requirements demonstrates to the Licensing Board your competency, trustworthiness, and qualifications to work as a licensed landscaping contractor in North Carolina.

Step-by-Step Process for Obtaining Your Initial License

Here is an in-depth, step-by-step walkthrough of the entire process for obtaining your initial landscaping contractor license in North Carolina:

1. Check requirements and gather materials

Your first step should be to thoroughly review the above requirements and gather necessary documentation, including:

  • Reference letters (5 total – 3 personal, 2 professional)
  • Bond or letter of credit ($10,000 minimum)
  • Assumed name certificate if using a trade name
  • Records of any prior convictions or disciplinary actions

2. Submit your license application

  • Download the new license application from the Licensing Board’s website or contact them to obtain it.
  • Complete all sections of the application thoroughly and accurately. Remember to provide your business name(s) and reference contact information.
  • Have the application notarized by a certified notary public.
  • Submit the completed, notarized application along with the $75 non-refundable fee to the Licensing Board office.
  • Pay application fees via certified check, money order, or credit card.

3. Fulfill eligibility requirements

As outlined in the requirements section, you’ll need to take certain actions to establish your eligibility for licensure:

  • Provide the 5 reference letters (3 personal, 2 professional)
  • Obtain and maintain the $10,000 surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit
  • Submit documentation of any prior criminal convictions or disciplinary actions

4. Review application and correct any deficiencies

  • The Licensing Board will review your application for any errors or missing information.
  • You will be contacted if any application deficiencies need to be corrected before approval.
  • Respond promptly to any requests for revisions to ensure timely processing.

5. Get approved to take the licensing exam

  • Once your application is fully processed and approved, you’ll receive an exam eligibility letter.
  • This letter provides instructions to schedule your licensing exam.
  • Submit the $150 non-refundable exam fee prior to scheduling your exam date.

6. Schedule your exam

  • Use the exam eligibility letter to schedule your licensing exam.
  • You must take the exam within 1 year of your application approval date.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare beforehand.

7. Take and pass the licensing exam

  • Arrive on time to your scheduled exam location with valid ID.
  • Take and pass all 3 sections of the exam:
  • Landscape design
  • General horticultural knowledge
  • Plant and pest identification
  • You cannot become licensed until you pass each section.

8. Submit your licensing fee

  • Once you’ve passed the exam, submit the $60 licensing fee payable to the Board.
  • This final fee licenses you as an official landscape contractor.

9. Begin legally operating as a licensed contractor!

After passing the exam and paying the licensing fee, you will be authorized to begin providing landscaping services in North Carolina.

Be sure to renew your license annually and meet renewal requirements to remain active and in good standing.

Renewing Your License Each Year

Landscaping contractor licenses in North Carolina must be renewed each year prior to expiration on August 1st. To complete your license renewal:

1. Review renewal notice

  • The Licensing Board emails and mails renewal notices about 60 days prior to expiration.
  • Carefully review the renewal notice and instructions.

2. Meet continuing education requirements

  • Licensees must complete 7 hours of continuing education annually:
  • 3 landscape/technical hours
  • 2 business hours
  • 2 additional hours (landscape or business)
  • New licensees are exempt for their first renewal period.

3. Submit renewal application

  • Access the online portal to fill out your renewal application.
  • You cannot renew with a paper application.

4. Pay renewal fee

  • Submit the $60 renewal fee along with your application.
  • Late fees apply if renewing after August 1st.

5. Provide updated documentation

  • Disclose any new criminal convictions since your last renewal.
  • The Board may request updated proof of your surety bond or letter of credit.

6. Get license verification

  • Log into the licensee portal after processing to view your updated license verification.
  • Print copies of the verification to provide to clients or building officials.

Renewing on time before August 1st every year is crucial to maintain your licensing status. Failure to renew will result in penalties.

Options for Reciprocity with Out-of-State Licenses

If you already hold a current landscaping contractor license in another U.S. state or territory, you may be eligible to obtain a license in North Carolina through license reciprocity or endorsement. This allows you to get licensed without taking North Carolina’s exam.

The Board has full reciprocity relationships with certain states, as well as more limited reciprocity or exam waivers with others.

Full Reciprocity

The Licensing Board has full reciprocal licensing agreements with these states:

  • Louisiana
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • Mississippi

With full reciprocity, you can obtain a North Carolina landscaping license by simply submitting an application with all required materials as outlined in the next section. You do not need to take any portion of the exam.

Limited Reciprocity and Exam Waivers

The Board has more limited reciprocity or exam waiver arrangements with these states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida

If licensed in one of these states, you will still need to take and pass the North Carolina Business and Law exam to waive the other exam sections.

Submit all your application materials and documentation and request to take only the Business and Law portion when scheduling your exam.

Applying for Reciprocity

To apply for reciprocity as an out-of-state licensee:

  • Determine if your home state has full reciprocity, limited reciprocity, or exam waivers with North Carolina.
  • Submit the $100 reciprocity application and fee.
  • Provide license verification from your home state board.
  • Obtain the $10,000 surety bond or letter of credit.
  • Submit reference letters and criminal conviction records.
  • Take and pass the Business and Law exam if required for your home state.

If approved, you can then become licensed in North Carolina without retaking the full licensing exam, streamlining the process.

North Carolina’s License Bond Requirements

As mentioned in the license requirements section, all landscaping contractor applicants in North Carolina must obtain either:

  • A surety bond worth $10,000
  • An irrevocable letter of credit for $10,000

This bond or letter of credit must stay continuously in effect for as long as you hold an active landscaping contractor license in North Carolina.

If you allow your surety bond to lapse or letter of credit to be revoked, your license can be suspended or revoked after a 30 day grace period if you fail to remedy it.

The purpose of this bond requirement is to provide some financial protection and recourse to consumers in the event they suffer financial harm due to negligent work or dishonest conduct by a licensed landscaping contractor. It demonstrates your commitment to providing quality services.

Some key notes regarding the license bond requirement:

  • The $10,000 minimum amount mandated by the Board must be maintained at all times.
  • The surety company providing the bond must be authorized to conduct business in North Carolina.
  • If utilizing a letter of credit, it must be from an acceptable financial institution.
  • You must immediately notify the Board if your bond or letter of credit is cancelled or not renewed.

Recommended Insurance Coverage for Landscaping Contractors

While North Carolina does not mandate licensing insurance requirements, landscaping contractors should carry certain business insurance policies to properly protect their company.

The following are recommended insurance types and minimum limits:

General Liability Insurance

  • Protects against third-party claims of property damage or bodily injury caused by your operations.
  • $1 million per occurrence / $2 million aggregate recommended.

Commercial Auto Insurance

  • Covers vehicles used for business purposes like work trucks.
  • Required if transporting equipment or driving to job sites.
  • $1 million combined single limit recommended.

Workers’ Compensation

  • Provides coverage for employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Required in North Carolina if you have employees.

Tools and Equipment Coverage

  • Protects landscaping tools and machinery against theft or damage.
  • Can be endorsed onto an existing policy or obtained as a separate policy.

Professional Liability

  • Recommended to protect against claims of poor workmanship or negligence.
  • Provides coverage for design services like creating landscape plans.

Check with your insurance agent to determine the right types and limits of coverage based on the services you provide. Property and liability risks can vary greatly depending on the scale and nature of your landscaping operations.

Properly insuring your company helps minimize liability and protects you financially in the event of a claim. Don’t wait until after something happens to assess your risk – analyze your needs upfront.

Exam Overview and Study Tips

Since passing the North Carolina Landscape Contractors Exam is mandatory for licensing, here is an overview of the exam structure along with some helpful study tips:

Exam Sections

The exam consists of 3 sections, each with multiple choice questions:

  • Landscape Design – Tests ability to interpret and understand landscape plans, symbols, and measurements.
  • General Horticultural Knowledge – Covers topics like landscape practices, materials, safety, construction, estimation, laws, and business.
  • Plant and Pest Identification – Requires identifying various plants, diseases, and insects from photographs.

You must pass each section to become licensed. If you fail any portion, you can retake them individually.

Study Resources

  • Download the study manuals published by the Licensing Board for each exam section. These provide the most comprehensive review of the material covered.
  • The Board also offers a 2-day test preparation workshop. Check their website for upcoming class dates.
  • Use flashcards and quizzes to memorize key terms, pests, diseases, plant names, symbols, and formulas.
  • Review sample exam questions and landscape plans.
  • Study real-world photos and samples of plants, insects, and diseases to prepare for the identification section.

Adequate preparation will help you pass the exam on your first try and avoid costly delays in getting licensed.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

We’ve covered the complete licensing process for landscaping contractors in North Carolina, including eligibility criteria, initial application, exams, renewal, reciprocity, bonding, and insurance.

Below are some key takeaways:

  • You must be licensed by the NC Landscape Contractors’ Licensing Board to provide landscaping services.
  • A surety bond or letter of credit, application, and exam are required for licensure.
  • Licenses must be renewed annually before August 1st with continuing education.
  • Reciprocity is available with certain states to streamline licensing.
  • A $10,000 license bond must remain in effect while licensed.
  • Carry general liability, auto, workers’ comp, and equipment insurance.

Ensuring that you understand and meet North Carolina’s specific licensing and insurance rules enables you to legally operate as a landscaping professional. Use this guide as an in-depth reference to help launch and run your landscaping business.