Average Salary: $23,940
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $999,000
Even though Landscape Design is not very lucrative, it is perhaps the most lucrative of the horticultural industries. It is still dominated by those with some degree of education. Unlike the majority of horticultural industries, including those that install and maintain the newly designed landscapes, the Landscape Design industry is not yet overrun by those who really do not know or care much about what the work requires. Landscape Designers cannot profit in this business by pumping out cheap and hastily slapped together plans just to make a buck. Eventually shoddy work catches up with them as it does for all professionals.
However—and that's a big "however"—those starting out may be frustrated by the less than exciting pay for draftsmen in big design studios. Yes, the jobs are stable, and often include good benefits, but the pay is only about $30k a year. The work is not too much fun either, since it involves a lot of drafting or modifications of some other designer's original plans.
The next step is to become a Landscape Designer, which pays a bit better. Most earn about $40k to $50k by the time they make that transition, and start to earn more as they gain experience and design more desirable landscapes. Some of the better Landscape Designers earn about $100k, with rather sweet benefits.
Those who start out on their own from the beginning have a hard time getting known and established in the early years. Most of their business is for contractors building average single homes or small commercial buildings instead of tract homes or malls, so the work, although fun and stimulating, is sporadic and unreliable. There may be quite a bit of time between projects. In the end though, when their businesses get going, they do not need to share their profits with the rest of a larger firm. They then "are" The Man.
Alternatively, those starting out with a reliable firm can go through the motions of keeping a relatively good job with acceptable income and good benefits for the first few years, and then, after gaining a following of happy clientele, move on to become an independent Landscape Designer. It is not uncommon for the best Landscape Designers to earn more than $100k annually at this point.
Many of the best clients who pay the most do not want to mess around with finding the right designer. They see what they want at one of your former clients’ homes or businesses and want it for their own...and don't mind paying to have it done properly. They may not necessarily want the same style, but appreciate how a particular landscape conforms to the building that it was designed for. Yes, it is great to be appreciated...and it helps to get paid well for it.
It is good to be known for a distinct style, but even better to be known for adaptability. Not everyone needs to be a Frank Lloyd Wright of the landscaping industry. For example, those guys who design thick rain forest-like landscapes that are purported to save water (like that is believable) are well known for that particular style, but are not very useful to a client who wants a stark contemporary landscape to frame a sleek modern building without obscuring it. Your style may be well known, but it won't get the job like your reputation for adaptability will.