Decks and Docks: What is Best for You?

Landscape Construction · Landscape Design

Adding a deck to your property is a great way to maximize your outdoor living space. If you live beside a body of water, you’ll probably want to a dock so you can moor your boat, jet ski, or other watercraft. Or, perhaps the deck or dock you already have is beginning to show its age and needs to be repaired or replaced. What kind of deck or dock should you build,  and which material should you choose? In this blog, we’ll run down the differences in these materials to help you make an informed choice for what’s best for you and your property.


Wood has been the chosen building material for both decks and docks for many years. People often prefer the classic look of well-maintained decks and docks. A wooden deck or dock that’s cared for has a life expectancy of about 20 years.

Things to remember if you are thinking about using wood in your build is that wood must be re-stained every couple of years and resealed every year or so. Eventually, wood will rot, warp, and accumulate some insect damage over the years. Wood is also subject to splintering as it dries, so that is a consideration if you or your kids and grandkids like to go barefoot in the summer.

You could use a hardwood instead of pressure treated lumber for your deck or dock. These woods are more resistant to rot, mold, and algae. Ipe wood, for example, is more durable and has a longer lifespan than softer woods like pine or cedar (50-75 years as opposed to 20 years).

However, these kinds of woods are more expensive and decks and docks made from these kinds of hardwoods must be cleaned and oiled regularly (ideally once a year) to keep their beautiful graining, or they will fade quickly and lose their color. Make sure to use oils that reduce slipperiness.


Composite decking materials are made up of a sustainable variety of recycled substances, usually a mix of natural and synthetic materials like wood fiber, plastics, and other additives such as fiberglass or polyethylene. Composite boards are made to look like wood, and are produced in standard timber widths and lengths. These boards are available a variety of colors and wood grain patterns.

These composite decking/dock materials are easy to maintain and do not ever need to be painted, sealed, or stained; just give them a power wash occasionally, and they will look like new. Composite boards will not splinter, rot, or be eaten by insects, and are good at withstanding stains. They are built to have UV resistance, so fading is diminished. A composite deck/dock will last about 50 years.

Composite deck materials are a bit pricier than wood, but as lumber prices have increased, the gap between the pricing of wood and composite is getting smaller.

Composite for Docks

If you are considering composite decking for your dock, you should check out composite boards made specifically for marine environments.

There are companies who manufacture composite planks especially for wet environments like docks and marinas, and whose materials can be used over and underwater without fear of damage from warping, rotting, or swelling. These boards offer virtually no water absorption and will not be damaged by insects. Boards stay cool on hot days and are slip resistant to add more safety around the water. (These boards would be great to use around a pool, too!)

These are our top materials from which to choose when building or repairing your deck or dock. Which one would work best for your property depends on your needs, installation environment, budget, and how much maintenance and upkeep would be necessary to keep your deck or dock in the best shape.

We’ve helped homeowners decide, design, and build decks and docks to make the most of their outdoor spaces for increased property value and enjoyment. We’d love to help you with what’s the right choice for your property and lifestyle. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.

Soaking Up Winter

Landscape Design

While winters can be rough in New England, there are ways to enjoy being outside while staying warm. One of the best ways to do this is to soak and relax in a hot tub or spa.

Installing a hot tub or spa is a great way to get more use out of your outdoor space, and with a little bit of planning, it can add both year-round usefulness and a beautiful point of interest into your landscape. Soaking in a hot tub or spa is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, as well as entertain guests and have enjoyable and memorable family time.

What’s the Difference?

While in the United States, we tend to use the terms “Spa” and “Hot Tub” interchangeably, they actually are different.

  • Spas are usually built-in structures that provide some type of water therapy treatment. Modern spas have molded seating and jets. Around the world, heated pools have been used as spas for generations.
  • Hot tubs are used mostly for fun and relaxation. They also have jets, bubblers, and their own heating and controls. They may have other extra features as well. Hot tubs are usually portable and can be placed on decks and in back yards.

Where Does it Go?

Adding a hot tub or spa to your property does require some planning. They can be built directly into a landscape or installed above ground, but either way you’ll likely want to position in a way that allows for privacy. You should consider placing it where you’ll also have a great view. The view could be out over your property, across a water feature, or offering a clear view of the open sky. Since you’ll also be using the hot tub or spa during the winter, place it where it’s out of the wind. You can locate your spa or hot tub under a pergola, on its own patio near an entry door, or incorporate into part of a deck.

Above ground hot tub and spa options are popular and more budget-friendly than built ins, although they can be designed in a way that makes them feel built it and incorporated into an outdoor space.

If you are thinking of putting your hot tub or spa directly on your deck, you’ll need to consider the weight of the unit, as well as the added water; your deck may need to be reinforced. One option you may consider is to cut your deck and recess the tub, so the top is level with the deck’s surface. This will give you a built-in look, and if you ever remove the tub, you just have to replace the deck boards.

There are various different sizes, shapes, and design options to best fit with your surrounding landscape, making it most functional and inviting within the outdoor space.

The hot tub or spa will need to be close to your house because you’ll want a short walking distance back to warmth when the weather is cold. It can also be surrounded with electric heat so that accessing it during the winter months becomes easier and more comfortable.

Your tub will need to be near a water source, for easy filling as well as near an electrical outlet for a source of power. You need to be able to drain the tub for regular cleaning as well, so make sure to consider where the drained water will go.

Fit a Tub to Your Space and Lifestyle

Hot tubs and spas come in a variety of shapes, like triangular to fit into corners, rectangular or oblong for large spaces, and round for smaller spaces. Hot tubs and spas can fit one or two people, or as many as six or eight; it all depends on your plans and the space you have available.

They can be customized to enhance the design of your outdoor space, or your desired experience. Since the interiors are molded, there is a variety of color options from which to choose: Whites and silvers invoke a feeling of tranquility; tans and beiges will give you a sandy, beachy feeling; and blues and turquoises will remind you of Caribbean waters.

LED lights can create a mood and are changeable, and audio speakers can add to the overall ambiance.

Adding a hot tub or spa will add another way to enjoy your outdoor spaces, and spend more time outside in the winter. We’ve helped many homeowners add both built-in spas and above ground hot tubs to their properties, and we’d love to help you add one to your own landscape. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or reach out over email to get started.

Rain is Here to Stay

Landscape Design

Fall and winter in New England produce a lot of rain and snow. All that water will make its way down our roofs, through our gutters and drainpipes, across our lawns and driveways, out to the street, into our municipal water supplies, and out into streams, lakes, and oceans. With that water unfortunately comes pollution, however unintended.

As homeowners, is there anything we can do to mitigate the damage unclean stormwater can do to our local environment? As a matter of fact, there’s an easy and beautiful way to both clean the water and add beauty to your landscaping—install a rain garden!

Rain gardens can be a lovely and cost-effective way of “going with the flow”, pardon the pun. A rain garden can add a focal point while also serving to reduce and clean stormwater runoff from your property and possibly alleviating possible future water problems, like water in your basement, if installed correctly.

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a dip or indent in the ground that where plants are sown; this garden area is specifically designed to collect, treat, and filter stormwater runoff. Because these gardens are sunk lower than the lawn, the dirty runoff water collects there instead of running directly into the street, and is absorbed slowly into the dirt, and/or filtered by your plants.

Where Should I Put My Garden?

A rain garden should be at least ten feet away from your house, to keep it away from your house’s foundation, and at least fifty feet away from any septic system or well. If you are unsure about the quality of your soil, a good test is to dig a hole about twelve inches deep and pour water into it; if the water disappears within twenty-four hours, the soil is the perfect quality to host a rain garden.

Rain Garden Planting Areas & Plant Suggestions

When considering plants for your rain garden, remember you’ll have three areas to consider:

  • The edge: This is the top of the rain garden, where there is a mound of dirt. This is the highest point. You’ll need to select plants that prefer drier conditions here. Some plant ideas include:
    • White Turtlehead: They prefer dry soil and pollinators love them
    • Hairy Beardtongue: These delicate blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies
    • Butterfly Milkweed: These tiny and lovely orange flowers are long blooming
  • The slope: As its name implies, this is the part that goes downward from the top of the edge to the bottom, and out from the middle to the edge. Choose plants that can handle both moisture and dry conditions.
    • Wild Bergamot: This striking flower adds color and attracts pollinators
    • Bottlebrush Grass: This wispy tall grass is perfect for providing texture and visual interest
    • Blue False Indigo: This perennial bush will add deep blue flowers to your garden
  • The base: The bottom is the most wet part of the rain garden, and plants here need to be able to survive the wettest conditions.
    • Astilbe: Choose pink, red, purple, or white moisture-loving perennials
    • Swamp Rose Mallow: Large, showy blooms make a great centerpiece for your garden
    • Winterberry: The bright red berries will add welcome color to your garden throughout the winter months

For more helpful information on rain gardens, we recommend clicking here!


One Last Consideration

While rain gardens are relatively easy to install, an improperly installed one can cause problems with drainage—the thing they were designed to help alleviate. We’ve helped many homeowners add rain gardens to their properties, and we’d love to help you add this functional beauty spot to your own. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.

Fencing Yourself In

Landscape Design

In his poem, “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost pondered the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors”. While the poet seemed to waver on the need for the fence, his neighbor steadfastly supported the need to upkeep the traditional wall between properties, to keep things friendly between them. We tend to agree with the neighbor; a fence can act as a good, clear line of distinction that can clear up any confusion, stop disagreements before they happen, and improve the appearance of most properties.

Throughout time, homeowners have chosen to surround their property with some sort of fence. Some fences were built for privacy, some for security, and some for purely aesthetic reasons; there are as many reasons to surround your property as there are designs and fencing materials from which to choose.

The Whys of a Fence

When you consider installing a fence around your entire property, or just a segment of it, you first must consider what the main purpose of the fence will be. Will this be a privacy fence, to block the view of your property from neighbors or passersby, or do you not want to see the neighbors or the roadway by your house? Do you want to add a level of security to your entire property? Maybe you just want to fence off a segment of your property to designate a certain space, secure a pool or keep a child or pet safe. Or perhaps you have wildlife in the area you’d like to deter from your entertainment spaces, landscaping, or gardens. Will your fence be mostly decorative, a way to finish the overall appearance of your house and yard?

Of course, you can have a fence that does all the above: a decorative fence that gives you both privacy and security. You can have a decorative fence in your front yard for maximum curb appeal, and a fence that offers more security and privacy in your backyard.

Once you decide on what you want your fence to do for you, your next step will be to choose what you what your fence to look like, and that includes what materials the fence will be made of.

Fencing Materials

There are so many options from which to choose when thinking about fencing for your property. We’ll highlight some great options for you to consider:

  • Wood: Wood has been the traditional choice of fencing for generations. The style of fence and decorative choices are unmatched, as are choices of woods available. Some woods work better in different climates; here in New England, cedar is the most popular choice. You can mix and match what kinds of wooden fences would best with your property. Front yards can have picket fences, and while back or side yards can have a slat-style fence for more privacy, for example. Wood fences will need to be kept on a regular maintenance schedule to prevent rot, pests, and warping.
  • Vinyl: This fencing looks great and is a good choice for both security and privacy. It can be used for both the front, back, and side yards. It comes in a variety of styles and colors, and gates can be added wherever needed. Vinyl fencing is low maintenance and long lasting.
  • Masonry: This type of fencing has literally stood the test of time. Drive anywhere in New England, and you will see stone walls, even in forests where properties once stood. Masonry walls can be built from brick, stucco, stone, and concrete. They will boost curb appeal, and can create private, secure yards.
  • Composite: Fences are made from panels that are a mix of wood, resin, and plastic. They provide security and privacy when used as tall panels, and a decorative touch when used in shorter panels. These panels come in a variety of colors and can look either like wood panels or natural stone. They are low maintenance and are not vulnerable to rot or pests.
  • Wrought Iron: Mostly used in front yards, these fences are highly decorative, and add a distinctive touch to your property. They are heavy, durable, and add security; they will not be pushed over easily and can withstand most weather. They are customizable and can match your landscaping. However, they are prone to rusting.
  • Aluminum: These fences come in a variety of styles and colors. They add security, but not much in the way of privacy. They will not rust, and do not require much maintenance, and are a popular choice for pool/kid/playground areas.

What Fence is Best

Only you can decide what fence or combination of fences is best for you and your property. Ideally, the fence you choose will add to the curb appeal of your property, provide safety for your family, including your pets, and give you a sense of safety and privacy. The fence will allow you to enjoy your home and surrounding landscape more fully, without you even giving it a second thought.

We’ve helped many homeowners design fence plans to add to their properties, and we’d love to help you come up with a plan of your own. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.

Everything You Need to Know About Mulch

Garden Center · Landscape Design

Mulch is arguably an essential part of the garden. It adds beauty, reduces our workload, and benefits the soil in many ways. There are so many types of mulch available; how do you choose the best one? Here’s a breakdown of wood and rock mulch and the advantages and trade-offs of each kind!  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -bean bag toss game with mulch playing areaThe Benefits of Wood Mulch 

Wood mulch usually comes in two forms: bark mulch and wood chips. Both are by-products of the lumber and paper industries, offering many benefits to the home garden. 

  • Moisture: they hold moisture in the soil, reducing the need for water. 
  • Protection: they protect the soil from erosion, wind, rain, and UV rays. Plus, they protect plants from extremes of heat and cold and the thaw-freeze cycle of early spring.
  • Reduce Weeding: mulch significantly reduces your weeding by preventing weeds from accessing the soil. 
  • Improve Soil: as the mulches break down, they furnish the soil with decaying organic matter and nutrients, which benefits the whole garden ecosystem. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -wood mulch in gardenBark Mulch vs. Wood Chips 

Both share all of the advantages mentioned above and differ mainly in aesthetics. You’ll find a wide selection of sizes and colors among both bark mulch and wood chips. The choice is mainly a personal preference about what you find beautiful and how your mulch best fits into the overall look of your landscape. 

A small consideration is that large, chunky mulch generally takes longer than small ones to break down and tends to shift around more in the garden during rainfall. Mulch from certain types of trees, like cedar, also lasts longer since the wood naturally resists decay.     

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -mulch pathway of rocksThe Benefits of Rock Mulch 

Rocks are another way to enhance the beauty of your garden, protect the soil, and reduce the workload of weeding. Rocks don’t break down as quickly as wood mulch, meaning you don’t have to replace them as often. If they become dirty, you can hose them off, and if leaves fall on them, it’s easy to blow any debris from the surface. 

A trade-off of their durability is that they don’t add nutrients to the soil. They can also be annoying to move if you want to access the soil for new plantings, etc. During the hot summer days, rocks also capture the heat, making them ideal for cactus gardens, rock gardens, or plants that benefit from warm and dry soil.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -rock mulch in gardenTypes of Rock Mulch 

  • River Rock: these are smooth, naturally weathered stones in uniform gray, white, black, or a mix of colors. They come in different sizes. 
  • Crushed Stone: this mulch is made by crushing larger rocks. As a result, they have a rugged texture. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. 
  • Gravel and Pebble: these are the smallest type of rock mulch. They lend a particular zen look to a garden and are easier to shift around if necessary. They can be smooth like river rock or rugged like crushed stone.  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Everything You Need to Know About Mulch-assorted bulk mulchWhat Is the Best Type of Mulch?     

All mulch has the benefits of enhancing the beauty of your garden, reducing weeds, and protecting soil from the elements. Beyond that, wood mulch has the extra benefit of bringing nutrients to the soil, whereas rock mulch has the advantage of being durable. There’s really no “best” type of mulch. The choice is yours, depending on your tastes and application in the garden

Straw, grass clippings, and shredded leaves bring many practical benefits to the garden as well. They hold in moisture, suppress weeds, protect the soil surface, and add nutrients to the garden. However, these products don’t bring the same aesthetic benefit. They’re best in vegetable gardens or to add a layer of nutrients to a bed before winter. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - everything you need to know about mulch -strawberries in straw mulchHow to Install Mulch 

Mulch is pretty straightforward to install, provided that you follow some basic guidelines. Ideally, you should have 2–3 inches of mulch evenly spread throughout your garden bed—don’t make piles around the base of your plants, as this can harbor pests! Ensure you don’t bury your plants or go above the crown of the plant—it will cause the plant to generate roots too high and girdle the plant. Make sure you leave your perennials uncovered so they can come back next year, and you’re all set! 

When it’s time to add more mulch, take a look at the condition of your existing mulch before you add more; old mulch can become compacted over time, or it might not break down the way you anticipated. If your mulch isn’t breaking down, adding more will thicken the layer of mulch beyond the recommended 3-inch maximum, which won’t help your garden! In this case, it’s best to clear out the previous layers before adding fresh mulch.

To find the best type of mulch for your garden, visit our garden center in Moultonborough, where you can peruse our bulk products, including spruce and hemlock, and our wide selection of bagged mulch, including cedar. We also have a handy bulk material calculator on our website to tackle the math for your project! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook or Instagram for the latest sales and updates!