Azaleas vs. Rhododendrons

Garden Center · Planting

Azaleas and rhododendrons are two of the most celebrated shrubs in the gardening world. With more similarities than differences, it’s easy to confuse the two. Learning their differences can help you select the best shrub for your landscape, allow you to care for their unique needs, and deepen your appreciation for the wide variety of these beautiful plants.   

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-pink blooming rhododendronBotanical Origins

Both of these species come from the larger rhododendron genus, which explains their close similarities. In that sense, you can say that azaleas are a type of rhododendron. Look at the botanical name of azaleas, and you’ll even find the genus rhododendron. But when common gardeners refer to “rhododendrons,” they’re not talking about the whole genus but rather a specific species of shrub, which are also called rhododendrons, and are different from azaleas.   

Azaleas vs. Rhododendrons: The Main Differences 

Below are some details that can allow you to identify and distinguish these shrubs:

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-azalea vs. rhododendron blooms

  • Flower Shape: Rhododendrons usually have bell-shaped flowers, whereas azaleas have tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers. 
  • Number of Stamens: Rhododendron flowers have ten stamens, whereas azalea blossoms have five to six stamens. 
  • Flower Clusters: Rhododendrons feature clusters of flowers, whereas azalea flowers are each attached to single stems, but they appear as clusters because they’re close together.
  • Flower Color: Generally, azaleas feature a wider variety of colors, ranging from white to red, orange, yellow, cream, purple, pink, and anything in between. By contrast, rhododendrons have a more classic palette of white, pink, purple, red, and sometimes yellow.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-azalea vs. rhododendron foliage

  • Type of Leaves: Azaleas are usually deciduous but may be evergreen, depending on the climate. In contrast, rhododendrons are mostly evergreens.
  • Leaf Shape: Azaleas usually have small, thin, oval-shaped, or pointed leaves, whereas rhododendrons have larger, thicker, leathery, paddle-shaped leaves. 
  • Blooming Time: Azaleas usually bloom in April, with some “repeat blooming” varieties having a second bloom time in the summer. Most rhododendrons bloom later in the spring, after azaleas. 

Common Features of Azaleas and Rhododendrons 

Despite their minor differences, both groups of shrubs dazzle your landscape in the spring with their profusion of colorful flowers. Both personalities exude elegance, grace, color—and lots of it! It’s rare for evergreen shrubs, like many rhododendrons (and some azaleas), to display such incredible blooms. The deciduous varieties are no less stunning.    

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-azalea vs. rhododendron purple blooming How to Grow Azaleas and Rhododendrons

With their close heritage, both types of plants share many common growing preferences, including:

  • Soil: Both azaleas and rhododendrons need acidic soil to flourish, with a pH of around 5 to 5.5. If your soil is too alkaline, you can lower the pH by adding special fertilizer for acidic-loving plants or mixing in sulfate. 
  • Light: Both types of shrubs grow in full sun or partial shade. Ideally, they’ll receive the soft rays of morning light and dappled shade or filtered sunlight in the afternoon. 
  • Moisture: Azaleas and rhododendrons thrive with evenly moist, well-draining soil. A layer of mulch helps keep the moisture in, especially for newly planted shrubs. Avoid planting in areas with poor drainage where they’ll get waterlogged. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-azalea vs. rhododendron shrubWhen to Plant Azaleas and Rhododendrons 

These plants are pretty flexible with planting, but we recommend planting before late autumn. Planting by mid-fall will ensure your plant has time to establish strong roots before winter and prepare to take on the chilly winter months. As long as they have time to settle in before the cold, you can plant these whenever suits you best!

Visit us at Stephens Landscaping Garden Center to see the differences between azaleas vs. rhododendrons for yourself! At the end of the day, both of these spring bloomers are cherished around the globe for their exuberant display of flowers, and you can enjoy them both right in your home landscape. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for more!

Fall into Planting for Spring


When winter gives way and spring is on the horizon, many of our thoughts turn to our gardens, lawns, and planning what to plant in the coming year. But, from a landscaping perspective, fall is a much better time to plant anything but annuals or plants too delicate to survive our cold winters.

It may seem strange to plant when the usual growing season is winding down, but by planting in the fall, you’re giving your plants a better chance of survival. Then in the spring when your plants start to grow, you’ll be ahead of the game and your landscaping will look great in a shorter period of time.

Why plant in the fall?

When plants grow in the summer, many factors—hot temperatures, varying humidity levels, drought, or occasional periods of heavy rain—tend to add stress to plants. In the fall, the soil is still warm enough to nourish growing plants, and the more moderate temperatures and increased rain will give your plantings a healthy, stress-free start.

The cooler air temperatures in the fall mean that the plants will not waste a lot of their energy growing upward. Instead, they will focus their energy downward, establishing strong root systems before going dormant in cold weather. When spring arrives, your plants will already have a strong foundation from which to grow, making them hardier for the growing season, and giving them a better chance for survival.

As you’ve watched over your lawn and gardens through the summer, you’ve undoubtedly lost some plants or found some trouble spots. Autumn is a great time to work on those problem areas.

It’s also the perfect time to add shrubs and trees specifically for winter interest, and add a bit of color to our usually stark and colorless landscape. Trees like basswood/linden and spruce trees prefer to be planted in the fall and do really well in cold weather. A hawthorn tree will produce beautiful white flowers in the spring, and by planting a maple tree, you’ll get beautiful colors on the leaves next autumn. The Japanese maple, a garden favorite, does best when planted in the fall. Really, most any tree or shrub that will grow in our New England environment can be planted in the fall, and these trees prefer to have the extra time to root themselves deeply before the summer growing season.

As for personal comfort level, planting in the fall is a bit more pleasant as the cooler temperatures make it easier to work outside on your property without the bright sun and high humidity of summer months. An added bonus to working in the garden in the fall is that fewer weeds will grow, and there will be fewer insects and pests to deal with.

Planning for Spring Beauty

There are a great variety of things you can plant now to give you early pops of color in your spring yard. Plants like tulips and hyacinths need cold temperatures before they will bloom; crocuses, winter heath, and snowdrops will bloom through the snow. Lilly of the valley and bleeding hearts will add early color to your garden, as will peonies, pansies, and violets. If deer are a problem, consider planting things that deer do not like to nibble on, like grape hyacinths, daffodils, or anything from the allium family.

If you’d like to add a bit of greenery to your landscape, select a cold-season turf to help the bare or brown spots in your lawn, or add trees and shrubs to your property for added interest.

Plan to get all plantings in the ground about six weeks before the usual date of first frost, and mulch your plants before the nights get too cool, which will protect your plants even further. And all your landscaping needs a good fertilizing this time of year to get it ready for winter, so be sure to add a little extra to your new plants for some TLC.

Extending the Season

If you are not quite ready for the growing season to be over, there are some plants you can plant in the fall that will be ready to harvest until the winter, and even through the cold months. (Just make sure to plant them six weeks before the first frost.) Some cold tolerant plants that can be grown in our zone include:

  • Lettuce (it can grow after a little snow or frost)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Turnips
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Kale (will grow all through the winter)

Let us help you prepare your landscaping for fall and the growing seasons beyond. Give us a call at 603.707.0630 or email and we’ll work with you to come up with a plan to get ready for spring and beyond.

When to Plant Trees and Shrubs

Garden Center · Planting

Trees provide lasting beauty and countless benefits for your property, like fresh air, shade, and a source of wildlife habitat, fruit, and flowers. But planting a tree can be stressful for the tree itself. To set your new tree up for success, it’s essential to choose the best time for planting and support it with proper planting techniques!   

When is the Best Time to Plant Trees?

The best time for planting trees and shrubs is when they are dormant in the early spring before leafing out or in the autumn after leaf drop but before the hard freeze. Planting them during dormancy reduces the stress they experience during transplanting and allows them to develop roots during the fall and early spring. 

That said, planting trees also works well anytime in the cool autumn season and in spring before hot weather arrives. It’s impossible to plant during the winter when the ground is frozen. The summer also presents a challenge, as heat makes it very difficult for new trees to settle in and get comfortable. Although planting in the summer is harder on the trees, it is still possible to do so, as long as you commit to keeping your tree well-watered.   

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-When to Plant Trees and Shrubs-gardener holding a shrubWhen to Plant Spring Flowering Shrubs and Trees   

The fall is the best time to plant spring-flowering shrubs and trees, like forsythia, lilacs, and crape myrtles, because you won’t be disturbing their blooming cycles. Plant them in the fall, and you’ll get to enjoy their blossoms the following spring. 

When to Plant Conifers

The very best time to plant conifers is in the early spring, after the ground thaws. The refreshing rains and cool spring weather give them ample time to take root before the summer heat sets in. 

The fall is the second-best time to plant conifers. It will give them both the autumn and spring to set roots before next year’s summer heat. Just remember to water them generously every week until the ground freezes and protect them over the winter with a layer of mulch. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-When to Plant Trees and Shrubs-proper hole dug for planting a treeTips for Successful Tree Planting 

1. Choose the Right Location: For the best long-term success, start with a location with the right light and soil conditions for your specific tree and enough space for the tree to grow. 

2. Dig Twice as Wide: Help your tree root through the surrounding soil by digging your hole twice as wide as your new tree’s root ball and a little deeper than necessary.

3. Plant at the Proper Height: Take care to plant the tree at the proper depth. Backfill the hole before planting, as necessary, to ensure the tree is neither too deep nor sticking out above the ground. The trunk flare at the base of your new tree’s trunk should be flush with the surrounding earth.

4. Supplement with Biotone: Biotone is a fertilizer that encourages root growth. You can add it to the hole of the tree at the time of planting.

5. Straighten the Tree: Step back and look at the tree from several angles to ensure the trunk is straight, and adjust the tree’s position until it is. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to straighten the tree after planting.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center-Moultonborough-When to Plant Trees and Shrubs-mulched tree newly planted

6. Mulch Your New Tree: Add 2-3 inches of mulch around the tree well to keep moisture in and protect it over the winter. Remember not to mound the mulch around the base of the trunk, and keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to prevent any rotting of the tender, young bark. 

7. Water and Water Again: Water the new tree generously after planting and continue to water every day for 1-2 weeks. After two weeks, continue watering every 2-3 days, and water at least weekly in the fall until the ground freezes. If in doubt, check the moisture level below the mulch. If the soil is dry, it’s time to water. If you’re going away on holiday, set your sprinkler on a timer, or ask a neighbor to help with watering

As the temperatures cool down this fall, it’s one of the best times to plant new trees and shrubs in your landscape. Visit our Moultonborough, New Hampshire garden center to view our selection, and follow us on Facebook or Instagram for more updates! 

How to Plan Your Flower Bed for Maximum Impact

Garden Center · Planting

There’s nothing as satisfying as planning your garden and watching the beauty come to life. But what are the tricks to creating beautiful designs? It’s a big topic, no doubt, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are simple ways to use perennials, annuals, and bulbs together to make a big statement in your flower beds!  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - How to Plan Your Flower Beds -using color in perennial garden

How to Plan Your Perennial Garden 

Perennials are the primary plants we count on for recurring blooms and foliage each year. Whether you’re a beginner gardener laying out a new bed or want to improve the beds you have already, these timeless tips will let your perennials work their magic! 

  • All Season Blooms: research when your flowers bloom and strive to have plants that bloom at different times of the season so that you have flowers from thaw to frost, even in the late summer and fall with plants like asters, anemones, goldenrods, and hyssops.
  • Arrange According to Size: generally, you’ll want to place the tallest perennials at the back, the mid-sized plants in the middle, and the shortest plants at the front. But avoid adhering to this rule too closely. Instead, use groupings, clumps, and drifts of plants to create a looser, more natural feel while ensuring all the plants are visible.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - How to Plan Your Flower Beds -perennial garden design

  • Use Texture and Shape: color is only one variable to use in your design. Different shapes and textures also add liveliness and interest to your beds. Think of the varying shapes of ferns, hostas, and heucheras, to name a few. 
  • Use a Variety of Colors: take advantage of the rich diversity of plants available by selecting a wide diversity of flowers and foliage. Native wildflowers, in particular, offer so many choices of colors, including pinks, oranges, yellows, whites, reds, purples, and blues.
  • Use Groupings: group at least three individuals of the same plant together; a single flower usually won’t create much impact unless it’s large. Odd numbers look better than even numbers, so plant in 3, 5, 7, etc.
  • Create Color Patterns: lead the eye through the garden bed by repeating certain colors. For example, a group of purple coneflowers can link up with the similarly colored blazing stars or New England asters a few plants away. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - How to Plan Your Flower Beds -using annuals in the gardenHow to Use Annuals in Your Design 

When planning garden beds, people often focus on perennials, but annuals can play an important role too. Their main advantage is their versatility and ease of planting. You can buy annuals from the garden center and go home and plant them for immediate results. 

Annuals are especially good at filling in any gaps of time or places where you don’t have any perennials blooming. Some gardeners reserve a bed just for annuals so they can enjoy a new design every year. They also work great in containers and hanging baskets. You can start some annuals, like sunflowers, from seed, while you can transplant others from the garden center. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - How to Plan Your Flower Beds -using bulbs in the gardenHow to Integrate Bulbs into Your Plan  

Bulbs are small, bright perennials that emerge for a short bloom time and then disappear again underground. Crocus, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and snowdrops are a few common examples. People love them because they’re among the first flowers that come up each spring, bringing early color to a garden bed. Here are a few tips for using these precious flowers to their full potential: 

  • Plant in Clusters: avoid planting in rows or single flowers. A cluster of bulbs creates a more colorful impact.
  • Plant Around Late-Leafing Perennials or Shrubs: bulbs can bring beauty to the garden before your other plants have produced foliage. The bulbs will naturally disappear after their show is over, leaving ample room for the late-leafing plants to expand.   
  • Layer the Bulbs: a creative technique to bring more flowers into a single space is to layer bulbs in the ground. Plant earlier blooming bulbs over late-blooming bulbs so that new flowers spring up when the earlier ones are fading.
  • Plant Bulbs in Unexpected Spots: because they have compact roots, you can tuck bulbs into unexpected places throughout your garden, like in rock crevices or between pathway stones. They’ll bring those forgotten places to life in new ways. 

You can plant bulbs from September to mid-October. Remember to take advantage of summer-blooming bulbs and the much-loved spring bloomers. 

The beauty of gardens is that you don’t need to plan them all at once. Planning and designing a flower bed is an ongoing process that you can shape throughout the seasons to evolve as you do.

For more advice on flower bed plans or to see the many flowers available, feel free to visit our garden center in Moultonborough or follow us on Facebook or Instagram for updates and featured products!

Apple Trees You Can Grow in Moultonborough

Garden Center · Planting

Apple trees are one of nature’s great investments. Plant one sapling, and a few years down the road, you receive hundreds of apples every autumn, not to mention the beautiful springtime blossoms. As one of the best cold-hardy fruits, we don’t have to settle for crab apples or less desirable varieties—some of the tastiest apple varieties available are right at home in our region.   

Our Favorite Varieties for Moultonborough


McIntosh apples are an extremely popular variety in North America. They’re medium-sized with marbled green and red skin. They are an “all-purpose” apple; the crisp, white flesh and tart flavor make them ideal for eating, ciders, or cooking into desserts or sauces. Originating from Ontario, Canada, they’re a cold-hardy species that thrives in our region.  

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Apple Trees You Can Grow in Moultonborough- granny smith applesGranny Smith 

Another famous apple, the Granny Smith, is known for its bright green skin and crisp, tart, and sharp taste. This flavor profile makes them ideal for baking into pies, sauces, preserves, and other desserts, and the crispness guarantees that they won’t go mushy once cooked. Their well-known tanginess is equally loved and enjoyed for straight eating. They grow to a mature width of 15-20 feet and start producing after two seasons in the soil. 


A descendant of the McIntosh, Cortlands have a snappy crunch and a sweeter flavor, balanced by a subtle tanginess. They are an ideal eating apple, produce great cider, and hold their shape when baked. They go mushy in storage quicker than their cousins, so they’re best enjoyed or processed soon after harvest. Cortland’s don’t need a companion tree for pollination but increase production if they have one. 

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Apple Trees You Can Grow in Moultonborough- gala applesGala

Galas are another all-around apple for any purpose, from eating to baking or cider, and are known for their sweet, mild flavor, and crispy texture. They are another one of the few self-pollinating apple trees. They grow to a manageable size of 10′ in height and 15′ across, and need a hardiness zone 5 or above. 

Why It’s Often Necessary to Plant Two Varieties of Apple Trees

Unless they’re self-pollinating, most apple trees need the pollen of another tree to produce fruit, and that tree needs to be a different apple cultivar. So if you’re planning to plant an apple tree that needs cross-pollination, make sure one of your neighbors has an apple tree nearby or plan to plant two on your property. Whether self-pollinating or not, having more than one tree improves pollination rates, making for bigger yields.     

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Apple Trees You Can Grow in Moultonborough- storage of apple harvestWhat to Do with Apples After You Harvest Them

Besides spring pruning, growing an apple tree is very low maintenance. Without much work, you reap a bountiful harvest. The main challenge is figuring out what to do with so many apples at once. Fortunately, there are many solutions. 

Apples that store well can stay in cold storage throughout the fall and winter. You can also make apple sauce and store it in the deep freeze; press the apples into cider, juice, or vinegar; or you can boil them into apple butter. You can dry them in rings or press them into fruit leather. If all else fails, you can share the harvest with friends and neighbors. 

The apples we mentioned above are certainly not the only ones available. Empire, Freedom, Red and Gold Delicious, Red Rome, and Spartan apples also grow in zone 4/5. When choosing a site for planting, ensure that your apple is in full sun, in well-draining soil, and away from wooded areas. Know the mature tree size before you plant to ensure you have space, and then you’re ready to plant.

Stephens Landscaping Garden Center - Apple Trees You Can Grow in Moultonborough- apple pie preparationFor more advice on growing apples, feel free to visit our garden center in Moultonborough! We have plenty of delicious varieties available. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for updates and featured products.