Nellie Stevens Holly Trees Buying & Growing Guide

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Hoya Plant in pot

When most people think of holly shrubs, they think of Christmas. But there are dozens of holly bush varieties that are beautiful all year round, including the Nellie R. Stevens holly, or Ilex x “Nellie R. Stevens.This hardy, low-maintenance evergreen shrub is a cross between the English holly and the Chinese holly, and features dark green leaves with white flowers and red berries. The Nellie Stevens holly is notable for other characteristics, including:

  • A fast growth rate of two to three feet per year
  • Retaining its dark green coloring even during the hottest summer months
  • Providing privacy as a screen in backyards and gardens

Nellie Stevens Holly Trees for Sale

Planting and Care

Holly Tree

Planting instructions

The Nellie R. Stevens holly is best suited for USDA plant hardiness zones 6-9. They prefer well-draining, slightly acidic soil, but can also grow in sandy, clay, or alkaline soils. Nellie R. Stevens hollies are not picky about the amount of sunlight they receive, doing well in full sun or partial shade. When planting, dig a hole twice as wide and equal in height to the root ball. Fill in with soil, and water every two to three days until you see signs of new growth. If planting several Nellie Stevens hollies, space each shrub about six feet apart.

Watering and nutrients

The watering needs of the drought-tolerant Nellie R. Stevens holly are relatively minimal. During the spring and summer, give your Nellie R. Stevens holly about one inch of water per week. However, it’s best to make sure the top one to two inches of soil are dry before watering, as these plants do not like to be in water-logged soil. You do not need to water your Nellie R. Stevensholly during the fall and winter months. To help keep its leaves green, feed your Nellie R. Stevens holly with a fertilizer that has an NPK of 4-3-4 in the late fall.


Flowers of Holly Tree

Like other holly plant varieties, the Nellie R. Stevens holly is noted for its white flowers and small red berries, which are inedible but attractive. The Nellie R. Stevens holly is self-pollinating, producing only female flowers. However, the presence of a male variety of holly, like the Edward J. Stevens holly, will increase fruit production by cross-pollinating your Nellie R. Stevens holly. If you want to have holly shrubs bursting with berries, consider planting both female and male varieties.


Tree Pruning

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrubs grow in a wide, pyramidal shape, although they can be pruned into a different form. They grow quite quickly, so pruning may be necessary to manage their size. Prune your Nellie Stevens holly in the spring so that trimmed stems have a chance to properly grow before the first frost in the fall. Remove any dead or diseased branches with shears, or a pruning saw for larger branches. Wear long sleeves and pants to avoid cuts from the plant’s pointy leaves.

Pests, diseases, and animals

Thanks to its poisonous berries, animals do not bother the Nellie Stevens holly. This plant is susceptible to some pests, including scale insects, whitefly, holly miner, and mites. Mites are especially prevalent in the summer. If you notice an infestation, treat the limbs and stems of your Nellie Stevens holly with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap once a week until the bugs are gone. These plants are susceptible to root rot, which is caused by overwatering.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did the Nellie R. Stevens holly get its name?

The Nellie R. Stevens holly gets its unique name from the individual who created it, Nellie R. Stevens. During her visit to the U.S. Botanical Garden in 1900, Stevens broke the rules and took some Ilex seeds home with her. While it’s not clear if Stevens did so knowingly or inadvertently, she cross-bred English holly and Chinese holly. This new variety grew, unnamed, in her Maryland garden for decades until her niece brought it to the attention of the Holly Society in the mid-1950s, where it was officially dubbed Ilex x “Nellie R. Stevens,” or the Nellie Stevens holly.

How large does a Nellie R. Stevens holly grow?

Part of the reason why Nellie R. Stevens holly shrubs make such excellent privacy screens is due to their size. Mature plants typically grow to be at least 15 feet tall, although they can reach heights of 25 feet. On average, they are 5-10 feet wide. The Nellie Stevens holly is a fast grower, adding about three feet of height each year. When properly cared for, these bushes can live for several decades.

Is the Nellie R. Stevens holly poisonous?

The small, red berries that grow on a Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub may look appealing, they are poisonous to humans and most animals, including household pets like dogs and cats. Ingesting the berries from a Nellie Stevens holly can cause stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. While most wildlife know to avoid these berries, be careful planting this shrub around household pets.

Are Nellie R. Stevens holly bushes drought tolerant?

Yes, the Nellie R. Stevens holly is drought tolerant, meaning the plant can withstand and recover from temporary drought-like conditions, whether they are caused by nature or by human neglect. Nellie Stevens holly bushes need little water during the winter months when they are dormant, and do not like to be overwatered in the spring and summer. Waterlogged roots are more damaging to this plant than being too dry for brief periods.