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A Guide to Nellie Stevens Holly

Author Image Written by Brenda Woods Updated 04/25/2024

Nellie Stevens holly is an adaptable shrub that can survive under a wide range of conditions, from sun to shade and from acidic soil to alkaline soil.

With “Nellie R. Stevens” holly, you can create a perimeter of shrubs around your property to increase privacy and enjoy the evergreen leaves all year long. This guide offers everything you need to know about this evergreen, low-maintenance shrub, so you can decide if it’s right for your yard.

Nelly Stevens Holly Overview


Fruit size

0.3 inches in diameter

Fruit uses


Fruit color



South, West Coast

Hardiness zone


Growing season



Deer, drought


Canker, chlorosis, root rot

What Does Nellie Stevens Holly Look Like?

The Nellie Stevens holly shrub has dark green leaves, which maintain a glossy color throughout the year. The leaves have one to three sharp spikes on them and produce white flowers that have small red berries with a diameter of 0.3 inches. On average, Nellie Stevens holly shrubs can grow to be 15 to 25 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide.

Watch the video below from Dr. Andy Pulte to see this plant up close and learn more about how it grows.

Nellie Stevens holly is a fairly low-maintenance plant, but that doesn’t mean you can just plant it and forget it. Here’s how to plant and care for Nellie Stevens holly.

Nellie Stevens holly can survive in full sun or partial shade and prefers well-drained soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH of 5.0 to 7.0. Holly can also survive in slightly alkaline soil, heavy clay, dry sand, and almost any other type of soil.

Apply 1 to 2 inches of compost every spring and make sure it doesn’t extend past the drip line, which is an imaginary line where droplets fall from the outermost branches. In late fall, apply 1 cup of 10-5-5 fertilizer per plant. The 10-5-5 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 5% potassium. A higher percentage of nitrogen helps keep the holly leaves green.

After spreading the fertilizer, apply 2 inches of organic mulch composed of pine needles or wood chips to regulate soil temperature and control weeds. If the holly leaves turn yellow in the summer, you can use another cup of fertilizer to help with growth.

Nellie Stevens holly needs about 1 inch of water per week in the spring and summer. The best way to tell if your shrub needs water is to stick your finger in the soil and make sure the top 2 inches are moist—be careful not to overwater the shrub, as waterlogged holly dies. Because holly is drought-tolerant, you don’t need to water this plant in the fall or winter.

Holly trees grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 6–9, which have warm to moderate temperatures. This type of climate is mostly contained to western and southern states.

How to Plant Nellie Stevens Holly

Planting several Nellie Stevens holly bushes in a row is common, but make sure to plant them 5 to 6 feet apart. This allows them to grow together and create a living wall of greenery.

  1. To plant your holly, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and with a height equal to the height of the root ball.
  2. Stand the holly upright in the hole and fill in soil around the roots.
  3. Secure the soil around the plant and soak the soil in water for a few minutes.
  4. Continue watering every two or three days until you see signs of new growth.

Nellie Stevens holly bushes won’t bloom until they’re 3 to 5 years old. Their white flowers will bloom in the spring, and the red berries will stay on the bush throughout the winter season. Because holly can live for up to 100 years, you only have to plant them once in your lifetime.

Tolerance and Susceptibility

Nellie Stevens holly is susceptible to a variety of diseases, including canker, chlorosis, and root rot. Canker causes holes to form on branches and stems, which leads to the browning of leaves and, eventually, death. Chlorosis is caused by an iron deficiency in the plant and can be identified by the tell-tale sign of pale green or yellow leaves with dark green veins.

Root rot is caused by overwatering, poor soil drainage, or a poorly functioning root system and causes the root to rot, eventually killing the shrub.

Nellie Stevens holly can survive mild droughts, so while overwatering causes root rot and kills the plant, underwatering does not often affect the plant, which is why it can grow in drier climates.

Wildlife Threats

Nellie Stevens holly is resistant to animals because of its pointy leaves and poisonous berries. However, certain insects like the scale, leaf miner, and mite may eat away at the leaves.

FAQ About Nellie Stevens Holly

Where did Nellie Stevens holly get its name?

Nellie Stevens holly was named after Nellie R. Stevens, who created this hybrid of holly. Stevens created the holly by crossing Chinese holly and English holly.

Does Nellie Stevens holly self-pollinate?

Yes. Even though this holly only produces female flowers, the flowers are still able to bear fruit without cross-pollination from a male. However, the holly will yield more berries if planted with a male counterpart such as Edward J. Stevens holly.

How fast does Nellie Stevens holly grow?

Nellie Stevens holly can grow up to 3 feet in one year.

When should I prune my Nellie Stevens holly bush?

The best time to prune is in the spring, since new growth is susceptible to frost. You’ll want to make sure the growth rate stemming from the pruned areas has enough time to grow out before the first frost hits.

How do I prune my holly?

Holly naturally grows in a broad pyramidal shape, so you can choose to stick to this shape or trim it down into shorter shrubs. Here are a few guidelines to follow when pruning your holly:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent scratches from the pointy leaves.
  • Pruning shears will cut through small branches, but a pruning saw may be necessary for older, thicker limbs.
  • Cut off diseased-looking or discolored branches to prevent any diseases from further spreading.

Final Thoughts

Nellie Stevens holly is a fast-growing, low-maintenance plant that can create a privacy barrier around your home. Not to mention, this evergreen plant maintains its color all year-round, providing a pleasing aesthetic for your backyard. Consider buying this type of holly online or from your local home improvement store.

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