How to Grow Nellie R. Stevens Holly Shrubs

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branch with bright red berries

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

Plant taxonomy classifies the Nellie R. Stevens holly as Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens.' Ilex is the genus name for holly. The plant is sometimes referred to informally without the middle initial, "R." It blooms in the spring.

A fast grower, Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub typically reaches a height of about 30-feet tall, spreads out about 15-feet wide at its base, and has a pyramidal shape. Narrower at the top, it bears a classic Christmas tree shape. This holly bears spiny, dark green leaves and round red berries. The shrub was named for Nellie Robinson Stevens, in whose garden the original hybrid plant was produced. Nellie R. Stevens can be planted year-round.

There are many kinds of hollies; most (but not all) are evergreen. Some stay short and are grown as shrubs, while others grow tall and can be treated as either trees or shrubs. Nellie R. Stevens holly falls into the latter category. It is classified more specifically as a broadleaf evergreen. Ilex makes up its own plant family, Aquifoliaceae; that is, it is the sole genus in that family.

  Botanical Name lIex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’
  Common Name Nellie R. Stevens holly
  Plant Type Evergreen shrub
  Mature Size 15-30 ft. tall
  Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
  Soil Type Well-draining
  Soil pH 5.0-7.0
  Bloom Time Spring
  Flower Color Yellow-white flowers turn to red berries
  Hardiness Zones 6-9 (USDA)
  Native Area North America
  Toxicity Toxic to humans and pets

Nellie R. Stevens Care

This is a female hybrid plant, a cross between the English holly and the Chinese holly. Hollies are generally dioecious plants, so you usually need both a male and a female for fruit production. Strictly speaking, the Nellie R. Stevens holly is an exception to this rule, being what is called a partially "parthenocarpic" plant. This means that it can set some fruit without a male being present, although the fruit will be seedless. Such technicalities aside, it is still better to provide a male: Doing so will produce more fruit. The male counterpart is Ilex x 'Edward J. Stevens.'

Nellie R. Stevens holly is a wonderful tree for winter interest, both indoors and outdoors. Branch clippings can be brought in and used for holiday decorations, or just enjoy its evergreen leaves and red berries in the winter landscape. Before buying one, decide on its function in your yard. It is sold both in tree form (with a single leader) and bush form (with multiple stems at the base).

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branch with bright red berries closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branches with red berries in background

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branch closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branches with sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Nellie R. Stevens holly will thrive if it's grown in full sun to partial shade.

Soil

A well-draining and slightly acidic soil is best for this hybrid.

Water

This shrub needs only to be watered weekly, and can live in an area where there is drought.

Temperature and Humidity

Nellie R. Stevens holly can be easily grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 6-9. It enjoys warm weather but can tolerate frost conditions.

While this type of holly is especially popular in Southern states such as Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, it is, in fact, hardy all the way to zone 6. For the next zone north of that, plant the somewhat hardier Ilex opaca 'Mac's Prince,' which is suitable for zones 5-9. 'Mac's Prince' reaches a height of 15-to 30-feet tall, with a spread of 10- to 20-feet wide.

Fertilizer

Feed your holly in the spring with a 10-10-10 slow-release food.

Is Nellie R. Stevens Toxic?

This shrub's brightly colored berries are toxic to humans and pets because they contain glycosides called saponins.

Symptoms of Poisoning

If you or your pets have eaten holly berries, you both may experience stomach upset. Reach out to poison control—or call your veterinarian immediately—to discuss the next steps to take.

Pruning

Nellie R. Steven's hollies should be pruned in mid-to-late fall or early spring. This bush maintains its pyramidal shape without much pruning and is usually not subject to pest damage, making it a low-maintenance plant. But if you wish for it to appear more tree-like, prune off the lower branches in winter, to expose its trunk.

Nellie R. Stevens holly is most commonly used as a specimen tree or massed in a hedge to form a "living wall" that functions as a privacy screen. When it is to be treated as a specimen tree, purchase the tree form.

Propagating Nellie R. Stevens

If you're seeking to propagate your Nellie R. Stevens, use semi-ripe cuttings you've gathered in the summer or early fall.

Common Pests/Diseases

To the extent that pest control is needed at all, look out for scale, spider mites, and whitefly. There are also highly specialized leaf miners that feed wholly or mainly on specific kinds of holly: Phytomyza ilicicola attacks I. opaca, while the target of P. ilicis is I. aquifolium. Spray organic neem oil on your plants when you find evidence of insect attacks.

Nellie R. Stevens is also susceptible to root rot, canker, and chlorosis. Root rot can be remedied by making sure the shrub is planted in well-draining soil.