How to Grow and Care for Nellie R. Stevens Holly Shrubs

Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub branch with bright red berries

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Nellie R. Stevens holly is a broadleaf evergreen shrub with a shape that bears a resemblance to a Christmas tree though it has spiny, dark green leaves and round red berries. Nellie R. Stevens holly grows best in warm conditions down south and requires full or partial sun, slightly acidic soil, and likes warm temperatures, tolerates some frost, and is somewhat salt tolerant making this good for coastal locations. The berries of all holly bushes are toxic to humans and animals.

Common Name Nellie R. Stevens holly
Botanical Name lIex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’
Family Aquifoliaceae
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 15-30 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Well-draining
Soil pH Neutral to slightly acidic
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

Here are the main care requirements for growing a Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub:

  • Nellie R. Stevens can be planted year-round.
  • Plant in full sun or partial shade.
  • Use soil slightly on the acidic side.
  • Water weekly without overwatering.
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


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


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


This shrub needs only needs 1 to 2 inches of water weekly, but no more. Do not overwater or root rot will occur. It 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.


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


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. 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

The best way to propagate any holly bush, including Nellie R. Stevens, is by using semi-ripe cuttings you've gathered in the summer or early fall. Here's what to do:

  1. Using a sterilized cutting tool, take a cutting of about 6 inches. Cut below one of the small bumps/buds.
  2. Remove all leaves but leave two sets of leaves at the top of the cutting.
  3. Dip the bottom end of the cutting in rooting hormone.
  4. Prepare a permanent full or partial sun location. Loosen the soil and add coarse sand for good drainage.
  5. Plant the cutting about 1 inch deep into the soil.
  6. Water the cutting frequently to keep it moist. Do not water if you have heavy rain.
  7. In the spring, check if the cutting has new growth which will indicate roots. It's best to leave this cutting in the location rather than transplant it.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

The shrub is usually not subject to pest damage, making it a low-maintenance plant. Though pest control is rarely needed, always look out for scale, spider mites, and whitefly. There are also highly specialized leafminers 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.

Common Problems With Nellie R. Stevens Holly

Most holly bushes, including Nellie R. Stevens, are easy to maintain once they are established. But you may find a few problems, including the following:

No Berries

This is a common issue for this female hybrid plant. 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.'

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves can indicate chlorosis, an iron deficiency. The yellowing leaves may have veins that remain dark green. This typically happens if the bush is overwatered or the soil has poor drainage. Either pull back on watering or amend the soil for better drainage.

Browning Leaves

Browning leaves can mean canker has attacked the shrub. The stems have holes in them that lead to brown leaves, which may result in the plant's death. To slow down the problem, immediately prune out the affected areas.

No Blooms

A Nellie R. Stevens shrub won't bloom until it is three to five years old. However, the flowers, which are tiny, inconspicuous, and short-lived usually from around April to June, are very hard to see.

  • How big does a Nellie Stevens holly bush get?

    The Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub has a pyramidal shape that typically reaches a height of about 30 feet tall and spreads out about 15 feet wide at its base.

  • How long does it take for Nellie R. Stevens holly to grow?

    A fast-growing shrub, the Nellie R. Stevens holly plant can grow 3 feet in a year.

  • How did Nellie R. Stevens holly shrub get its name?

    The shrub was named for Nellie Robinson Stevens, in whose garden the original hybrid plant was produced.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Poisonous Berries. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

  2. Holly. ASPCA.

  3. Poisonous Berries. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

  4. Holly. ASPCA.