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Nellie Stevens Holly Privacy Bush

Written by Siobhan Bartons • August 11 Everything To Know About The Nellie Stevens Holly

Gardening Tips: Nellie Stevens Holly

When I am sitting on the back porch, the last thing I want is prying neighborly eyes and loud noises from the distant highway. Privacy Screens are an effective way to manage sound and eyesores; though many people prefer fences, I enjoy the natural solitude and privacy of the Nellie Stevens Holly, a Holly shrub adapted to growing as a dense shrub. Nellie Stevens Hollies are perfect for privacy screens for many reasons; it diminishes noise and eyesores, provides natural shade, and brings bright colors to the yard throughout the year. Nellies are best planted 5 to 6 feet apart in order to create the living wall of natural splendor that these shrubs bring to the backyard.

Plant your Nellie Stevens Holly along a yard perimeter or property lines. I have seen Nellies used effectively as garden hedges, property markers, and even as separators within a yard. My grandfather planted the Nellie Stevens Holly along a line in the center of the backyard, to mark the end of the mowed greens and the beginning of a small meadow.

However, Nellie Stevens Hollies can also be planted as stand-alone trees. These trees are dark green, with foliage all year long. In summer, when many other evergreens brown or dry, the Nellie Stevens Holly usually maintains its luscious dark greens. In spring, tiny white flowers float along the tree’s slender branches. The Nellie Stevens Holly is most well-known for its winter colors, where the rich greens are matched with ruby red berries. For this reason, the Nellie Stevens Holly is loved for the splash of color it offers in the depths of the cold season.

Nellie Stevens Holly Screen

Nellie Stevens Holly Privacy Wall

Quick Tips

Enjoy some quick tips here. For more complete information, read about these hints in more detail below.

Sunlight – Plant in a partially sunny area with some access to afternoon shade.

Soil – Plant in well-drained, moist soil that is not overly wet.

Water – Water every once a week for the first six months, and then during extensive dry spells after that.

Pruning – Pruning can be done throughout the year, with the exception of spring. If only pruning once, aim for late summer.

The Best Places to Plant a Nellie Stevens Holly

Nellie Stevens Hollies are generally used by landscapers to create privacy screens. On small to moderate-sized properties, this usually refers to property lines. Nellie Stevens Hollies grow well along these lines, dividing yard from yard with rich, dense green year-round foliage.

Nellie Stevens Holly as Pool Privacy Fence

Nellie Stevens Holly as Pool Privacy Fence

These Holly shrubs are somewhat drought resistant, meaning the Holly can survive short dry spells. Nor do these shrubs require much, if any, pruning. Nellie Stevens Hollies thrive on neglect. Simply plant the saplings acquired from The Tree Center 5 to 6 feet apart in a single row to develop a dense privacy screen.

Explore your property for an area where Nellie Stevens Hollies are needed. Most folks recognized the need for a privacy screen while lounging on a back porch or in the backyard. Nellie Stevens Hollies also do well as accent foliage in linear gardens, where the vibrant winter red berries can remain prominent. Nellie Stevens Hollies are fast-growing, developing up to 3 feet of new growth a year. Nellie Stevens Hollies are relatively hardy and strong. These privacy screen or accent trees require a sunny location with some access to shade. Regular watering is also needed, or the leaves will dry out.

Growth Rate and Mature Height

Nellie Stevens Holly Bush

Single Nellie Stevens Holly bush.

Nellie Stevens Hollies are fast-growing trees, which are frequently planted in rows between 5 and 6 feet apart to create a dense hedge or privacy screen. When planted in this way, Nellie Stevens Hollies typically reach a height between 15 and 25 feet. When planted individually, this Holly Tree is likely to reach even taller heights, between 25 and 35 feet. Regardless of its proximity to others in the species, Nellie Stevens Hollies are considered fast-growing trees, and they can grow as much as 3 feet a year. This is much higher than other trees, which can grow as little as 6 inches in a given growing season. For this reason, Nellie Stevens Hollies are valued as privacy screens, as they can quickly provide the privacy for which homeowners are searching.

Caring for Your Nellie Stevens Holly

Nellie Stevens Holly is a hardy tree. With proper care, these evergreen Holly trees survive well in rural, suburban, or urban areas. Several states list Nellie Stevens Hollies on approved urban planting lists, as this Holly is a fast-growing vegetative screen, which is both drought tolerant and pollutant tolerant.

When it comes to caring for your Nellie Stevens Holly, water and sun exposure are the most important considerations. Nellie Stevens Hollies prefer partial shade, with some light morning and early afternoon sun followed by shade from the hottest mid-day and late afternoon rays. These Hollies are one of the few evergreens that will do well with heavy shade, and they are enjoyed for this reason as vegetative screens with already standing trees or plant-life.

Water is the other point of focus when planting and caring for the Nellie Stevens Holly. These Hollies grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9, which excludes the far northeast (New York and above), though the east coast up to New Hampshire is still welcoming. It also excludes areas west of Ohio, north of Kansas, and east of western Idaho and Nevada. If planting the Nellie Stevens Holly the drier regions of the southwest or mid-west, consider irrigation systems. Nellies require moderate water amounts, though they can survive mild droughts with relative ease. If droughts or extensive spells of heat are prevalent in your region, simply ensure the tree receives watering at least once a week. Irrigative systems work well as they will typically conserve water while still ensuring the success of the Holly tree.

Variants of the Nellie Stevens Holly

Nellie Stevens Hollies are part of the Ilex genus, a group of between 400 and 600 shrubs and trees. Nellie Stevens Holly is itself a specific hybrid within the family, a cross between a Chinese Holly and English Holly. There are hundreds of other Hollies to choose from within the Aquifoliaceae family; however, none will bring you the specific benefits of the Nellie. If a Nellie Stevens Holly isn’t your cup of tea, the American Holly has been making a resurgence of late and offers similar benefits.

Comments 57 comments

  1. Recently planted 23 Nellie Stevens 6-7 feet tall, approximately 5 feet apart on center. What do you recommend for watering?
    We are in zone 7a. What type irrigation system works best?

    1. Water well once a week if you live in a drier areas.

  2. September 15, 2015 by

    My Nellie Stevens did real well the first couple years and then severe cold weather here in Indiana
    killed one of them and I had to cut the others back to almost nothing. They recovered and are not growing.
    I am thinking about digging them up and putting in something else but hate to do that.

    Any ideas appreciated.

    Thank you

    Harley Wilson

  3. March 8, 2016 by Dana

    I love the shape and hardiness of the Nelly Stevens leaf but it looks like it grows really tall. I want a hedgerow no taller than 4 ft. Can this type of holly thrive when contained to that short height? Or, Is there a holly with that leaf shape and color that would do better?

    1. April 20, 2016 by Ann DeJoy

      Just cut off the top above 4 ft

  4. June 2, 2016 by jorge

    Can these trees be planted right now in june 2016 in zone 9 area which is hot now.

  5. We have some mature Nellie Stevens, planted about 4 years ago (6-8 feet tall when planted) and now they are roughly 10-16+ feet tall. Many of the trees have limbs that are lying on the ground, around the base. Is there a reason to trim these back or are the lower branches on the ground perfectly ok?

  6. July 31, 2016 by Sandra Palma

    Live in zone 6, planted 4 nshollies in spring of 2015. They don’t seem to have the growth rate as stated per year. One seems extremely stressed and I’ve given extra water due to the extreme heat. Wonder if applying diluted Epsom salt would give this tree a boost?
    Thanks, sp

    1. In Dallas, I have to add ironite 1-2 times a year when the leaves turn lighter green and dull. We have clay soil and it is not acidic. The growth rate has been 3-6 inches each year the first 2 years. Maybe they are like Magnolia trees…slow growth the first 8 years and then more active as they age. I hope this helps.

  7. October 26, 2016 by Stephanie

    How do you think they’d do if planted along the Indiana/Michigan border?

  8. November 1, 2016 by Brandi

    I have planted the Nellie Stevens Holly’s by the road. I’m wondering when do I want the cut the top off for them to start becoming bushy? Do I wait until they are the height I want/

  9. November 2, 2016 by Julie

    I live in zone 5b, will the Nelly Stevens Holly thrive here?

  10. December 5, 2016 by Kathy

    Are the berries poisonous to pets?

  11. I have just bought a brick home and I have Holly trees that previous owners planted like bushes along side the house. These are not bushes, but a tyoe of Holly tree. I’ve been trying to find the type of Holly tree it is on the internet. I am pretty sure it is the Nellie Holly tree.
    There are 4 or 5 planted in a row along the side of the house. I found a stress crack in the basement wall and need to remove these trees. Can you please give me advise. The tree tree is maybe 8″ in diameter. How deep do these roots go. How do I kill the roots after I cut the tree down. I wish I could move them to the property line for privacy.
    Thanks for all your help. I’m afraid they will cause damage to my house.

    1. There is a root killer you can purchase. I have used one for years. Just follow directions on the container.

  12. April 12, 2017 by Louie Calaway

    I planted thirteen of these. I thought I read someplace that they do not like “WET FEET”. I am worried I may over water them, Should I worry about this. Thanks

    1. December 3, 2017 by Chris C

      We had heavy rains all Spring, and my NS Hollies were in consistently wet soil for at least four months. Much to my surprise, all three of them did just fine, no sign of damage at all.
      That said, I did plant them slightly elevated, maybe three or four inches above the surrounding soil. Not sure how they would have fared if I hadn’t done that…

  13. April 29, 2017 by Nhel

    My backyard is backing a busy street and planted 8 Nellie Stevens holly four years ago. It grew less than a feet in that 4 years time and just now around 3 feet tall. I live in North Texas. Any suggestions?

  14. July 20, 2017 by Venetia

    hi, I have 3 ft of space between my pool and ugly fence (wood) where I have 5, once beautiful 20′ tall Italian Cypresses. Unfortunately spider mites got to them and destroyed more than 2/3 of them so they’ve got to go. I am considering planting the Nelly R. Stevens Holly in their place, and pruning them to stay as a tall hedge. Are the roots invasive? will it cause any damage to my pool or the plumbing. can they be pruned to stay about 3ft wide? I live in the DFW area.

    1. I need this answer also. I planted three NRStevens close to my pool. Wondering if the roots could become invasive?

    2. Did you get an answer to your questions? I’m in dfw too w same questions.

  15. February 15, 2018 by PAUL CALDERONE

    Are the Neville Stevens Holly deer resistant?

    1. July 24, 2018 by Terra

      I have been doing a lot of research on these lately. There are deer and other small animal resistant.

  16. May 8, 2018 by wynne stripling

    They are slow to get going but start building speed and probably by their 5-7 year they grow fast. You are almost there!

  17. May 25, 2018 by Nick

    I wouldn’t wish these on my worst enemy. Mine are smaller now than when planted four years ago, and I’ve given them tlc. They are also huge water hogs.

  18. June 4, 2018 by Pat Sierminski

    I have a Nelly Holly. She is about 25 years old. I have shaped her as a tree. The top is a round ball and I keep her trunks clean. Every spring she drops her leaves and this year she is dropping a lot of red berries. Is something wrong with her. I’ve cleaned up loads of leaves and berries twice. She still looks beautiful. Can you advise me what to do.

  19. April 17, 2019 by Shaylie Sharp

    Could I keep a small shrub as an indoor plant? I like bringing the outside in. Thanks!

  20. May 31, 2019 by Sal

    on average how fast these holly grow per year?

  21. June 5, 2019 by jenni

    I am in SE Michigan and bought a Nelly Holly tree for my back yard patio area from an online garden store. South sun. I was told by a local garden center these may not survive our harsh winters and the wind. This was a substitute because my red bud tree died after a year. Any suggestions? He told me it would be fine in MI but he is in N Carolina and does not know our winters. It say 6-9 but the local center said they don’t carry that because it was not a good tree or shrub for MI. Is this true? How should i care for it now that i cannot return it.

  22. September 2, 2019 by Robb Greathouse

    I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico (330 days of sun a year). First, is Nellie Stevens appropriate for the area? Second, when is the best time to plant? Third, can it withstand full sun in summer?

  23. September 2, 2019 by robert

    I am about to plant some seven-foot Nellie Stevens. What should I do insofar as soil prep ?

  24. How should I prep the soil when planting?
    Should I buy some of that evergreen specific garden soil and mix it with my native soil?
    I’d love for it to grow as quickly as possible

  25. October 29, 2019 by Sarah F

    Our Nellie R is growing well here in zone 7a. However, it has very few red berries. I had them the first year, but after that they are few and far between. How can I get them to bear them again.

  26. January 3, 2020 by Rena

    My Nellie Stevens are 8-10 feet tall and have unattractive bare areas on the trunk. They look nothing like all the pictures of these trees, and do not provide sufficient screening. With proper care (water and Holly-Tone) will these bare areas eventually fill in?

  27. February 19, 2020 by Cynthia

    I planted 3 Nellie Stevens about8 years ago. They haven’t grown hardly anything in height. My biggest concern is why all their blossoms turn black and not a single berry has ever emerged. They get plenty of water, sun and shade. I live in the piedmont of North Carolina. Any answers

  28. March 16, 2020 by Billie Jo

    Can you make a hedge 3 feet wide? How much maintenance will be required?

  29. April 7, 2020 by Deanna

    I live in zone 5a. Will the Nellie Stevens Holly be okay there? If not, is there a similar one you recommend?

  30. April 13, 2020 by Detharal

    I planted 15 of these as a living wall between my yard and condos behind me. We found the perfect home with the only exception being 2 story condos looking into my back yard. On Easter 2018, we put them in the ground. They were roughly 10 inches tall. Exactly 2 years later, they are doing very well with some being around 3 foot tall. I can tell from the new growth already that they will will do even better this year. I live outside Houston Texas, in zone 9a. I have a sprinkler system so these do get watered regularly, but they are also in a dry part of the yard. I will fertilize these with miracle grow when I do my other trees (maybe once every month or two during growing season). Love these bushes!

  31. April 17, 2020 by Janet Oliver

    I planted a row NRS a year and a half ago. I kept them watered during the drought last summer. I fertilize them with tree and shrub fertilizer recommended by the independent garden center in the spring and fall. They have not grown any. Any recommendations?

  32. April 20, 2020 by warren raines

    do I need to stake young Nellie R Stevens for them to grow straight…. thanks

  33. April 26, 2020 by Emily Welch

    I just bought a 30 gallon to plant in my flower bed close to my home. Will these roots mess with the foundation?

  34. May 6, 2020 by Jackie

    Can Nelly Stevens tree be planted in full sun ?

  35. May 8, 2020 by wayne curley

    I have had my nellie stevens holly for over four years and it is growing great ! I have problem though: Despite having Male hollies in my yard. i.e. . a Chinese holly and an Edward Stevens Holly ; My two Nellies are producing Very Few blossoms and therefore no Berries . Do you have any suggestions on whats going on ? Thanks Wayne from Cape Cod

  36. May 13, 2020 by Kelli Jordan

    Our Nellie Stevens are growing in height but are somewhat sparse. They also have yellowing of the leaves and black spots on some of the leaves….help please :).

  37. May 25, 2020 by Peggy

    When I prune my Nellie Stevens tree can I root any part of it if I put the joint into dirt

  38. June 5, 2020 by Mike

    Are the Nelly Stevens Hollys deer resistant?

  39. June 7, 2020 by Clint

    Hi! This article is from 2014. I’m guessing no one is responding. But just in case…I have 6 NSH in a row and 2 are looking great but 3 look terrible with new growth wilting or very limp and the other is super limp but still green. They didn’t peek up at all after 2 weeks of rain so it’s not under watering. They have been in the ground for a year and I am just worried about them. I live in San Antonio Tx. In the rocky part of town so the soil may be. A little alkaline. Not sure what to do or if there is anything I can do. Help would be appreciated.

  40. June 18, 2020 by Gloria Jones

    I see the questions…where are the answers?

  41. July 9, 2020 by Wes

    Nellie Steven Holly trees are the perfect solution to growing that thick tall privacy hedge to block unsightly view, nosey neighbors or traffic. If you don’t like wooden privacy fences then i would recommend this tree is for you. Give this tree plenty of water for the first year and then on a weekly basis there after. Start trimming when the tree starts branching outwards. If using as a hedge, let the branch connection occur, trimming just the face and back when needed, leave the top alone until the desired height is reached. If wanting to keep your holly tree as a Christmas tree, then cut the holly to the shape of a Christmas tree. Anywhere the holly is cut, new chutes will appear to fill the void. Training your tree by routine maintenance is the key to having the best privacy hedge ever. Irrigation and yearly fertilization is higly recommended. If you already fertilize your yard this should be adequate for your Nellie Stevens Holly tree.

  42. July 23, 2020 by Casilda Canino

    Can Holly Nelly Stevens get bugs? Two of my trees are dying. I saw something as white flues near them. What can I do to spray and kill these bugs? Thanks!

  43. July 30, 2020 by Doris

    I bought a Nellie Stevens and waiting to grow. It’s stuck and have no see grow not even an inch. Really sad and disappointed. I wish to having one for privacy issues

  44. Make sure the sexes are not too far apart.

  45. Anybody have success growing this in zone 6a?

  46. August 3, 2020 by Allen

    A gardener just planted a Nellie Stevens in front of my mom’s living room window. It’s already 4-5′ tall and she doesn’t want it any taller than that. She doesn’t want it to block the window. Seems like a bad choice to me – can it be kept this size with regular pruning? He charged a lot for it – will she now be paying more every year to keep it the size she wants? Thanks

  47. August 18, 2020 by Rose

    Can you grow these Holly’s in n. Idaho?

  48. August 25, 2020 by Bryant Baerga

    I live in zone 6a/b. Was just wondering when is the best time to plant? And fertilizer if any?

    Bryant in NJ

  49. September 7, 2020 by william hosford

    Do all Nellie R Stevens have berries? Is they not a male and female?
    Many thanks