When looking for an evergreen tree for screening, it is hard to look past the Nellie Stevens Holly. This tree satisfies so many needs – beautiful, dense, dark-green foliage, pest-free, rapid growing, but not in need constant trimming, and shade-tolerant, a rare feature in screening trees. It gives you all l this, plus the added bonus of a crop of red berries to brighten the dark days of winter and decorate your house for the festive season.
Nellie Stevens Holly will grow up to 3 feet a year, after becoming established during the first year, so a screen or hedge perhaps 25 feet tall could grow in just ten years under ideal conditions. Grown alone it forms a symmetrical pyramid, broader at the base than the top. Planted in a screen the trees will grow together well and form a solid wall. One of the great features of this holly is the beautiful way the foliage continues right to the ground. So there is no need to invest in ground-cover to fill in below. This feature will also hide most of the leaves which fall in spring, so raking will be reduced. It is as easy to make a formal hedge with regular pruning as it is to grow an informal screen as tall as you need. This plant is more tolerant of shade than most other screening plants, but growth will be faster and denser in full sun or at least a few hours of sun a day during the growing season.
This tree has amazing soil tolerance. Once established it will take serious drought, or complete flooding and be just fine. It will survive in hard, compacted soil and sand, loam or clay soils. It has almost no insect or disease problems, although there have been very occasional reports of scale insects. Deer will only touch this tree when desperate, as the thorny leaves make it very unattractive to them. So if you have deer in your area this is a great planting choice.
The full name of the Nellie Stevens Holly is Ilex x’Nellie R. Stevens’. Although one parent is the Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta), and the other English Holly (Ilex aquifolium), this is an all-American tree grown by Mr Nellie Stevens around 1900 from berries he collected at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. The original tree grew in his garden in Maryland until his daughter made it available to growers around 1954.
The flowers are produced in spring. They are white but inconspicuous, so they may not even be noticed. In fall clusters of red berries are produced, which, since they are not eaten by birds, will last most of the winter. Unlike almost all other hollies, this holly can make berries without a male tree. If you really want a bumper crop it does help however to plant one or two male Chinese Hollies nearby for their pollen.
Hollies will tolerate as much pruning as you want or need to give them. If necessary it can be cut back to the bare branches and new growth will come quickly. Pruning is best done in late winter, but hard pruning will usually stop berry production as it will remove the flowers. So regular, light pruning is preferable both to maintain a hedge and to have this tree produce berries. It can readily be pruned up to give head-room underneath if your screen runs along a path or driveway, so this is a flexible tree whose growth pattern can be adjusted to your needs. Un-pruned, Nellie Stevens will reach 30 or even 40 feet and up to 15 feet across.
Nellie Stevens Holly grows throughout the warmer parts of North America, from Zones 6 to Zone 9. So throughout the South, from Texas and Oklahoma to almost the tip of Florida it will do well. In all the western states and in the east from southern Pennsylvania and Massachusetts on south, this tree will be perfectly happy. Of course it will grow a little faster in the warmer zones.
Although all hollies prefer slightly acid soil, the Nellie Stevens Holly is so vigorous it will thrive in almost all soils. It will tolerate wet soils too, but will of course do better if there is some drainage.
Hybrid trees like this can never be grown from seed as each seedling will be different and unpredictable. Our trees are grown the correct way, from branch cuttings. That way every tree is identical to the original and produces a very uniform effect when grown in groups. However this takes longer, so avoid cheaper, seedling trees that will only be a disappointment.
Nellie Stevens Holly is one of the best screening trees available for warmer areas. For a quick screen plant 4 feet apart, or with the root-balls touching, but if you have more time to wait, trees planted 8 feet apart will join up in time.
The area you are going to plant in should be dug a foot deep, or even more if you can manage it. Add any kind of organic material – rotted manure, compost, rotted leaves or peat moss will all help develop a good root system that will give you the best growth possible. Some bone-meal or superphosphate worked in is also helpful, but is an ‘extra’ in most soil. For screening it is best to dig a long trench which is easier to plant into, rather than digging individual holes. Before filling the planting hole completely add lots of water. When it has drained away put back the last of the soil and level off. Once established the care required is minimal. During the first season water well once a week, but after that water is rarely or never needed. Applying a general fertilizer in spring in helpful but usually not necessary.
We sell only trees that are true to the original form and we have a wide range of sizes to give you the best plant for your purpose. However we are constantly renewing our stock so our customers get fresh, healthy plants, so supplies of this tree may be limited. To avoid disappointment order now.