What’s better than a fast-growing evergreen tree with beautiful red berries in the winter? Nothing that we’ve found! The Nellie Stevens Holly tree is a perfect specimen tree because of its bright red winter berries, but it is also a great plant for a privacy or security hedge. (Nobody wants to try to get through the thorny leaves on this plant!) Plant the Nellie Stevens Holly at the corner of your yard as a beautiful, pyramid-shaped focal point or as a hedge along your property line.
What’s Not to Love about Nellie Stevens?
Holly trees are underused in the landscape. People think they’re hard to grow, but they’re not—especially the Nellie Stevens variety. This holly variety is hardy in USDA zones 6-9, making it the perfect tree for all but the coldest high plains and rocky mountain areas. Nellie Stevens trees are particularly happy in Pacific Northwest and East Coast gardens because of the acidic soil. They love acidic soil, and will grow where many other trees won’t. Nellie Stevens grows up to three feet per year and maintains a nice, conical shape as long as you don’t remove the top of the tree. In the winter, when all of your other trees are bare, Nellie Stevens is still a lustrous green with bright red berries. It’s also drought-tolerant.
How to Plant Nellie Stevens Holly Trees
To plant and grow these trees, first you need a pair of sturdy leather gloves. The leaves have little thorns on them, so wearing gloves while handling them is a must! Choose a planting area with full sun to partial shade. They need the sun to develop the pretty red fruits, and while hollies have both “male” and “female” plants, Nellie Stevens is a variety that produces berries reliably without a “male” around for pollination.
Nellie Stevens Hollies grow to a mature height of 15-25 feet. This makes them ideal foundation plants or trees for the corner of your house. The mature width is 5-10 feet in a mostly conical or pyramid form. If planting as a specimen tree, leave at least 10 feet in diameter around the tree for it to spread out. If planting as a hedge, place plants eight to ten feet apart. They grow quickly and will fill in.
Because hollies are broadleaf evergreens, and can dry out in the winter, the best time to plant these trees is in the spring to early fall. This gives them time to establish a good root system before winter sets in.
To plant you holly tree, wearing your gloves, dig a hole as deep as the tree’s rootball and twice as wide. Remove the tree from the container and place in the hole. (This is where the gloves come in handy!) If the tree’s rootball is situated lower than the surrounding soil, pick up the tree and add some more soil to the hole. The trees will settle over time, so it is ok to plant them a bit “high.” Fill in around the tree with the same soil you removed from the planting hole. Mulch around your tree with shredded hardwood or pine straw. (Do not use crushed shells or other calcium-rich materials as mulch.)
How to Care for Nellie Stevens Holly Trees
These trees are easy to grow, but a few tips will help you get the most out of your tree.
Water new trees twice a week for the first two months. After two months, water once a week up until six months. At that time, the tree will be well-established and will only need extra water if it is very windy and sunny during the winter.
A good rule of thumb for watering broadleaf evergreens (trees with wide evergreen leaves) is to water deeply (count to forty on each plant) once a week for the month before the ground typically freezes. If you have several days above 50-60 degrees in the winter, it also doesn’t hurt to give your Nellie Stevens Holly trees a drink.
Holly trees grow tall and shapely without much pruning. If you want a bushier, rounder plant, cut off the top of the tree. This will cause buds in the interior of the tree to sprout, and the tree will have a fuller look. You can also hedge or prune these trees for shape. Always cut back to a leaf to hide your pruning cuts.
Fertilize holly trees in the spring and fall with special fertilizer made for acid-loving plants. Holly Tone is one brand, but there are many.
If you follow these tips, your Nellie Stevens Holly plants will grow beautifully all year