Culture of a Chinese Pistache Tree

by Bridget Kelly

With a multitude of shade trees from which to choose, narrowing down the field might be challenging. When a tree also offers spectacular fall color, grows quickly and lives a long life, it deserves a spot at the top of the list. The Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis), a relative of the cashew, is such a tree. The most cold-hardy and drought-tolerant species in the genus, the Chinese pistache thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6b to 11.

1. Description

The Chinese pistache is a deciduous tree with a rounded canopy. It grows -- sometimes up to 2 feet per year -- to 35 feet in height with an equal spread. Fall coloring rivals that of the maple tree (Acer spp.), found in USDA zones 3 through 9. Although the Chinese pistache bears flowers in the spring, they are not particularly showy, and the females produce small fruit that attracts birds.

2. Light and Temperature

Since the Chinese pistache tree thrives in dry, hot environments, grow it in the sunniest, warmest spot in the garden. If you live in a cooler region within its hardiness zone, plant it in front of a south-facing wall so that it receives radiated heat from the sun. Although the tree prefers heat, it tolerates temperatures down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Soil, Water and Fertilizer

The most important requirement of the pistache tree is that it be planted in well-drained soil, so plant it at the higher elevations in the landscape and avoid areas where water puddles after a hard rain. Water the tree to keep the soil slightly moist for its first year, and then allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. Although the Chinese pistache can go quite a long time without water, a slow soaking to a depth of 18 inches during the heat of the summer will help it avoid stress. Fertilize the tree in spring, just before it blooms. A soil test will help you determine soil deficiencies so you will know what type of fertilizer to use. Without a test, use 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of root zone.

4. Problems

Although most Chinese pistache trees are now grown on resistant stock, some are prone to a disease known as verticillium wilt, caused by various fungal pathogens (Verticillium spp.) if grown in soils that don’t drain well. Symptoms of the disease included faded coloring, wilting in the canopy or on branches, and death of shoots and branches. Verticillium wilt can be prevented by caring for the tree properly. There is no treatment other than pruning out dead branches or removing the tree.