The Chinese pistache tree (Pistacia chinensis) is often used for landscaping in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. Though it will tolerate partial shade, this deciduous tree truly thrives and looks its best when planted in full sun. Well-draining soil is best, but the pistache tree will accept less than optimal growing conditions. Plantings should be avoided in areas where salt spray or salty soil is present as its salt tolerance is very low. Soil pH is not a problem, however, because the Chinese pistache tolerates a wide range of soil alkalinity. This tree requires no fertilizer and is drought-resistant once established. It is perfect for large and medium-sized yards but may overpower smaller spaces.
When fully grown, the Chinese pistache tree typically reaches heights of 25 to 35 feet, although some specimens have reached 60 feet. The canopy will spread out as far as the tree is tall, with a diameter that is also about 25 to 35 feet wide.
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Mature trees develop a smooth, rounded crown shape that spreads out from the trunk in a vaselike pattern. These trees are best grown with a single trunk and are highly resistant to breakage in wind.
Chinese pistache trees grow at a medium rate, increasing their height by 13 to 24 inches a year until reaching maturity. At this growth rate, a tree will reach maturity in 12 to 15 years.
The leaves of the Chinese pistache tree are green throughout the spring and summer but turn vivid, beautiful shades of orange and red in the fall. Showy red flowers appear on the tree in the spring and are followed by small, fleshy fruits that are blue, green and red. The "Keith Davey" variety is especially valued for its rich colors.
This tree will drop flower petals and fruits of about 1/2 inch in diameter, so they should be planted where litter won't be a problem. Many gardeners agree, however, that the tree's beautiful color, which lasts well into November in southern areas, more than makes up for the litter it drops.
Because they are very drought-resistant, most Chinese pistache trees won't need to be watered after they are about two years old. Water your tree thoroughly every three weeks for the first two years, however, to help it get firmly established.
Pests and Diseases
Pests are not a problem for this hardy tree, nor are most diseases. The Chinese pistache can, on occasion, fall victim to verticillium wilts and oak root fungus, but this is not a widespread problem.
This decorative tree is perfect for parking lot islands, yards, buffer strips, patios and anywhere a shade tree is desired. This tree does well in polluted urban environments and is perfect for adding greenery into cityscapes.
Birds and rodents feed on the seeds of the Chinese pistache tree, and the flowers do attract some insects.
Surface roots are not a problem with the Chinese pistache tree, so you need not fear that a mature tree will disturb sidewalks or driveways -- or sewer pipes if spaced properly.
The Ugly Duckling
Because it is often gangly and misshapen when young, many gardeners and landscapers overlook the Chinese pistache tree. The tree grows into a beautiful garden focal point as it matures, however, leading many to refer to it as The Ugly Duckling. Don't overlook this beautiful swan when planning your garden just because of its unsightly teen years.