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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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The Chinese Pistache Tree
History, Planting and Care

My ol’ mama used to say, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all!" At one time, I heard some folks bad?mouthing one of the very best trees for this area ? ? the pistachio. Regardless of nay-sayers, this tree ranks in the top 5 trees that are recommended for this area.

Controversy arises over the Pistache because of its difficult adolescent years. After planting, some trees grow long and lanky for the first few "adolescent" years. No person, and certainly no plant, is perfect. But if the good outweighs the bad, the plant is a keeper. The Chinese Pistache IS a keeper! Not only will it be around, it will be recommended for many years to come.

A "buggy whip"? shaped Pistache can be modified with proper pruning in January or February. You should try to develop an umbrella framework with a trunk 6 feet tall with 4 to 6 spoke?like branches growing upward. To accomplish this, look on the trunk for a spot about 5 to 6 feet above the ground where you’ll see a whorl of small, twiggy branches. Cut the top out of the tree about 3 to 4 inches above this whorl of branches.

In the absence of any branches on the trunk, simply cut the top out at the 6-foot level. What will remain is the " buggy whip" cut into half. After the topping, the tree will force all its energy into branching. Four to 6 branches will appear near the cut and begin growth.

If you have a 2- to 5-year old Pistache which has not naturally branched and is "long?and?lanky", the tree will require more drastic pruning. In January or February, prune to the structure of a 6?foot?trunk?with?several?spoke?branches. Do not try to develop a central leader (one central trunk).

To more quickly obtain a thicker, stronger trunk after pruning, use the "trashy trunk" method of pruning. The "trashy trunk" refers to leaving all branches and leaves on the trunk from top to bottom. The extra foliage and branches produce much needed energy for the trunk. The results are a greatly expanded trunk for greater strength and vigor. As the branches near the bottom of the trunk become 1- inch in diameter, they can be removed without permanently scarring the trunk. After the second year of growth, always keep the height of the tree 2/3 in foliage and 1/3 in bare trunk.

Growing a Pistache is a kind of a historical and religious experience. The name comes from Persian "pistah" which is the name of the nut?bearing pistachio tree. There is no poison associated with ANY PART of the Pistache tree (how many other trees can you say that about?). In fact, most Pistache species produce resins which have been used by man since 50 A.D. The Bible is full of references to the Pistache. Pistache trees, mixed with scrub oak, comprise the thorn forests of Asia Minor-- such as the one in which Absalom rode wildly and was caught by the hair (II Samuel 18). The terebinth tree mentioned in the Bible—the tree that provided shade to nomadic wanderers-- is a Pistache.

Of course, many people think of the Pistache nut when you say the word Pistache. The Chinese Pistache tree recommended for planting in this area can be used as a rootstock for the edible nutted Pistache. However, both male and female varieties of the edible Pistache are needed, and since sexes are separate, several trees would be required to insure successful nut production. The edible, nutted type of tree could be killed by severe winters of below 15 degrees F. Even if Texans could produce Pistache nuts, the edible nutted tree is inferior to the Chinese Pistache in terms of shade and ornamental features. The edible cousin of the Chinese Pistache is quite famous. In fact, in the book of Genesis, the sons of Jacob carried "nuts" with them into Egypt. It is believed that these nuts were pistachios.
Pistachio nuts were also known to be a royal favorite of the Queen of Sheba.

What are the advantages of the Pistache tree as an ornamental? First, it’s a long?lived tree. Under favorable conditions, which we have in this area, pistachio trees live for centuries; in the Kerman region of Iran, a 700?year?old tree is still standing. Unfortunately, Texas is not that old, but there are trees still thriving at the former U.S.D.A. Agriculture Research Center (located at South Flores and March Street) which were planted in 1940. The trees are doing well with no care and have produced a 40 x 40- foot canopy of shade.

After the tree gets through its "adolescent" lanky years, it develops an oval to rounded form with an umbrella?like crown somewhat similar to the American elm, but much smaller in stature. Unlike many of the trees sold in this area, the Pistache is an extremely tough and durable tree. It is very drought resistant, tolerates extreme heat-- from a near desert?like atmosphere to drying winds and low humidity. It is also very deep rooted.

The tree is disease and insect free. Have you ever seen any foliage disease on Pistache such as what you see defoliating ash and sycamore trees? Have you ever seen any webworm in Pistache such as you see in most other trees in the area? Have you seen borers kill Pistache as they do cottonwoods? Have you ever seen limbs blow out of Pistache because of the weak?wooded nature of the tree? No ? ? I think not! And you never will!

Yes, the dreaded cotton root rot fungus WILL kill Pistache ? ? it will probably kill some rocks too! If we only recommended species of trees that are resistant to cotton root rot, this area of Texas would only have 2 or 3 types, none of which would provide fall color. The root rot problem only occurs if trees are planted in areas with poor drainage or over-watered during establishment.

What about the berries? Some "yapping" malcontents indicate that "all of those berries falling from trees (that happen to be female) are going to be a horrendous mess!" The vast majority of those seeds, which are about 1/4 -inch in diameter, are sterile. If the tree produced enough berries to drop a thick mat of berries on the ground, you could mow them away with a lawn mower in about 30 seconds! The fruit is actually described as an asset-- scarlet at first, then turning a reddish purple, and wonderfully attractive to birds. All of the red berries are sterile. The relatively few fertile black berries are the bird’s choice --- keeping out-of-place seedlings to a minimum. Female Pistache trees are biennial bearers, producing every other year. So, even if you want to fuss about the berries and deprive the birds, you will have that opportunity ONLY once every 2 years!

The Chinese Pistache is a medium?sized shade tree that is tolerant of our rocky, alkaline soils. It possesses a hard, durable wood, is virtually insect and disease free and will grow 2 to 3 feet a year. It displays spectacular fall color every autumn. Overall, it's one of the finest medium shade trees we have for this area.