How To Grow And Care For Chinese Pistache Trees

Trees that provide gorgeous fall colors.

Chinese Pistache Tree
Photo: Mark Miller Photos / Getty Images

Chinese pistache trees are versatile and can fit in most gardens, thrive in most conditions, and provide gorgeous fall color. It's native to China and Taiwan. Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is a cousin of the pistachio tree (Pistacia vera) that gives us those delicious green nuts—both trees are in the cashew family. Unfortunately, the berries of Chinese pistache are delicious only to wildlife. Still, while Chinese pistache won't sate your physical hunger, it will satisfy your spiritual yearning for a beautiful shade tree in the yard. You can plant Chinese pistache by the street, along a driveway, in the middle of the lawn, or at the edge of a courtyard or patio to shade you and your guests. City governments love this tough tree because it can thrive in constrained spaces with little watering.

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
Common Name:  Chinese Pistache
Botanical Name: Pistacia chinensis
Family: Anacardiaceae
Plant Type: Tree, Deciduous
Mature Size: 25-35 ft. tall, 25-35 ft. wide
Sun Exposure: Full
Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained, Rich, Loamy
Soil pH: Acidic to Alkaline (5.5 to 7.5)
Bloom Time: Spring
Flower Color: Green (Flowers), Yellow, Orange, or Red (Foliage)
Hardiness Zones: Zones 6-9 (USDA)
Native Area: Asia

Chinese Pistache Care

Chinese pistache is a deciduous tree with arching, pinnate leaves that will remind you of a hickory, pecan, or black locust tree but at a much more manageable size. The roots are well-behaved, making it a safe choice near blacktop and concrete. The grayish-brown bark becomes textured and flaky as the tree matures, exposing orangey inner bark when chipped away. Chinese pistache trees are considered invasive in some environments, but since they are sexed trees, they will only spread if male and female trees are near each other. The male and female trees differ as male trees do not produce fruits, and female trees do not have petals.


Plant Chinese pistache in full sun, preferably in the fall, so that the roots can establish over winter. A Chinese pistache planted in the shade can grow ungainly and lopsided. This tree is relatively heat and drought-tolerant, making it an excellent tree for sunny locations. Shaded areas will produce trees will less fruit than others planted in direct sunlight.


The Chinese pistache grows in almost any well-drained soil, whether loamy, sandy, or clay. It's adaptable in most soil conditions and pH levels as long as it is moist and rich in organic material.


As a drought-tolerant tree, the Chinese pistache does not require consistent watering after establishing its roots. Water deeply when the soil is dry for the first year. This tree prefers to have only partially wet feet. Young Chinese pistache trees can be gangly and take a while to develop their attractive umbrella shape. The tree needs about two years to develop a proper root system to become strong. Mulching can help the tree retain its moisture. You should water more often in regions that do not get at least one gallon of rainwater per inch of trunk diameter.

Temperature and Humidity

Chinese pistache trees grow better in warmer, arid climates than in colder regions. If growing in an area that experiences cold weather, try to plant Chinese pistache trees in an area that shelters them from the wind. Typically these trees do not tolerate cold weather beyond light freezing temperatures.


The Chinese pistache tree only requires a little fertilization after the first few years of establishing itself. Plant in an area with rich organic soil and amend the contents if it lacks the proper nutrients. Young trees benefit from nitrogen-based fertilizer in the spring and fall.

Types of Chinese Pistache Trees

The Chinese pistache tree has a few cultivars varieties that might be better depending on your growing environment. Chinese pistache trees can be either male or female. The greenish flowers appear in spring but are not showy. Only females bear fruit, which some people find a little messy. Here are some popular types that include trademarked or patented cultivars:

  • Pistacia chinensis  'Sarah's Radiance': This tree has a deep, intense fall color with shades of pale purple. The tree's canopy is significant and will provide shade throughout warmer months.
  • Pistacia chinensis 'Keith Davey': A male tree with orange foliage that does not produce fruit or flowers, making maintenance easy. This tree turns a fiery orange in fall, gradually turning to a deep scarlet later in the season.
  • Pistacia chinensis 'Red Push': A hybrid tree between P. atlantica and P. integerrima develops a broad crown that emerges with red-tinted foliage. In the fall, these trees have foliage in red, orange, and yellow shades.


To help young Chinese pistache trees retain their shape, prune the canopy in January or February to help create the umbrella-like form. After the trees reach over six feet in height, pruning the tree tops can help keep the tree healthy. Prune away excess branches while maintaining the trunk to encourage new, symmetrical growth. When developing the single trunk and selecting from the lateral branches, it might take a few years to train the tree into a sightly shape. When foliage or fruit drops, remove the debris with a rake around the tree to prevent unwanted seedlings. Otherwise, remove dead or diseased branches whenever necessary.

Propagating Chinese Pistache Trees

Depending on the variety, if the Chinese pistache tree is trademarked or patented, it cannot be propagated. If it is not a protected variety from infringement copyrights, stem cuttings are the best way to propagate. Here's how:

  1. Select a soft, green stem long enough that leaf nodes are still attached—about four to six inches. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut below the leaf node and gently remove the leaves on the lower portion of the cutting. 
  2. Dip the stem cuttings into a rooting hormone. 
  3. Fill a container with potting soil and use your finger or a pencil to create small holes. 
  4. Place the stem cuttings in the pencil-shaped holes about two inches in the soil. Press the soil around the stems so they stand upright, and there is no air between the branch and potting mixture. 
  5. Water the stem cuttings in the container. Ensure proper irrigation in the container, so the soil stays moist but well-drained. Place the container in bright, indirect sunlight. Continue watering when the soil is dry—use your fingers to determine. 
  6. Stem cuttings should develop roots within two to three months when you can transplant them outdoors.

How to Grow Chinese Pistache Trees From Seed

  1. Start by placing moist peat moss in an envelope with Chinese pistache seeds. Place the envelope in a sealed plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for 45 days. 
  2. After 45 days, fill a seed starting tray with equal parts peat moss and vermiculite—water, so the soil mixture is moist and well-drained. 
  3. Remove the seeds from the refrigerator and plant them in the seed starting tray about one inch deep. Keep the tray in an area that reaches at least 80°F or use a heating mat. Use a spray bottle to keep the soil moist. 
  4. When the seedlings develop a second set of leaves, transplant them into a small container filled with a soil mixture of equal parts potting soil, peat, and sand. 
  5. After the roots develop, follow the same transplanting process to move them into larger containers. 
  6. After one year of growing in containers, transplant the new growth in their permanent locations and water. Dig a hole as deep as the tree's root ball and three times as wide. Place the tree in the hole and backfill it with soil, so it is level with the top of the root ball.
  7. Add two or three inches of mulch around the tree, keeping the mulch from touching the trunk. Too much mulch can cause rot bark, encourage pests, and cause roots to grow above the soil level. Spread the mulch evenly, extending as far as the sapling's branches.


Chinese pistache trees do not require over-winter care as they will lose their leaves when cold weather arrives. Deep-green foliage will return when the weather warms, typically around March. This quick-growing tree is consistently developing a spectacular fall colored-foliage of scarlet, orange, and yellow.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The Chinese pistache tree does not experience significant pest issues. Verticillium wilt is one disease that infects this tree, but there is no cure, so prevention is the best way to keep your trees healthy. Always use clean garden tools and maintain proper soil conditions, as Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne disease. Early signs that this disease is present include brown and wilting leaves. Oak root fungus is also a disease that can impact the Chinese pistache tree's health. This disease affects a tree's root system, preventing water and nutrients from finding the tree.

Some pests include scales, which appear as bumps on the lower sides of leaves. These insects suck the sap from the plant tissue by piercing the foliage with their mouths. This infestation causes plants to turn yellow and the leaves to drop. Unfortunately, the scales are challenging to control once present, so prevention is critical.

Common Problems With Chinese Pistache Trees

Chinese pistache trees are relatively easy to maintain and problem-free once established. There are still a few issues that can prevent these trees from thriving, including the following:

Plant Leaves Falling Off

If you notice the leaves shrinking or falling, this could be a sign of root rot. A fungus causes root rot in the soil and affects the base of the stems first. Other causes include contaminated water. Symptoms include roots breaking or turning black. Unfortunately, this fungus is not treatable with fungicide, so you must remove the roots and surrounding soil because it is likely infected.

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