How to Grow Pistachio Trees

Pistachio tree (Pistacia vera) in orchard


miguelangelortega / Getty Images

If you are looking for a perennial nut tree to produce a tasty, crunchy snack full of healthy vitamins and minerals, you may be considering planting a pistachio tree. The Pistacia vera requires very specific growing conditions, but, if you can meet its needs, it will yield an abundant harvest. 

Pistachio trees grow in arid, hot climates that get plenty of sunshine. Though slow-growing (pistachio trees can take a minimum of five to seven years to produce substantial harvests), the rewards of growing your own food far outweigh the effort and patience required.

These fruit trees can grow up to 30 feet tall, with taproots just as long. Their flowers are not showy and lack petals altogether. But what they lack in looks they make up in tasty nut production. 

Botanical Name Pistacia vera 
Common Name Pistachio tree
Plant Type Fruit
Mature Size 25 to 30 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Light, well-draining, sandy, loamy 
Soil pH Neutral to slightly alkaline 
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Reddish-brown buds
Hardiness Zones 7 to 11
Native Area Central Asia
Pistachio tree in bloom
Pistachio tree in bloom Tirex / Getty Images
Ripening pistachio nuts on tree
Ripening pistachio nuts Getty Images

Pistachio Tree Care

Growing pistachios isn’t an option for everyone because of their specific climate needs. The biggest factor to consider is the temperature, humidity, and rainfall of your area. Pistachio trees require very hot temperatures during the day and don't appreciate high humidity or wet soil. It does best in a sandy, well-draining, loamy soil. Infrequent, deep waterings are best. 

Pistacia vera is a dioecious variety of fruit tree. In simple terms, this means that they are not self-pollinating. A tree will either have male or female flowers, and you'll need one of each if you want to actually produce pistachio nuts.

Gusty winds in the spring and summer are also crucial for a healthy pistachio harvest. The pollen from the male trees must have enough wind to blow from the male flowers to the female tree’s flowers. Typically, trees planted within 50 feet of each other will be able to pollinate.

Light 

The pistachio tree needs full sun and thrives in hot, arid climates. 

Soil 

Though the pistachio tree will grow in almost any soil type, it does best in light, sandy, loamy soils that are well-draining. Wet, heavy soil is not an option for these trees. Because of their long taproots, it is important that the soil reaches deep into the ground. 

Water 

The pistachio tree is very drought-tolerant and prefers arid landscapes. However, do not allow this reputation to think it gives you an excuse to deprive your pistachio tree of water. They still require plenty of water to produce nuts.

Your tree will appreciate deep, infrequent waterings, allowing the water to saturate the soil. In the heat of summer, extra water is appreciated. Allow the water to drain before watering again; the pistachio does not do well in soggy soil or standing water. For large orchards, many people use irrigation systems

Temperature and Humidity 

These trees like it hot! Optimal temperatures for the pistachio tree hover at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite loving such hot temperatures, it does require colder temperatures (45 degrees Fahrenheit or below) for a portion of the year.

This temperature dip triggers dormancy, which is crucial for surviving winter weather. However, pistachio trees can't tolerate frozen ground.

Unlike tropical plants who like hot temperatures and humidity, the pistachio tree does not like too much moisture. It thrives in hot, arid climates. 

Fertilizer 

Before adding any fertilizer, it is important to know what your soil may lack by having a soil test done. If it is lacking in nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium, you can tailor the fertilization to fit the nutrient needs of your tree.

It is best to apply the fertilizer in the late winter to early spring to help produce a good harvest. 

Pruning 

Like other nut-bearing trees, the Pistacia vera is classified as a fruit tree. This makes pruning integral to getting the best nut harvest.

When the tree is young, identify branches to act as the main branches for the growing tree. It is best to choose ones that are spaced evenly around the trunk. Avoid branches that are directly across from each other.

After choosing main branches, trim away all branches below the lowest main branch, which should be 24 to 32 inches above the soil. All other branches should be pruned to approximately four to six inches in length.

Pruning your pistachio tree mid-summer will help encourage the tree to branch and grow thicker. To stimulate ongoing growth, you may want to prune your tree two to three times a year. 

Harvesting 

It typically takes a tree five to seven years to bear nuts, usually in October.

When pistachio nuts are ready for harvesting, the hulls will turn a beautiful pink-yellow color and the epicarp (the outer husk of the nut) will separate from the inner husk. Once this occurs, simply rap the branches to dislodge the nuts and collect your bounty.

For an easy harvest, try placing a sheet or tarp below the tree before dislodging the nuts. After collection, be sure to remove the epicarps within 24 hours for the best flavor and freshness. 

Growing in Containers

These trees can be grown in containers for the first three to five years as a seedling. After this, they should be planted in the garden to allow the tree to mature. This is crucial because of this species long taproot, which would be stunted with long-term container growth.