I am often asked for recommendations regarding plant material in home landscapes. This can sometimes be a difficult task due to homeowners' personal opinions on plant styles, as well as the vast amount of plants available to the modern gardener. One tool that helps with the decision-making process is the annual Georgia Gold Medal Plant list.
Each year, the Georgia Plant Selection Committee, headquartered at the State Botanical Gardens in Athens, puts out a list of Gold Medal winners. These are plants that have been shown to be superior ornamental plants through the combined work of extension, nurseries, landscape professionals and university researchers. Winners are chosen from six categories each year: Annuals, perennials, natives, trees, shrubs and vines and groundcovers.
The 2014 Gold Medal winner in the tree category was the Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis).
This tree can be useful in many different home landscape situations. Chinese pistache trees are medium-sized, around 35-feet tall when mature, with an upright form and a dense, round canopy. They like to be planted in full sun and can tolerate heat, poor soils and drought. They can tolerate some shade, but they will not reach their full potential in a less-sunny area.
Chinese pistache trees are known for their great fall color. They have compound leaves made up of many leaflets, similar to pecan leaves. In late fall, the leaves turn a bright orange-red color. Also offering winter interest is the vase-like shape of the branches, as well as the naturally-peeling bark.
These trees can grow two to three feet per year. They are known for looking uneven and lanky when young, so make sure you get one from the nursery that has been properly pruned for form. You may need to out some excessively long branches the first few years after you plant your Chinese pistache.
Eventually the tree's natural growth form will take over and it will look much more attractive.
As I mentioned earlier, the Chinese pistache is tolerant of many different soil types. If you have tough areas of your yard with poor soils, droughty soils, or spots that take a lot of summer heat, this tree may be what you are looking for. It is often found in urban parking lots, which receive little or no supplemental care, so it should be able to make it in your landscape. Those with new home sites that have poor soils due to severe site grading would benefit from this tree.
Late winter is a great time to plant new trees.
Try out a Chinese pistache in your landscape and see if it can help some of your problem areas.
For more suggestions and to see Gold Medal winners from previous years, search the Georgia Gold Medal Plant winners online at botgarden.uga.edu.
Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.