What Does It Take to Grow Pistachio Trees?

Monday, June 4th, 2018
pistachio farm in New Mexico

Who doesn’t love pistachios? They are a tasty treat that are good for snacking and in many recipes. Plus, they are so full of healthy stuff that they really are good for you. Think you want to try growing your own? Let’s see if you have what it takes…


Climate is the number one most crucial factor in deciding to plant pistachio trees. Pistachios require long, hot, dry summers and chilling in the winter, but don’t tolerate ground that freezes. They require approximately 1,000 accumulative hours of temperature at or below 45° F during dormancy. The environment needs to be arid. Pistachio Trees don’t do well in areas of high humidity. Pistachios have the narrowest environment requirements of any commercially grown nut crop. The flowers of the tree are wind-pollinated, so spring and summer breezes are also necessary to ensure a good harvest. In the United States, that pretty much limits growth to the San Joaquin Valley in California, southeastern Arizona, far west Texas and the high desert of New Mexico.


Next you need to consider your soil; pistachio trees do well in all soil types but really thrive in relatively deep, light, dry and sandy loam soils, with high calcium carbonate (CaCO3) concentration. They do not tolerate wet, heavy soils. Well-draining soil is a must! They do tolerate high-levels of salinity in the soil.


Pistachio trees should be planted about 20 feet apart. If they are planted in less than 20 feet distances, after a few years, the overcrowding and the mutual shadowing of trees will decrease the quantity and quality of production and will make harvesting and pruning more difficult.

Since the wind carries the pollen from the male tree (pollinator) to the blossom on the bearing, female tree, the male trees are planted so that the prevailing direction of the winds will blow the pollen across the female trees. The ratio of male trees ranges from 1 male per 10 females to 1 male per 15 females.


It takes time and patience to grow pistachios. You won’t see your first pistachio until about year five (5). It will take about 7 – 8 years before you will receive a good yield of pistachios and 15 -20 years to reach peak production. To this, you must add that pistachio trees have an inherent tendency toward alternate bearing. This means the tree produces heavy one year, then stores nutrition, which causes a lighter yield the following year.


Pistachios develop in early summer and ripen in late August or September nearly everywhere in the world. It’s easy to tell when pistachio harvest season is getting closer because the hulls lose their green hue and take on a pinkish-yellow tint. When the nuts are fully ripe, the epicarp (the thin, elastic hull) begins to separate from the inner shell. At this point, the epicarp is easy to remove from the inner shell by squeezing it between your fingers.

Large pistachio ranches use mechanical “shakers” to drop the nuts, but the nuts can be dislodged by rapping the branches with a sturdy pole or a rubber mallet. The epicarps need to be removed within 24 hours of harvest to maintain freshness and flavor. The raw nuts can be roasted and seasoned after being dried. For small batches, all of this can be accomplished in your kitchen, but if you are interested in a large orchard, you will need to consider commercial equipment.

In recap, you need the perfect climate and soil, with a lot of time and space to produce quality pistachios. Did you make the cut? If not, don’t worry, you can buy New Mexico Farm Fresh Pistachios right here.

If you would like to learn more about growing pistachios, visit the Heart of the Desert website for an inside look. Farm tours are also available.

Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.