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Nut Trees for Hot Dry Climates

pistachio nuts on tree

These green pistachios will ripen in the Fall.  In the meantime the tree provides ample shade.

The endless sunshine in a hot, dry climate creates a welcoming environment for nut and fruit trees. The nut trees, in particular, add refreshing shade to a garden, as you can see in our photo essay on an extraordinary Orchard Garden.

Some of these trees need "Winter Chill", a specific length of time when temperatures are under 45 degrees F in order to produce fruit. Freezing temperatures, however, may quickly damage these and all other fruit trees.

For Fruit Trees suitable for desert climates, click here. For Fast Growing Trees, click here.

The Best Nut Tree Trio

Pistachio (Pistachia vera) does well especially in the mid to high desert areas. The winters in the low desert (Phoenix or Palm Springs) may not be cold enough; they need about 1000 hours of winter chilling to produce nuts. Pistachios need both a male and female trees for pollination. The 'Peters' is the most commonly planted male tree; the 'Kerman' the best female variety. They grow to 25 to 30 feet tall and take 5 to 8 years to begin producing nuts. They prefer well-drained soil and lots of summer sun. Deep, very infrequent watering after the trees are established. Watering too often will produce root rot. To harvest the nuts, use a tarp on the ground and shake the tree in early autumn.

NOTE: There are also ornamental pistachio trees in nurseries, so be sure to buy the ones that produce nuts.

Almonds (Prunus dulcis) love hot, dry summer weather. The recommended variety for home gardens is the semi-dwarf 'All-In-One' which self-pollinates and grows best in reasonably fast-draining soil. The large, soft-shelled nuts look like clusters of small green peaches until late summer when the outer coat peels back to reveal the almond in its shell. The 'All-In-One' almond tree reaches 15 feet in height.

The other almond trees that grow well in the desert are full-size, reaching 20 to 30 feet tall, and require two varieties to pollinate and produce nuts. If you select the 'Nonpareil' or the 'Ne Plus Ultra', they will pollinate each other. The 'All-in-One' will also pollinate both of these trees. To harvest the nuts, place a tarp on the ground and shake the trees. Dry fallen nuts in the sun for a day or two until the nuts inside the shell rattle. 

NOTE: during the recent California drought almond orchards have developed a reputation for being water-guzzlers.

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Pecans (Carya illinoisis) round out the mix of nuts that can be grown in our Southwestern desert climate. Most pecans will produce a light crop of nuts with just a single tree. For a larger harvest, plant two of these trees. But be forewarned -- these are large trees, growing to 70 feet and, unlike the pistachios or almonds, pecans require regular watering if you want a good crop of nuts. The best varieties for the desert are the 'Western Shley', 'Mahan' and 'Wichita'. If your soil has a high salt content, you should probably choose another tree to plant. The nuts will fall from the tree when ripe.

For more leafy trees for hot, dry climates go here.  


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