Fast Shade-Burn Baby Burn
Published: Tuesday, 11 March 2014 14:00
Written by Donna Murray, Brazos County Master Gardener
Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache

Shade is the summertime magic word in Texas and trees are the natural choice. Add fast growing in the description and they can fall in the too good to be true category. Carefully check out the species that claim to grow like Jack’s beanstalk and you will see the dark side. Usually fast growth produces weak structure that can be easily damaged by wind and weather, and is more susceptible to insects and disease. Additionally, many fast growing trees are invasive species: ‘Chinese Tallow’, ‘Chinaberry’, and ‘Mimosa’ are in this list.

Personal experience has proved that quicker is not better. An Arizona ash Fraxinus velutina, I’ve heard it called Arizona trash tree, that sprouted in the pot of another plant, was installed in the yard. Planted for sentimental reasons, it was a seedling from the tree at our first apartment in Bryan, and it had the “benefit” of fast growth. About the same time we planted a Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis, a moderate grower and a recommendation from a Brazos County Master Gardener.

The ash leapt upward and soon showed signs of insect invasion in the trunk. Virtually ignored the Pistache grew steady and strong. Meanwhile the fast ash had an entire side that died and its allure was fading as fast as its growth. The next summer completely dead it stood as an eyesore while the Chinese Pistache, having obtained the height of the skeletal mistake, now took the spotlight and provided an increasing area of shade and beautiful fall foliage. Tallying it up the ash cost five years that a better tree species could have been growing and the time and effort to dispose of the carcass.

If falling for the impulse purchase of quick shade, think “Burn Baby Burn”. Because the tree died, imagine sitting in lawn chair in full hot August sun, throwing money at a burning pile of dead limbs. Don’t be seduced by the sirens song of fluttering tags whispering “Fast growing”.

Check the Arboretum section on our website for trees that were selected for our area. You can visit the Brazos County Master Gardener Demonstration Idea Garden and Arboretum to see them and envision how they could shade your outdoor space.