You want a fast growing shade tree in a hurry? It's an arboreal conundrum. Most of us want trees that fill out fast, but the same qualities that make a tree gain height quickly often render it a pest or weakling. Consider the fast-growing silver maple, with its greedy surface roots and weak wood. Then there's the princess tree, touted in newspaper and online ads, that grows up to 15 feet a year but spreads to such an extent that in some states it's known as the worst sort of weed. I planted this tree in Alabama where I needed fast shade, and this tree was impossible to get rid of. Wherever the roots spread a new tree popped up so now instead of one tree I had twenty or more and yes they grew fast, too fast to keep up with them.
Conventional wisdom says that slow-maturing trees live longer and are stronger. So can you grow a tree that'll shoot up without toppling onto your house?
Yes—with some careful vetting. First, refine your notion of fast growing to a growth rate of 1½ to 2 feet per year. Or, as Warren Roberts, longtime superintendent of the UC Davis Arboretum, puts it: "A fast-growing tree is one you can sit in the shade of, five to six years after planting." Keep in mind that most trees grow fastest when young and when planted in soil that supplies optimum moisture and nutrients. Choose well, and you can enjoy your tree in both the short and long term.
You want trees in a hurry, then start them off right.
- Plant in early spring or early fall to avoid heat stress.
- Dig a hole in good soil that's twice as wide as the root ball's diameter and about 2 inches shallower than the root ball's depth. If the soil is compacted or poorly drained, make the hole the same depth but three to five times wider than the root ball.
- Stake trees unable to stand on their own, setting supports on the trunk as low as possible to keep the trunk upright.
- Create a berm of loose soil around the outer edge of the planting hole to retain and direct water to the root ball. Water consistently.
- After planting, mulch to suppress weed growth around the tree. Keep mulch away from the trunk itself to avoid disease problems.
Want to add some cool beauty to your landscape? Here are fast-growing favorites for shade, screening, and spectacular ornamental beauty
Clouds of pink flowers open in early spring before leaves appear. Orange-red fall color; shiny, reddish-brown bark. Small, dark, summer fruit attracts birds. Grows 20–30 feet high and wide; likes full sun and moist, well-drained acid to neutral soil.
Heritage River Birch
(Betula nigra 'Cully')
This multi-stemmed tree develops an irregular crown. Deciduous leathery green leaves turn yellow in fall; salmon-white to brownish peeling bark. Grows 40–60 feet high and wide; prefers moist, acid soil and partial shade.
Features a straight trunk and oval crown. Striking, broad, lobed leaves often conceal springtime chartreuse tulip-shaped flowers; leaves turn yellow in fall. Grows 75–90 feet high by 40–50 feet wide; prefers full sun and deep, moist, slightly acid soil.
These deciduous trees grow to at least 50 feet high and develop a broad crown under which you can walk, dine, or rest.
A broad-crowned classic that prefers moist, well-drained, acid soil. (Avoid in California and Oregon, where it falls prey to sudden oak death disease.) In California's foothills and interior valleys, choose valley oak (Q. lobata) Zones 6–11. It likes full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Both grow 60–75 feet high and at least as wide.
(Acer x freemanii)
A hybrid maple with brilliant red-orange fall color. Grows 75–80 feet high by 45–50 feet wide; prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil with neutral pH. The variety 'Autumn Blaze' is very fast-growing. It reaches 50–60 feet high, with a broad oval crown 40–50 feet wide.
'Green Vase' zelkova
(Zelkova serrata 'Green Vase')
Vase-shaped with upright arching branches and rich, dark green leaves that turn bronzy maroon in fall. Grows 60–70 feet high by 40–50 feet wide; prefers full sun to partial shade but adapts to a variety of soils. Tolerates wind, pollution, and drought, making it a viable street tree.
Use these to block second-story views into your yard or blunt northern winds. Plant them in rows, groups, or alone, depending on their spread.
Huge pyramidal tree with feathery deciduous green needles that turn russet-orange in fall. Striking, deep-fluted bark. Grows 70–100 feet high by 25 feet wide; thrives in moist, well-drained, slightly acid soil and full sun.
This oval-shaped deciduous tree is useful as an informal screen in a wet area or for edging a pond. Grows 40–60 feet high by 20–40 feet wide; thrives in full sun or part shade in wet soil where other trees might fail.