Top 11 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for Your Yard

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When it comes to your landscaping, “throwing shade” has nothing to do with slick comments and side-eyes. Rather, it’s all about selecting the right trees to provide protection from the sun and create an environment that offers serenity and boosts curb appeal.

Other benefits of shade trees include:

  • Increased property value
  • Reduced cooling costs (in summer) and heating costs (in winter)
  • Added privacy

But, some of these trees grow a bit slowly, taking years to provide the benefits you want. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best fast-growing shade trees to plant in your front yard or backyard. Let’s take a look.

11 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for Your Yard

1. Red maple (acer rubrum)

Photo Credit: Pikrepo

Named for its brilliant fall color — red-orange leaves against even redder stems — this deciduous tree makes an excellent choice for an accent in your landscape design. Depending on the type, red maples may produce golden-yellow leaves, instead of red ones. Besides fall interest, this tree also offers bursts of small, red blooms in early spring.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9
Examples of red maple cultivars: Autumn Blaze, Brandywine, and Embers
Care: Low-maintenance. Needs full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.
Growth rate: 13 to 24 inches per year; matures at a height of 40 to 70 feet.
Flowering: Yes; small, red blooms in early spring
Cost: Live plants range from around $19 to more than $45. Buy on Amazon

2. Tulip poplar (liriodendron tulipiferal)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

One of the largest, fast-growing shade trees, the tulip poplar reaches heights of up to 120 feet. When choosing a location, make sure it’s one that offers plenty of room for this tree to grow and spread. Thriving in full sun or partial shade, this deciduous tree does tend to drop petals and sap, so keep that in mind, too.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9
Examples of tulip tree cultivars: Arnold, Little Volunteer, and Fastigiatum
Care: Water and fertilize regularly until established. Mulch to protect roots/maintain moisture.
Growth rate: 3 feet per year.
Flowering: Yes; yellow, green, or orange flowers in spring to early summer.
Cost: Live plants range from around $20 to more than $100. Buy on Amazon

3. Weeping willow (salix babylonica)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Quite the statement maker, weeping willows boast a rounded crown of drooping (“weeping”) leaves that are green in spring and summer and yellow in fall, just before they drop. Give this deer-resistant tree a large area to grow — bonus points if that area is near standing water, such as a pond or lake. 

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USDA Hardiness Zone: 6 to 8
Examples of weeping willow cultivars: Scarlet Curls, Tristis, and Umbraculifera
Care: Fertilize until established. Grow in full sun. 
Growth rate: 10 feet per year; maturing to a height of about 40 feet.
Flowering: Yes, but yellow blooms are not of any decorative value.
Cost: Prices range from $15 to more than $100, depending on size. Buy on Amazon

4. Nuttall oak (quercus texana)

Photo Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek / CC BY-SA 4.0

Of the more than 500 species of oak trees, there are several that work well as shade trees and also have a rapid growth rate. The nuttall oak, for instance, adds up to 2 feet of height each year. Characterized by its reddish-brown acorns, this deciduous tree provides bursts of fall color with red-orange leaves.

Other fast-growing oak trees that provide shade include:

  • Pin oak
  • Northern red oak
  • Sawtooth oak

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6 to 9
Examples of oak tree cultivars: Sangria and Arcade 
Care: Easy. Soil can be wet or dry, but preferably acidic. Plant in full sun.
Growth rate: Up to 4 feet per year; matures to a height of 40 to 60 feet.
Flowering: Inconspicuous, brown flowers in spring.
Cost: Live plants cost around $100. Buy on Amazon

5. Silver maple (acer saccharinum)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Courtesy of its green leaves’ silvery undersides, the silver maple not only offers nice shade to your landscape design, but also a hint of shimmer. And, since this tree can flourish in just about any soil condition — including super wet ones — it makes an excellent choice for a rain garden.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9
Examples of silver maple cultivars: Blair, Lutescens, and Silver Queen
Care: Requires full sun or partial shade and 10 feet of space for roots to spread.
Growth rate: More than 2 feet per year; matures up to 80 feet tall/50 feet wide.
Flowering: Non-showy gold, green, or red blooms in winter and spring.
Cost: Get a bare-root tree for around $15. Buy on Amazon

6. Sycamore (platanus occidentalis)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Brimming with majesty, the towering sycamore graces large landscapes with shade in spring and summer and bursts of fall color in autumn. Deer-resistant, but attractive to birds for food and shelter, this deciduous tree needs full sun and well-drained soil. Surround it with coniferous evergreens to protect it from the wind.

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USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9
Examples of sycamore cultivars: Howard, Bloodgood, and Liberty
Care: Water regularly to avoid pest/disease problems and encourage growth; mulch in winter to maintain moisture; and prune occasionally.
Growth rate: About 2 feet per year; can grow as tall as 100 feet.
Flowering: Yes; inconspicuous yellow, green, or red flowers in spring.
Cost: Live plants typically cost between $100 and $150. Buy on Amazon

7. Japanese zelkova (zelkova serrata)

Photo Credit: David J. Stang / CC BY-SA 4.0 

If you’re looking for a shade tree that will thrive in an urban setting, consider the Japanese zelkova. Tolerant of pollution, wind, heat, drought, and a variety of soil types, this deciduous tree is perfect as a specimen plant. Come fall, enjoy watching the usually green leaves turn copper, gold, orange, and reddish-purple.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8
Examples of zelkova cultivars: Autumn Glow, Spring Grove, and Wireless
Care: Full sun/partial shade and well-drained soil; prune every fall.
Growth rate: 1 to 2 feet per year; can reach height of 80 feet.
Flowering: Non-showy, green flowers in spring.
Cost: Young, bare-root trees will run you about $20. Buy on Amazon

8. Northern catalpa (catalpa speciosa)

Photo Credit: Plant Image Library from Boston, USA / CC BY-SA 2.0 

The northern catalpa, with its name derived from the Native American word kutuhlpa (which means “head with wings” and describes the flashy bell-shaped blooms), is a drought-tolerant tree that is a welcome addition to a spring landscape. The catalpa’s very large, green leaves are another showstopper. Plant it in full sun or partial shade for best results.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8
Examples of northern catalpa cultivars: Hiawatha 2, Aurea, Nana
Care: Easy. Water when soil is dry; fertilize and prune yearly in spring.
Growth rate: 1 to 2 feet each year; matures at up to  60 feet tall/ 40 feet wide.
Flowering: Yes; showy and fragrant white flowers in spring and summer seven years after planting.
Cost: Plan to spend around $12 to $15 for a small, live plant. Buy on Amazon

9. Quaking aspen (populus tremuloides)

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/CC BY 2.0 

At the slightest breeze, and because of this tree’s flattened stalks, the quaking aspen’s leaves tremble, triggering a calming, rustling sound. Boasting “the widest natural range of any tree in North America” (and being the largest living organism in the world), the quaking aspen also can produce clones that are able to live for thousands of year. One in Minnesota is thought to be about 8,000 years old! Another plus? The quaking aspen’s brilliant, yellow fall foliage.

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USDA Hardiness Zone: 1 to 7
Example of quaking aspen cultivar: Prairie Gold
Care: Plant in moist, well-drained soil.
Growth rate: More than 2 feet per year; reaches a height of up to 50 feet.
Flowering: Blue or silver ones in spring.
Cost: Depending on size, live plants can run between $9 and more than $100. Buy on Amazon

10. Dawn redwood (metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

A deciduous conifer, the dawn redwood is deer-resistant and tolerant of standing water, which makes it an optimal choice for a water garden. Flourishing in the world since the dinosaur era (literally), this tree offers ornamental interest in fall when its bright green leaves turn an orange- or reddish-brown color.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8
Examples of dawn redwood cultivars: Miss Grace, Ogon, and Gold Rush
Care: Low; needs full sun and well-drained soil.
Growth rate: Up to 3.5 feet per year; matures to height of up to 100 feet.
Flowering: Yes; inconspicuous copper-colored flowers.
Cost: Buy a bare-root tree for around $30. Buy on Amazon

11. Paper birch (betula papyrifera)

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The dazzling part of this tree? The paper birch’s peeling, white bark. Revealing another layer that’s an orange-brown color, the paper birch tree is a known water-lover that thrives best in cooler climates. Its thin canopy of leaves provides patches of shade, and its dark green leaves turn bright yellow in autumn.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2 to 7
Examples of paper birch cultivars: Snowy, Chickadee, and Renaissance Reflection
Care: Full sun or partial shade in a variety of soil types; fertilize and mulch every spring.
Growth rate: 1 to 2 feet per year; matures at up to 70 feet tall and 35 feet wide.
Flowering: Ornamental catkin flowers in copper or green each spring.
Cost: Prices range from $15 to $50, depending on size. Buy on Amazon

Fast-Growing Shade Trees: Other Things to Know

What is the fastest-growing shade tree?

Of the 11 listed here, the one that grows the fastest is the weeping willow — it adds about 10 feet to its height each year, topping out at 40 feet. Next in line are the nuttall oak at 4 feet per year, the dawn redwood at 3.5 feet per year, and the tulip poplar at 3 feet per year.

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