Finding the right fast growing shade trees for your yard takes proper research. They’re beneficial for your garden in many ways, and there are countless options to choose from. Some are beautiful and offer a sweet fragrance, others protect your smaller plants from the summer heat.
Whatever the purpose for wanting shade trees in your yard, fast-growing types allow you to create the area of your dreams in no time.
In this article, we’ll narrow down the most popular options to save you valuable research time. You’ll find something for your yard, whether you live in a hot or wet climate.
17 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for Any Garden
Here are the 17 fastest-growing trees that create shade, no matter where you live. Plant some of these trees soon, and you can provide shade to a hot garden possibly before next summer. They’ll even reduce your electric bill.
1. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
USDA Zones 1-7
These are my favorite choice in fast growing shade trees. Quaking aspens thrive in the widest range of growing spaces across North America. In addition, they can grow as tall as 80 feet high. They do well in various elevations, temperatures, and climates. Although these trees aren’t for all locations, they produce stunning color and tiny, adorable waving leaves.
Where to plant: You must plant quaking aspens in moist, well-draining soil that’s slightly acidic. These trees thrive on northern or eastern slopes, or on the sides of your home instead of bright, sunny areas.
2. Autumn Blaze Red Maple Tree (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’ )
USDA Zones 3-8
Most maple trees are popular for adding shade to your yard, but Autumn Blaze red maples also bring an eye-catching bright red color to your home in the fall. The hues are so amazing you’ll never forget these trees. Even better, they can grow up to around 3-5 feet in a year, so you don’t have to wait long to see their dazzling show. Best of all, they offer minimal mess, are hassle-free, and are disease resistant.
Where to plant: These trees prosper with little maintenance and they don’t mind car exhaust fumes, so they’re commonly planted along a neighborhood street. Plant Autumn Blaze in a spot with plenty of growing room, well-draining soil, and full sun.
3. River or Paper Birch (Betula nigra, Betula papyrifera)
USDA Zones 2-7 (paper) or 4-9 (river)
Both river and paper birch trees are fast growers, with a growth rate of around 13 to 24 inches each year. They’re beautiful in any landscape and can reach around 30-70 feet tall with nearly as much spread wide. Both types can tolerate drought, but beware the birch borer: a pest that can destroy these trees in no time.
Where to plant: While they grow better in clumps of multiple trees, you can plant a single tree as well. Don’t plant river or birch trees too close to your home or power lines, however, and avoid planting near your parking areas. These trees, though gorgeous, are shallow-rooted and fall easily in strong weather.
4. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
USDA Zones 6-8
Weeping willows are graceful giants, well-known for their sweeping, wispy branches and long, thin foliage. They’re often the first sign that spring is around the corner, with yellow twigs making their appearance in February. Weeping willows take root and grow quickly, and they can easily reach heights between 30 and 40 feet tall and just as wide.
Where to plant: Unlike many other options, these trees do very well when planted alone. Add a weeping willow to a small grove or along the edge of a pond, lake, or river for the best results.
5. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
USDA Zones 4-8
Although this option does grow quickly, it requires a lot of attention to do so. Northern catalpas offer huge heart-shaped leaves and white blooms, with bean-like seed pods dangling from the twisted branches. They’re drought-tolerant and hardy in certain locations only.
Where to plant: Add a northern catalpa to a sunny country yard.
6. Poplars (Populus spp.)
USDA Zones 3-9
Hybrid poplars are widely popular, and are considered thoroughbreds in the tree world. They grow extremely quickly, gaining 5-8 inches of vertical growth each year. Because it’s a hybrid variety, no cotton is produced. The tree can even be used for firewood after around 5-7 years.
Where to plant: Plant hybrid poplars in a sand dune on a hillside to create a visual screen. If you want to enjoy their shade, however, make sure they’re planted in a location where occasional falling limbs won’t be an issue.
7. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia)
USDA Zones 5-8
These low-maintenance, fast growing shade trees were famously found in a valley in China after they’d long been believed extinct. Their bark is a stunning reddish hue while their foliage is a luscious shade of green. They grow around 24 inches per year and spread out over a larger 25-foot space.
Where to plant: They look great when multiple dawn redwoods are planted in a line together, but you can also plant a single tree. Moist areas are preferred, and they require plenty of space and full sun to grow.
8. Nuttall Oak (Quercus texana)
USDA Zones 6-9
Although they’re difficult to find in some locations, Nuttall oak trees are a much better option for most yards than the inferior pin oak. They grow quickly, reaching up to 70 feet tall in a rounded shape, and the leaves turn a stunning red in the autumn. In fact, they’re the fastest-growing type of oak tree. The canopy these trees provide are perfect for hot summers, and the abundant acorns supply will attract wildlife.
Where to plant: Plant these oaks in a nearly any type of soil, and make sure you have a large plot of land to offer them. They’re commonly planted in large parking lot islands, highway medians, and other areas with full sun that could use shade cover.
9. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
USDA Zones 3-9
Hackberries are extremely tough trees, and grow well in different types of soil and temperatures. You’ll find them all the way from Florida to the Rocky Mountains and southern Canada. The trees basically do well anywhere with between 14 to 60 inches of rainfall each year, and they can withstand strong winds and air pollution. Hardy trees like these are perfect for landscaping if you want to conserve energy and not water frequently.
Where to plant: They grow best in a full-sun spot.
10. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
USDA Zones 3-8
Northern red oaks are a national treasure and have been rated among “the most handsome, cleanest, and stateliest trees in North America” by popular naturalist Joseph S. Illick. They’re insanely useful and can adapt to a wide range of conditions. Their hardiness is perfect for urban settings, and this medium- to large-sized tree grows quickly. In addition, it turns a brilliant crimson shade in the fall.
Where to plant: Great for a wide range of settings, from urban front yards to farmlands.
11. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
USDA Zones 4-10
Bald cypresses are common in southern swamps, but they’re adaptable to a wide range of locations. They tolerate most growing conditions, adapt well to wet areas, and grow as tall as 70 feet tall with a spread of around 25 feet. Expect your bald cypress to grow around 24 inches per year and attract local wildlife.
Where to plant: Add a bald cypress to sunny yard in a low point that often collects rainwater for easy maintenance.
12. Royal Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
USDA Zones 5-9
Also known as Paulownia, Royal Empress trees grow to around 30 to 40 feet tall and span up to 40 feet wide. They grow over 24 inches each year, provide tons of shade and fragrance, and are beautiful flowering options. Expect the leaves to fall without changing color in the autumn.
Where to plant: Royal empress trees aren’t great everywhere, though. They’re considered invasive in some areas because they grow so vigorously.
13. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
USDA Zones 4-9
Fast-growing American sycamore trees are referred to as American plane trees because their bark is a white color and they grow to such a large size. They grow around 6 feet each year in a variety of conditions until they reach heights of over 75 feet tall (and equally as wide). Expect the bark to litter your yard at times, however, so avoid planting them near your parking area.
Where to plant: Although most sycamores are planted along rivers and ponds, this type is perfect for an urban yard. Wet areas are preferred, and you’ll need to ensure the placement offers plenty of growing room in either direction.
14. Allee Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
USDA Zones 4-9
Ulmus parviflora, also known as “Allee”, is a Chinese elm that’s pest and disease resistant. It tolerates drought well and grows in a wide range of areas with well-draining soil. Its branches form a canopy around 40 to 60 feet overhead. Expect the leaves to turn a yellow color during early fall, and the bark to become speckled with orange, gray, and olive in the winter.
Where to plant: Plant Allee Chinese elms in a full-sun urban location. They sustain heat, wind, and drought well, making them perfect for city streets and other urban spaces with ample growing space.
15. Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)
USDA Zones 5-8
Japanese Zelkova trees are related to elms, and come in a vase shape with ascending branches. They’re also disease and pest resistant, like elms, and grow in nearly any type of well-draining soil. Your Japanese Zelkova will grow quickly, and can reach between 50 and 70 feet tall and just as wide. The leaves also change to yellow, orange, and shades of russet red during Autumn.
Where to plant: An excellent urban tree. Plant this option in a residential area or along a street that could use some shade cover.
16. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
USDA Zones 3-8
Another fast-growing shade tree, the eastern pine offers soft needles that won’t shed until after it reaches seven years old. They fall to naturally mulch the tree, allowing you to provide minimal maintenance. Eastern white pines grow to 40-80 feet tall at about around 24 inches each year, and spread out 20-40 feet wide.
Where to plant: You can grow them in nearly any type of soil, but they prefer moist locations. Plant a line of eastern white pines to provide a wall of shade or block heavy winds along your property line. They also do well when planted with quaking aspen trees, if you have enough room for both types of large trees. Keep them away from areas with pollution, like urban streets.
17. Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)
USDA Zones 8-11
My favorite pick for a hotter climate. Chilean Mesquite trees are fast-growing and offer protection from the hot sun. They thrive in dry, hot climates like the southwest. These trees have semi-evergreen foliage and fruit pods that look interesting, and you can expect them to grow up to 12 inches per year. Unlike similar varieties, this option has fewer thorns. You can grow them from seed as well if you have more time as well.
Where to plant: Plant during the spring along your sidewalk or near a patio to protect your garden plants from intense desert heat. Avoid planting this tree too close to a pool or your home, as the debris can easily cause clogs.
Care for Your Fast Growing Shade Trees for Optimal Growth
With the right care, your shade trees will reach full-size before you know it. They need proper hydration throughout the year and slow-release fertilizer. However, you also need to make sure the type of tree you choose is right for your location.
Prior research and planning can help you ensure you plant the perfect tree in the right spot. Transplanting is difficult and can cause serious damage, so it’s vital that you find the best spot before planting. Think about your specific yard and the amount of space you can offer the trees.
Consider the plants your garden already contains that you may want to protect from harsh sunlight, and select a tree that will thrive in your USDA zone.