Shade trees are a wonderful way to add habitats for wildlife and beauty to your landscape design. However, there are several other benefits to well-placed shade trees. They’re an excellent way to cool down your home during the hot summer months, and this saves you both energy and money. In turn, this can slowly reduce your net carbon emissions that come from summertime electricity usage from running the central air or window air conditioner units over several years.
Shade trees also come in all sizes and shapes, and this allows you to pick out the ones that best suit your region and space without taking it over. If you’re looking for trees that make a very fast impact over a few short years, look for fast-growing shade trees. Some species can easily take over a decade or more to get big enough to shade the yard, but others only take a few years. If you’re considering planting a few fast growing shade trees, this is for you. Read on to find out which ones you should consider below.
1. Bald Cypress (Taxodium disticum)
Many people think that this shade tree is only a wetland species, but it can also thrive in average landscape soil and in the uplands without a lot of water. It’s native to the eastern portion of the United States in the bayou, and it offers very strong wood. This is a beautiful tree that has very fast growth to it, and this makes it popular for a lot of homeowners. You’ll get very soft and feathery needles on this tree that are bright green during the spring and summer months and a fiery copper red in the fall. They turn into a natural mulch when they fall.
This shade tree can reach between 50 and 70 feet tall at full maturity if you plant them in zones four to nine. You can also get many shorter cultivars with this tree. There is a weeping variety called Cascade Falls that would be perfect for smaller areas as it tops out at a maximum of 20 feet at full maturity.
2. Freeman Maple (Acer x freemanii)
This eye-catching shade tree can get an impressive 40 to 55 feet high in a few short years when you plant them in zones three to eight. This type of maple tree is considered to be an adaptable shade tree that offers a very broad canopy that spreads out far from the trunk. The leaves turn from a deep green in the spring and summer to gorgeous shades of red once the weather cools down in the fall months before dropping off to leave bare stems for the winter.
This shade tree is a hardy cross between the strong-wooded red maple species and the more bothersome silver maple tree. However, it pulls all of the good traits from the silver maple and combines them with the fast growth habit and durability of the red maple. If you want scarlet-red coloring when the fall months come around, try the Autumn Blaze cultivar. This tree is very drought-resistant once it establishes itself, and it’s resistant to diseases.
3. Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Espresso’)
The Kentucky Coffeetree comes from the midwest, and this shade tree has very architectural, open branching systems that allow it to shade a large area very easily, and it can lend a very elegant and sophisticated look to your larger landscape. You’ll get very attractive compound-style leaves on this tree, and they turn a very pretty golden yellow color in the fall months from the bright green of spring and summertime. Each tree specimen can have either male or female flowers on it.
The female flowers on this shade tree will produce very leathery, large seed pods that can be messy when they fall during the summer months. You can choose to get the male cultivar called Espresso that offers a very elegant vase-shaped canopy, and it’s also seedless. Prairie Titan is a second seedless cultivare that offers a very wide spreading canopy. As a bonus, this shade tree can easily tolerate dry or moist soils, as long as you plant it in zones three to eight.
4. California White Oak (Quercus lobata)
Although oak is a very popular wood flooring option, it’s also a very nice shade tree that will fill in your yard very quickly. You’ll get a very rounded-style canopy with rapid growth. This species is a very eye-catching white oak that works very well in western landscapes. Once your tree matures, it can reach up to 70-feet tall. It does best if you plant it in zones 7 to 11, and it prefers warmer climates to colder ones, and this includes areas that have very mild winters.
This shade tree produces very deep green foliage in the early spring that lasts until fall when it turns shades of orange and yellow before they fall to the ground. As a bonus, this is a fire-resistant tree species. It’s extremely tolerant to drought conditions, and it’s a very popular wildlife tree that many states use in restoration plantings after fires tear through and burn most of the area. This tree can easily survive up to an impressive 600 years.
5. Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos forma inermis)
If you encounter this shade tree in the wild, you’ll notice that it has viscous thorns that grow right from the tree’s trunk. However, inermis is one option you can choose that has no thorns, so it’s suitable to grow in your yard. The mature height for this tree starts at 30-feet and goes up to 70-feet, depending on the growing conditions. It does best when you plant it outside in zones 4 to 10, so it’s slightly more forgiving than other species on the list of cooler temperatures.
The trees can have female or male flowers, and this shade tree’s female form will develop long strands of white, drooping, fragrant flowers that bees will flock to and pollinate. These flowers quickly get followed by long brown, undulating seed-filled pods. Since this can be messy to deal with, there are seedless male forms available, like Suncole and Moraine. Suncole offers yellow leaves in the spring and fall, and Moraine offers dark green summer leaves that slowly fade to gold in the fall.
6. Carpathian English Walnut (Juglans regia ‘Carpathian’)
Although most walnut trees grow very slowly, this is a fast growing shade tree that tops out at 40 to 60 feet at full maturity in a few short years. As a bonus, this tree will bear a range of English walnuts in the fall months that you can harvest and eat as a healthy snack, or you can use it to garnish your lunch as part of a cheap meal. If you want more nuts, you should plant two or more trees at one time, and make sure you plant them relatively close together for the best results.
This shade tree is hardy in zones five to nine, and it’ll develop a very rounded, large canopy that casts a lot of dense shade as it grows and matures. You won’t get any nuts until four to eight years after you plant it, so you do have to be patient. Also, this tree can survive less than ideal soil conditions with drought or in moderate moisture.
7. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
This shade tree comes from the eastern portion of the United States, and it’s a very tall shade tree. It can easily react up to 70 feet at full maturity, and it is best planted in zones three to nine. It’s a very resilient species that can survive a host of conditions without any damage, and it offers very smooth bark in a grey shade that looks very nice when the winter months come around. The three lobed leaves are deep green in spring and summer before giving way to shades of gold, orange, and red in the fall months.
If you want to get a very hardy shade tree, plant the Northwood variety in zone three. It offers you a very broad, rounded canopy that is green in the summer and red-orange in the fall months. Redpointe is another option if you want pure red leaves in the fall. This tree will adapt very well to dry or moist soil conditions without a problem, and it can withstand droughts.
8. Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
This is a shorter shade tree that only reaches 40 feet tall at the maximum height, but it gives you some of the prettiest flowers when the summer months come around. This tree is native to East Asia, and it’ll slowly get covered with big sprays of golden-colored flowers. These flowers will eventually give way to papery seed capsules that look a little like traditional Japanese lanterns. The leaves are a bright green color starting in early spring and going until fall.
During the fall months, this shade tree’s leaves take on a pale yellow coloring before falling. It services the best planted in zones five to eight. However, it can suffer if the summer months get very hot and humid. If you need a more heat-tolerant species, try to plant Summerburst. They offer a very vigorous selection that offers very glossy leaves and is more heat and humidity tolerant. You’ll get a very broad reaching canopy that casts larger shadows over your landscape.
9. Chinese Scholar Tree (Sophora japonicum)
If you want a shade tree that reaches a slightly larger mature height, try this option. It tops out at 50 to 75-feet tall at the crown. This tree is very eye-catching for any landscaping as it produces clusters of white flowers that are very fragrant and that droop all summer long. They’re excellent for pollinators like hummingbirds and bees. Once the flowers fade away, they’ll get replaced by beaded, small pods that are slightly easier to clean up when they fall.
The compound leaves are deep green to help offset them from the flowers during the spring and summer, and they turn a nice shade of yellow in the fall. If you want an even faster growing shade tree, try the Regent cultivare. It tops out at only 45-feet. You should know that this tree has wood that is more weak than other species, and this makes it more prone to damage or pests.
10. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Weeping trees can add a dramatic flair to your yard, and the weeping willow is one shade tree that is no exception. It’s a fast growing species, and it’ll shoot up more than two feet every year with the correct planting conditions. This tree does grow very well right near water, but you can get hybrids that will thrive in drier conditions if you don’t have water by you. It produces very extension roots that are very shallow, and this can lead to drain and sewer damage.
This shade tree can easily reach between 30 and 50 feet tall. They can spread almost as wide too, so make sure you give this tree a lot of space if you plant more than one. Plant it far away from underground pipes and buildings. It grows best in zones six to eight, and you’ll want to put it in an area that gets partial shade to full sun. It needs moist but well-draining soils.
11. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
This shade tree is also known as the Catawba or cigar tree, and it produces very large and showy flowers throughout the summer months. This tree is the perfect addition to your yard to attract pollinators like bees, and it has a very pretty canopy that offers heart-shaped leaves that are impressively large. However, this means that this tree does drop a significant amount of debris throughout the spring, summer, and especially in the fall months.
You do want to plant this shade tree away from fences, buildings, property lines, fences, and any septic systems on your property, and it should have a large amount of space to spread out and grow. It’ll grow between 13 and 24-inches every year, and it’ll top out at a mature height of 40 and 70 feet. However, it also spreads out between 20 and 50 feet when you plant it in zones four to eight. It needs full sun to partial shade, and the soil should be moist while maintaining a pH of 5.5 to 7.0.
12. Texas Red Oak (Quercus buckleyi)
This is a very pretty fast-growing shade tree that gives you a steady acorn supply each year with a large, leafy canopy. The acorns will draw deer, turkeys, and squirrels into your yard, and they can go after your other plants unless you plant resistant varieties. This tree will produce very dark green foliage for most of the year. However, fall brings around a very bright red shade before they fall to the ground. It can grow as much as two feet every year.
This shade tree has a height range of 50 to 80 feet, but it can also spread out an impressive 40 to 65 feet, so you do want to give it plenty of space when you plant it. It does best outside in zones six to nine, and it does require full, direct sunlight. The soil should be very loamy but consistently moist. You also have to have a higher acidity range for this tree to thrive.
13. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Better known as the American plane tree, this shade tree can grow to be extremely large. Sycamores are usually found near ponds or rivers, but you can also grow it right in more residential yards. However, your yard must have a lot of space available for the tree alone. They can grow from a moderate to a fast rate that tops out at around two feet a year. The tree’s maximum growth potential is between 75 to 100 feet, and it can spread out between 75 and 100 feet. This is why space is so important.
This shade tree can live up to 250 years or longer. This tree does drop a significant amount of debris throughout the year, and ice and wind can damage the larger branches. They can grow between zone four and nine, and they do require a lot of sun. They won’t tolerate partial shade or full shade. The soil should drain very well, but it should also be consistently moist, very rich, and humusy.
14. Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The yellow poplar is the official state tree of Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky. It’s a very fast-growing, large, deciduous shade tree. In addition to the very large size of this tree, and it’s very popular due to the unique flowers. This tree also has very stunning colors in the fall. It attracts pollinators, and it makes a good food source for squirrels and deer. It makes a nice landscape addition for shade flowers because it has such a nice canopy.
This shade tree will grow at a rate of two feet per year, and it can reach between 60 and 90 feet or even higher at full maturity. They give you a conical shape with a 30 to 50 foot spread. This makes this tree best for yards that have a lot of space. It grows best in zones four to nine in an area that gets full sun. However, it will also tolerate partial shade. It needs a well-drained loamy soil that is organically rich. Also, make a point to keep the soil moist.
15. River Birch (Betula nigra)
This shade tree is native to the eastern portion of the United States, and it’s also called the water birch or the black birch. This is a medium sized deciduous tree, and it has a growth rate that ranges between one and a half to three feet every year. It can easily stand between 40 and 70 feet at full maturity, and it can spread out between 40 and 60 feet. This is considered to be a pioneer species because it has notable seed production with quick germination and rapid growth early on.
This is a very adaptable shade tree that is well-suited to grow right along the edges or rivers or ponds, and it’s very heat-tolerant. It can also do well in residential landscapes if you periodically break out the soaker hoses to keep the soil consistently moist. It grows best in zones four to nine in an area that gets partial shade or full sun. The soil should be acidic, fertile, and moist, but it also tolerates drier conditions.
16. Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
This is a very large shade tree that gets its name from the underside of the leaves because they have a silver coloring to them. The rapid growth allows this tree to grow from three to seven feet every year. You will have to give this tree space though because it can easily get between 50 and 80 feet tall and 35 to 70 feet wide. However, this tree’s rapid growth does come at a steep cost.
This shade tree is prone to developing very weak branches that tend to break easier in heavy snow or high winds. This is why you want to plant them away from sidewalks and driveways, or your home. They also have a shallow root system that can damage your foundations, retaining walls, and any paths or driveways. This tree grows best in zones three to nine in partial shade or full sun. The soil should be average and moist. However, it can also tolerate dry, poor soils without stunting the growth.
17. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
This shade tree is a deciduous, medium sized species that will give you a slightly slower growth rate at around two feet every year. The tree will eventually reach a mature height that ranges between 50 and 75 feet, and it can spread between 50 and 75 feet too, so you have to give it room. This is a very long-living tree. If you have the proper growing conditions, this tree can easily live for upwards of 500 years. Along with giving you shade during the hot summer months, it can also give birds nesting sites.
This is one shade tree that grows very well in zones four to eight. You should plant it in an area that gets full, direct sun for at least six to eight hours a day. The tree has slightly more finicky requirements for soil, and it likes finely-textured very sandy soil. The soil should also be very fertile, acidic, and it should drain very well after you water it.
18. Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
The unique star-shaped leaves on this shade tree give you vibrant colors in the fall, and it has a wider canopy that makes it very popular for shade. This is a hardwood that will grow between 13 and 24 inches a year under the correct conditions. It has a mature height of 60 to 80 feet and higher, and it can spread between 40 and 60 feet at the widest point. With sufficient space, this tree will give you a nice amount of shade. It’s not tolerant of shade, so make sure it’s in a location that gets full sun.
The fruit on this tree will feed chipmunks, squirrels, and songbirds. Put a bird bath by it and draw them in to sit, play in the water, and eat. There is ample fruit production from a single tree that will fall, so you will have to work to maintain the area. It grows best in zones five to nine, and the soil is slightly finicky. The soil will have to be fertile and moist with a slight acidity. It will tolerate loamy, clay, and sandy soils. However, you want to avoid alkaline soil.
These 18 shade trees will grow very fast when you plant them in the correct conditions. They can start providing ample shade in just a few short years, but most of them require larger yards to allow them to spread out without damaging your home. See which ones work in your planting zone and if you have space. When you find one, plant it and get ready to have cooler summers due to the shadows they cast.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.