10 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for Your Yard

View looking up at the branches and leaves of an American Sycamore tree

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Shade trees add both beauty and a habitat for wildlife to a landscape. But there are other benefits of well-placed trees. Shade trees help keep your home cooler in the summer, saving both money and energy. A study published in Arborist News estimated that, over a 100-year period, a single shade tree properly placed near a house would "reduce net carbon emissions from summertime electricity use by 31 percent."

Trees that cast shade come in all shapes and sizes, and are suitable for many climates and planting zones. If you’re looking for trees that can have an immediate impact, consider trees that grow quickly.

Here are 10 fast-growing trees that can add shade to your yard.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
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Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

Weeping willow tree next to a lake

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This iconic shade tree also happens to be a fast grower, with growth rates of more than two feet per year. While weeping willows will grow especially well near water, there are a variety of hybrids available that can be better suited to drier conditions.

The tree has extensive, shallow roots that can damage sewers and drains. Weeping willow trees can reach heights of 30 to 50 feet and have a similarly large spread. For residential use, plant the tree away from buildings and underground pipes.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soils.
2
of 10

Texas Red Oak (Quercus buckleyi)

small nuttall oak in the courtyard of a commercial building with a red tile roof

Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

This beautiful, fast-growing variety of oak can provide not only a leafy canopy, but a steady supply of acorns each year, which are devoured by squirrels, deer, and turkeys. 

The tree’s foliage is dark green most of the year, but in the fall, this deciduous tree becomes a striking shade of red. The Texas red oak grows at a rate of approximately two feet per year, and can reach a mature height of 50 to 80 feet with a spread of 40 to 65 feet.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, loamy soils.
3
of 10

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Northern catalpa with white flower clusters and large green leaves in bloom

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The large showy flowers of the catalpa, also known as the cigar tree or the Catawba, are an added attraction to having this shade tree in your yard. The tree is great for bees, but the real magic comes from its thick canopy of large, heart-shaped leaves. All those beautiful flowers and leaves have to go somewhere—the catalpa drops a sizable amount of debris every season.

Plant the catalpa away from buildings, fences, property lines, and septic systems, and make sure it has plenty of space to grow. The northern catalpa grows at a rate of 13 to 24 inches per year before it reaches a mature height of 40 to 70 feet and a spread of 20 to 50 feet.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil, with pH from 5.5 to 7.0.
4
of 10

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red maple tree in full color in a grass field adjacent to a wood fence next to a parking lot

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Along with casting shade, the red maple also adds a burst of color in the fall, with the leaves turning a vibrant red before dropping. The red maple grows quickly—typically two to five feet per year—before topping out at 40 to 70 feet high, and can rapidly create privacy and shade for your home or yard.

This medium-sized tree offers a 30- to 50-foot canopy at maturity. The roots of the red maple tree are shallow, so it’s best to plant the tree away from driveways, sidewalks, and other walkways.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils.
5
of 10

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

sycamore tree on a large green field with a white picket fence behind the tree

Raymond Gehman / Getty Images

The American sycamore tree, sometimes referred to as the American plane tree, can grow to be quite enormous. While sycamores are often found near rivers and ponds, they can also be grown in residential yards, provided those yards have sufficient space. American sycamores grow at a moderate to fast rate—about two feet each year—ultimately reaching a mature height of 75 to 100 feet or more.

The tree’s spread is equally large, 75 to 100 feet, and these grand trees live 250 years or longer. The American sycamore drops a significant amount of debris, and the limbs of these massive trees can be damaged by wind and ice.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, consistently moist, well-drained soils.
6
of 10

River Birch (Betula nigra)

River birch tree in a grass field adjacent to other green trees against a blue sky with white clouds

SEWilco/ Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to the eastern U.S., the river birch, also known as the black birch or water birch, is a medium-sized deciduous tree. The tree has a growth rate of one and one-half to three feet per year. At maturity, the river birch can reach a height of 40 to 70 feet and a spread of 40 to 60 feet. 

The river birch is considered a pioneer species due to its rapid early growth, prolific seed production, and speedy germination. These adaptable, heat-tolerant trees are well-suited to riverbanks, but can also do well in home landscapes with the occasional use of soaker hoses to keep the soil moist.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, fertile soils; tolerates drier soils.
7
of 10

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

View of trunk and canopy of silver maple tree from below

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A large shade tree named for the silver color of the underside of its leaves, the rapid growing silver maple can grow three to seven feet per year. At maturity, the silver maple averages 50 to 80 feet tall with a 35- to 70-foot spread. 

The fast growth of the silver maple comes at a cost: The trees have weak branches that tend to break in high winds or heavy snow. Silver maple trees should be planted away from driveways and sidewalks as the shallow roots can cause damage.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, average soils; tolerant of poor, dry soils.
8
of 10

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Tulip tree with green foliage and yellow flowers

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The tulip tree, or yellow poplar—the official state tree of Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee—is a large, fast-growing, deciduous tree. In addition to its impressive size, the tulip tree is appreciated for its unique flowers and beautiful fall colors. The tree also attracts pollinators and provides a source of food for deer and squirrels. 

Tulip trees grow about two feet per year and can reach a height of 60 to 90 feet or more. These popular trees have a conical shape and a 30- to 50-foot spread at maturity. Due to its grand size, the tulip tree is best suited to yards with ample space.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun; tolerates partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, organically rich, well-drained loamy soils. 
9
of 10

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American sweetgum with yellow and green flowers and brown trunk from below

Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

With unique star-shaped leaves and vibrant fall colors, the sweet gum is a popular shade tree. This hardwood grows from 13 to 24 inches per year before reaching its mature height of 60 to 80 feet or more. With a spread of 40 to 60 feet, the sweet gum provides ample shade in areas with sufficient outdoor space.

The sweet gum requires full sun and is intolerant of shade. The tree’s fruit provides food for songbirds, squirrels, and chipmunks. A potential downside to this ample fruit production is the cleanup required to maintain the area below the tree.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile, slightly acidic soils; tolerates clay, sand, and loamy soils. Avoid alkaline soils.
10
of 10

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Northern red oak in fall orange and red colors

Marco Vacca / Getty Images

The northern red oak is a medium-sized, deciduous shade tree with a growth rate of two feet per year. The tree reaches a mature height of 50 to 75 feet and has a similarly sized spread. 

The northern oak is a long living tree: Under proper conditions, the tree can live for 500 years. The tree provides shade to humans, and also offers nesting sites and food for a variety of birds and mammals.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Fertile, sandy, finely-textured, acidic, well-drained soils.

How to Pick the Best Tree

Not all of these shade trees will be well suited to your yard, as the length of the growing season, the frost dates, the temperatures, the annual rainfall, and the type of soil all vary by location. The best way to find the right fast-growing shade trees for your region is to talk to an expert at a local nursery or extension office, as they can steer you toward proven varieties and away from nuisance or invasive varieties of trees. You can also check if a tree is invasive in your area by going to the National Invasive Species Information Center.

View Article Sources
  1. Donovan, Geoffrey H., et al. "Properly Placed Shade Trees Reduce Summertime Electricity Bills in Sacramento, California." Arborist News, 2009, pp. 71-73.

  2. Weeping Willow.” Arbor Day.

  3. Red Maple.” National Wildlife Foundation.

  4. American Sycamore.” University of Kentucky.