Planting shade trees will help keep your home and yard cooler in the summer heat, saving you both money and energy, while adding wildlife habitat to the neighborhood.
The free solar energy that hits the Earth each day can keep us warm, light our homes, grow our food, and generate clean renewable electricity, so we often invite it into our lives. But when the weather heats up in the summer, the sun can actually cause us to use more energy, because we then need to run air conditioners to cool us back down.
Keeping the sun off of our homes and windows during the summer can end up saving us both money and energy, because we can avoid some of the heating effects and keep our homes cooler to begin with, so less energy is required to keep them comfortable. And one of the best ways to do that is by planting shade trees in the right location around our home, where they can block the sun from streaming in our windows and heating our walls and roofs during certain times of the day.
"A tree planted on the west side of a house can reduce net carbon emissions from summertime electricity use by 30 percent over a 100-year period." - Geoffrey Donovan, research forester
Trees that can serve to cast shade come in all shapes and sizes, and for many different climates and planting zones, so there are plenty of options to choose from. However, because most of us are very impatient, one of the most common requirements that people have in choosing varieties is that they be fast growing shade trees.
Here are 7 of the most popular fast growing varieties of trees that can add shade to your property:
1. Hybrid Poplar: One of the most recommended fast growing shade trees is the hybrid poplar, which can grow up to 8 feet per year, and mature at about 40' to 50' high. There are various types of hybrid poplars, but the Arbor Day Foundation recommends the Populus deltoides x Populus nigra variety, which is a "cottonless hybrid" and a little less messy in the yard than some other varieties.
2. Nuttall Oak: This fast growing shade tree, also called red oak or pin oak, is said to be the fastest growing variety of oak, and can provide not only a leafy canopy, but a steady supply of acorns each year, which are devoured by squirrels, deer, and turkeys.
3. Northern Catalpa: The large showy flowers of the catalpa, also known as the cigar tree or the catawba, are an added attraction to having this fast growing shade tree in your yard (and great for bees), but the real magic comes from its thick canopy of large leaves.
4. Red Maple: 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 growth rate of the red maple is about 3 to 5 feet per year, topping out at about 40' high, and can rapidly create privacy and shade for your home or yard.
5. Weeping Willow: This iconic shade tree also happens to be a fast grower, with growth rates of anywhere from 3 feet to 8 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.
6. Paper Birch: The paper birch, aside from being a fast growing shade tree, also features a white bark that can add to the look of any yard, especially in winter when the leaves have dropped. Birches can also be tapped for their sap, which can be made into birch syrup (although you'd need quite a few trees to make it worth your while).
7. American Sycamore: This fast growing tree, sometimes referred to as the American planetree, also has a whitish mottled bark, and can grow to be quite large. While sycamores are often found near rivers and ponds, they can also be grown in an urban yard, and may grow as much as 6 feet per year and reach heights of 70 feet or more.
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 in your yard will all vary by location. The best way to find the fast growing shade trees that are best for your specific region is by asking a local expert, such as at a nursery or through a local Cooperative Extension, as they can steer you toward proven varieties and away from nuisance, invasive, or exotic varieties of trees.
This updated article was originally published in 2014.