Lovely River Birch graces a home with shade and beauty

Today’s homeowners are looking for trees with speedy growth rates to provide privacy and shade as soon as possible. But the Nature Hills horticultural team thinks you should consider a few more qualities when making your decision….

Need for Speed? Think Color, Too

“So, which trees grow the fastest?”

When you think of a fast growing tree, you will probably think of the usual cast of characters like cottonwood trees or willows that really grow fast in your area. However, you should know that there are other considerations to think about.

Instead of focusing only on growth rate, let’s ask instead, “Which fast growing shade trees will give me additional benefits, such as strength, color and seasonal interest?”

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Read on to learn about worthy trees that grow fast and are strong, colorful plants that will establish quickly. You might be surprised at some of these selections. They’ll grow faster than you might think.

So, what is the fastest growing tree? Fast growing trees do not have to be short lived or without interest, so we have made some suggestions that will add beauty and value to your property all year long.

Fast Growing Trees for the Northeast

For this large area with varied climate and elevation, we have selected a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), an evergreen that is widely distributed from Canada through Pennsylvania.

An excellent and fast growing evergreen, Douglas Fir trees have soft, short dark green needles which are lovely with silvery blue undersides. It looks feathery and finely textured.

Douglas Fir is easy to grow in many areas, as long as the soil is well drained. Young Douglas Fir trees are pyramidal and look great in natural groups as wind breaks or large screening plants.

There are some very old native stands that are hundreds of years old. These trees can also be sheared into a compact hedge, or a small, dense cone if desired.

Local songbirds will appreciate this tree, and you’ll have fun watching them nest and take shelter in your yard. The fresh, clean fragrance is an outstanding benefit. You will also love decorating this tree for the holidays.

Fast Growing Shade Tree Douglas Fir

Fast Growing Trees for the East

There are so many beautiful options for this region, it is hard to choose. Stately White Pines, Arborvitae or White Cedar, Juniper, Spruce, Maples and Oaks are all popular choices.

Let’s highlight the native Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) which thrives across a wide range of distribution and grows fast! Tulip Trees are also known as Tulip Poplar, Fiddletree, Tulipwood or Yellow Poplar. The wood was prized for railroad ties, and story has it that they were a favorite of George Washington.

This tree has a very interesting look. The eye-catching flowers grow on the branch tips and resemble a yellow tulip flower. The decorative leaves provide wonderful shade. In fall, the extra-large leaves turn brilliant yellow. Because the leaves are so large, it’s super easy to do annual fall cleanup.

Give this beautiful, stately, native tree room to grow. It’s wildly adaptable, long lived, unusual and will perform well in most situations. It will also bring hummingbirds to your yard!

Fast Growing Shade Tree Tulip Poplar

Fast Growing Trees for the Southeast

There are many beautiful fast growing trees that love the warm climate of the Southeast region. Now when you think of fast growing trees for the Southeast, plants like Magnolia, Dogwood, or maybe Longleaf Pines come to mind.

Don’t forget the incredible Southern Live Oak! When young, it is fast growing, carefree and tolerant of most any soils, including soils that get wet. Why not plant a classic?

There are many Southern Live Oak tree (Quercus virginiana) specimen plants that have been growing for hundreds of years. Their native range is from Virginiana across southern Georgia, most of Florida and across southern Mississippi and Louisiana and into a large portion of Texas.

Many people may not consider Oak to be fast growing. However, when you buy one of our container grown Live Oaks, you will find it to be incredibly fast growing, especially as a young juvenile tree.

Container grown Oaks transplant like a dream, never missing a heartbeat. They’ll simply continue rooting into its new home very quickly. When they transplant so easily, they produce lots of new growth as if they were never moved. At the nursery, we find out container Oak trees growing at much the same rate as many of our other shade tree varieties, so don’t forget to consider the sturdy Oak.

Beautiful Southern Live Oaks holds its leaves all winter, remaining evergreen. This oak offer fast growing privacy on a large scale, eliminating large areas with undesirable views.

You can leave the lower branches on your Southern Live Oak to aid in its ability to provide privacy screening and act as a tremendous wind break. Lower branched trees can be used in an informal group creating a massive screening or windbreak for large open area.

You can also trim your Southern Live Oak by removing the lower branches as your tree grows and develops more size. Removing the lower branches of this fast growing tree will force more new growth, adding to the height of the tree quickly to provide fast shade.

Fast Growing Shade Tree Southern Live Oak

Fast Growing Trees for the South

Some quick growing trees for the south might include some Red Maple, Elm or Oaks too, but let’s focus on Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia). 

We would be remiss if we did not include such and amazing Genus of plants with so many selections from different species and hybrid introductions that have been brought to market over the years. Crape Myrtle is a fast growing, blooming machine with amazing bark and fall leaf color which makes this smaller ornamental plant a real winner.

Breeders have been busy producing trees that bloom in a rainbow of colors. The whole Black Diamond series and other series of Crape Myrtles have deliciously dark, black-purple foliage, which really makes the fantastic array of flower colors pop in the landscape.

Breeders have also extended the bloom of so many of these new introductions. You’ll enjoy blooming from late spring all the way into fall! In many years, you’ll also have beautiful fall color to enjoy.

Crape Myrtles perform beautifully in hardiness Zones 6-10, which allows these beautiful plants to be grown in the southern half of the United States and up the West Coast.

Plant sizes have been altered too, with some that are perfect for smaller screening plants. Others grow large, which make fast growing smaller specimen trees with copious amounts of bloom.

They are easy to grow and have outstanding, peeling bark. As the branches get larger, the smooth bark peels and exposes another layer. This is an important visual feature that looks incredible when up-lit with landscape lighting.

Crape Myrtles are used for fast growing privacy trees, informal hedges, and make the perfect specimen trees that are great under utility lines and places that are limited. Fast growing does not have to mean big growing and that is the case with Crape Myrtles.

One last note… for some reason many people love to severely cut back the growth from the season prior back to big stubs - completely destroying the form of the plant! It has become known as “crape murder”.

Destroying (or murdering) your Crape Myrtles is not necessary. They bloom on new wood, so pruning should be done in early spring before they start to grow. Head back any elongated branches, or thin out from areas that are too dense. You’ll love seeing the lovely blooms that year.

How do I do that? Read our Pruning 101 post here.

Fast Growing Shade Tree Crape Myrtle

Fast Growing Trees for the Midwest

Trees that first come to mind in the Midwest include Sugar Maples, Aspen, Crabapples, Pine and Spruce, but who doesn’t love River Birch (Betula nigra)?

River Birch are a staple and are native across the Midwest landscape. At the nursery, the seedlings grow fast and the young plants put on huge amounts of growth. Three foot plants can double to six foot the next year and can double again to ten or even twelve feet tall in the nursery the following year in optimal growing conditions.

River Birch can be grown as single stem plants, or grown in clump forms of three, four, five or even more trunks in one clump. They look outstanding when used in natural groups.

Not only are River Birch trees super-fast growing, with dark green leaves that turn a beautiful clear yellow in fall, they have the most amazing cinnamon colored bark that peels and exfoliates as the plants age. It is probably the most important attribute for this plant. With that beautiful peeling bark, be sure to highlight it with some landscape lighting to enjoy it year round and into the night.

River Birch are highly adaptable, tolerating heavy and wet soils, but they also perform well in upland sites as well. They do like a bit lower soil pH (a bit more acidic soil) to maintain the best dark green leaf color during the summer.

Fast growing River Birch look great mixed with Pines or native evergreens in natural groups for screening and shelter belts. River Birch also make super shade trees because they establish so quickly and will bulk up with age. Many cities have found that River Birch make great street trees because they grow upright and are so very adaptable to most any condition. Enjoy this wonderful tree!

Fast Growing Shade Tree River Birch

Fast Growing Trees for the Mountain West

Selecting a tree that works across the entire West is not the easiest thing to do.  Hardiness changes with elevation and there are many little microclimates that can affect what grows where. We recommend calling your local Ag extension office to get their recommendations, too.

For a large region, one tree that is a pleasure to see growing (especially in the fall) is October Glory Red Maple, which is hardy in zones 5-8. 

So many of the trees in the Mountain states and Western states have yellow fall color. October Glory has such beautiful red and orange coloration that lasts a long time in most areas in the fall. It’s definitely a stand-out!

Once this tree is established, it can put on a couple of feet in a single season. Maples are wonderful shade trees. They are superb as a lawn tree offering shade on the southwest side of your home to give you some relief in summer. Then in the fall, the leaves drop and allow the sun in to warm that side of your home. 

October Glory are very adaptable to most soils and will appreciate water during the drier spells. They can tolerate wetter soils, as well.

Fiery red flowers appear in early spring on the bare branches. Next, green summer foliage emerges to offer shade all season. Then, hold on to your hats as the leaves turn beautiful red and orange. All of this on a fast growing, useful tree well worth your consideration to increase the value of your property.  

Fast Growing Shade Tree October Glory Maple

Still need help? Call our sales team of plant experts. We’ll help you make the perfect choice to solve your toughest landscaping needs. 1-888-864-7663