12 Fast-Growing Shade Trees To Plant Now

They're quick and pretty with no mess.

October Glory Red Maple Tree
Photo: Steve Bender

Storms in the South can topple shade trees, opening yards to the searing summer sun. Faithful readers asked me to suggest replacements that wouldn't take 50 years to reach a decent size or cause problems like invasive roots or messy litter. OK, Grumpians, here you go.

These are good trees for young homeowners just starting out too. Remember that unless you have a big property, one big shade tree on the sunny side of the house may be enough. Allow 1,600 square feet per tree, so it'll have room to grow naturally and won't swallow the yard. Fall is the best time to plant. Here are the 12 best fast-growing shade trees to plant now.

01 of 12

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

October Glory Red Maple Tree
Steve Bender

This tree grows 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide with a loosely pyramidal shape. It boasts silvery bark and three-lobed leaves that turn bright yellow, orange, or red in fall. My favorite selection for the South, 'October Glory,' turns brilliant scarlet. Red maple likes acid, moist soil, so don't plant it in dry, compacted, alkaline soil. Grow it in USDA Zones 4 to 9.

02 of 12

'Allee' Chinese Elm (Ulmus parviflora 'Allee')

chinese-elm-copy_phixr.jpg
emChinese elm -- Grumpy's #1 medium-size shade & street tree. Photo by Steve Bender./em. Photo by Steve Bender

This release from the University of Georgia has everything going for it. It resists insects and disease (including Dutch elm disease), tolerates drought, and grows in just about any well-drained soil. Its ascending branches leave lots of headroom beneath. They form a rounded canopy 40 to 60 feet tall and wide. Leaves turn a soft yellow in early fall and keep that color for weeks. In the winter, you'll enjoy its speckled orange, olive, and gray bark. Grow it in USDA Zones 4 to 9.

03 of 12

Nuttall Oak (Quercus texana, formerly Q. nuttallii)

Sara Hedstrom Pinnell Walland, TN Cabin Fall Color
Throughout the property, Pinnell supplemented the existing canopy with oak, beech, and hickory trees, but she made sure not to select any specimens that had a straight-from-the-nursery look. "In a forest environment like this, plants need to seem more open," advises Pinnell, who is especially fond of the loose, irregular appearance of oakleaf hydrangeas. Try to situate tidier-looking plants, such as English boxwoods, closer to the front door. Photo: Helen Norman; Styling: Jeff Minnich

You may have to search for this one, as garden centers seem stuck on the inferior pin oak (a lousy tree for most yards as its branches hang to the ground). But it's worth it because I think it's the best oak for most people. It grows 70 feet tall with a symmetrical, rounded form. Leaves shine bright red in fall. It thrives in almost any soil, including compacted and poorly drained ones. Grow it in USDA Zones 6 to 9.

04 of 12

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

Chinese Pistache Tree
Mark Miller Photos / Getty Images

The only negative thing you can say about this tree is that it doesn't bear edible nuts like its cousin, the pistachio. It's a great medium-sized shade tree for smaller areas, growing 30 to 35 feet tall and wide with a rounded shape. Fall foliage is impressive, ranging from fiery orange to red. It has no serious pests and thrives in almost well-drained soil. It's also good for urban planting. Grow it in USDA Zones 6 to 9.

05 of 12

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

Elkhorn Tavern
Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

This tree, related to elms, displays a distinctly vase-shaped form with ascending branches, leaving lots of headroom under it. Like Chinese elm, it's disease-and-pest resistant and grows in almost any well-drained soil. Expect it to reach 50 to 70 feet tall and wide at maturity. Leaves turn yellow, orange, and russet-red in the fall. Look for the selections 'Green Vase' and 'Village Green.' Grow it in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

06 of 12

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

biologicalthinking-blopspotcom-e1443193306299.jpg
emHackberry. Photo: biologicalthinking.blopspot.com/em. Photo: biologicalthinking.blopspot.com

The hackberry tree is hardy, growing in Florida and other regions, and tolerates many varied temperatures. It does not need a lot of watering and can withstand strong winds, making it a good choice for Southern storms. Although not known for its fall foliage, expect hackberry trees to turn yellow and for them to produce edible fruits. Grow it in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

07 of 12

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Caddo Lake State Park
Martina Birnbaum / Getty Images

Bald cypress has fall foliage that turns a beautiful russet red before exposing its reddish-brown bark. These trees grow best in full sun and are a great choice for wet or swampy regions in the South. Bald cypress trees grow very quickly, some reaching 100 feet tall by 40 feet wide, so it's best to place them in an area away from any structure. Grow it in USDA Zones 5-10.

08 of 12

American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Sweet Gum
(Liquidambar styraciflua)Why not? While sweet gum is known and appreciated for its lovely fall color, it is also despised for its seeds. If there's a sweet gum in your yard, you can forget about walking around barefoot once the seedpods fall in autumn and winter. The pods have sharp, spiny exteriors that will elicit a shout if you happen to be stuck with one. Ouch. Their surface roots can also create issues across the lawn.Learn more about sweet gum. DeniseBush / Getty Images

The American sweetgum is instantly recognizable because of the star-shaped leaves, which turn shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple during the autumn. This tree's pyramidal shape rounds as it grows, reaching 70 feet tall and 45 feet wide. These beautiful trees hold their leaves late into fall. Grow it in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

09 of 12

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Silver Maple
(Acer saccharinum)Why not?This fast-growing tree has a root system that will tear up your yard in no time. According to The Grumpy Gardener, "Its roots are infamous for clogging water lines and breaking sidewalks. Its weak branches fall in storms. And look at all the seeds it drops in one season, each destined to become a baby silver maple!" All in all, it's not a great choice for your yard or any nearby sidewalks that need to remain intact.Learn more about maple. Praveen P.N / Getty Images

A mature silver maple can reach up to 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide, growing an average of more than two feet per year. This fast-growing shade tree adds simmer to your backyard because of the leaves' silvery undersides. The silver maple thrives in most soil conditions, making it easier to grow. Grow it in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

10 of 12

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

birch trees
Getty Images

Birch trees are known for their distinctive white bark, which peels as the tree matures. The leaves on the paper birch provide an autumnal splash of color by turning a bright yellow on a tree that can grow up to 70 feet tall. This oval-shaped tree grows relatively fast and is highly deer-resistant. Grow it in USDA Zone 2 to 7.

11 of 12

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

Weeping Willow
(Salix babylonica)Why not? Again, the root system is the reason we avoid this tree. The roots of the willow are aggressive and strong. They've been known to ruin underground water lines and crack poured pavement. The willow is susceptible to disease and pests; it grows wide—often 50-60 feet—and its branches hang low. Avoid at all costs. You've been warned.Learn more about willow. Japatino / Getty Images

A guaranteed way to add drama to your landscape is to plant a weeping willow tree. This rounded tree grows fast, reaching 30 to 40 feet tall, on average more than three feet per year. Weeping willows take root quickly, and the drooping leaves make a wonderful nesting area for small birds and animals. Grow it in USDA Zones 6 to 8.

12 of 12

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Tulip Poplar
(Liriodendron tulipifera)Why not? If you have a small yard, you are going to want to avoid this particular tree, a species in the Magnolia family, which can grow upwards of 100 feet tall. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, "It also tends to drop twigs and small branches throughout the year. Don't park cars beneath it, because aphids feeding on the leaves drip sticky honeydew. […] It's not a good street tree either, as rising heat from hot pavement may scorch the leaves."Learn more about poplar. Photos / Getty Images

Plant the tulip poplar in an area where it has room to grow. This shade tree reaches up to 120 feet, raising more than three feet yearly. In spring and early summer, this tree flowers in various colors, including yellow, green, and orange. Grow it in USDA Zones 4 to 9.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles