Fast-Growing Shade Trees, Zones 5 to 10

For When You Need a Shady Spot in the Yard Quickly

Are you in a hurry to provide shading for your home or an outdoor living area of your yard? Then you need to plant one of the fast-growing shade trees. The resources listed below offer information on (and pictures of) some of the best examples for homeowners ranging from the North (zones 4 and 5) to the South (zone 10) to the swath in between consisting of zones 5 to 9. You will even see a couple of examples suited to the Far North (zone 2 or 3). These trees will not only provide you with a...MORE shady retreat quickly, but they will also furnish a display that adds visual interest to your landscaping.

Remember that not all types of trees that grow quickly are necessarily a good fit for your own yard. Here are some examples that you would not want to plant under certain conditions:

  • Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is a graceful specimen plant with a fast growth rate, but its weak branches commonly snap off in storms, and its water-seeking roots render it a poor choice for plantings around septic systems, etc. 
  • It is hard to beat the growth rate of hybrid poplar (Populus deltoides x Populus nigra), which can be as fast as 5 to 8 feet per year. But, like weeping willow, it is prone to limb breakage and puts out roots that can damage everything from sewer lines to sidewalks. These short-lived trees may cast shade in a hurry, but at what cost? Do their benefits outweigh their drawbacks? Only you can decide.
  • American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and its popular cultivar, London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia) are quick and pretty, but they are too large for many yards and are also considered to be among the messiest trees, as is the Catalpa tree and the eastern white pine tree.

Of course, just about any kind of tree has its drawbacks if we look hard enough for them. The "best choices" furnished below are not without their own faults. Plant selection is not about making perfect choices, but rather about striking a balance between such factors as:

  1. The visual interest offered by the plant (preferably multi-season interest).
  2. The recommended growing conditions for the plant.
  3. How good a fit the plant is, practically speaking, in your landscape.
  • 01 of 07
    Branch of red maple tree showing color of its fall leaves.
    Matt Anderson Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

    With a name like "red" maple trees (Acer rubrum, USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 9), how could these long-time favorites not heat things up in the autumn landscape? They are among the best trees for fall color. They are also often fast-growing shade trees, which is another reason why they rank as one of the most prized landscaping specimens. Avoid growing maples near septic drainfields, though.

  • 02 of 07
    Image of fall foliage color of Autumn Blaze maple tree.
    Brian North/Getty Images

    Like red maples, 'Autumn Blaze' maples (Acer 'Autumn Blaze,' zones 3 to 8) are known for their outstanding fall foliage. So why go with this relative newcomer over its better-known wild cousin? Well, there are a few reasons, including these:

    1.  While the wild trees (Acer rubrum) can be fast-growing, they are not as reliably so as is Autumn Blaze.
    2. The fall foliage color of Autumn Blaze is also more reliable. It is a red color. By contrast, its wild cousin, despite going by the common...MORE name of "red maple," can just as easily turn out to have yellow fall foliage.
  • 03 of 07
    Image: a sawtooth oak tree.
    Harley Seaway/Getty Images

    You will like the spreading canopy of sawtooth oaks (zones 5 to 9), and you will not have to wait forever to enjoy it. These fast-growing shade trees also offer good fall foliage late in the season, as do many other types of oaks (Quercus).

  • 04 of 07
    Image of Leyland cypress tree foliage.
    David Beaulieu

    When leyland cypresses (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) are used to cast shade, they are normally planted in rows to form a "living wall," since each individual tree is slender. Such a planting would double as a privacy screen. They are listed for zones 6 to 10, but some gardeners do grow these evergreens as far north as zone 5. When grown that far north, the plant is often pruned so as to keep it in shrub-form. The plant is more popular in the South. Many professionals hate it, but it...MORE merits a place in this discussion due to its rapid growth rate. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07
    Image of fall foliage of river birch tree.
    David Beaulieu

    These fast-growing shade trees bear golden-yellow foliage in autumn and also have an attractive bark. River birches can be grown across a wider swath of zones in temperate regions than can paper birches, the latter being less heat-tolerant. Both are suitable for landscaping in zone 5 and perhaps even farther north (some list river birch for zone 4 and paper birch for all the way up to zone 2). Do not plant birches (Betula) around septic tanks.

  • 06 of 07
    While tulip trees (image) do bloom, I find their fall color more significant.
    David Beaulieu

    Named for the shape of their flowers, which resemble tulip flowers, these giants need space in which to grow and are too large for small yards. Do not install one near a patio; this is the type of specimen that should grace a large lawn area, for example. The fall foliage of tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera, zones 5 to 9) may be its best feature. Its flowers tend to be so high up in the canopy on mature plants as to be hard to view, so appreciate them while your specimen is still young and...MORE short. This is another tree, however, to avoid planting near septic systems.

  • 07 of 07
    Image: A tiger swallowtail drinks at the font of a white-flowering crepe myrtle bush.
    David Beaulieu

    Some types of crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia), such as the 'Natchez,' can fill the role of fast-growing shade trees for gardeners of the South. Indeed, the plants are very common in parts of the Carolinas, for example, in the United States. However, in the northern reaches of their range, crepe myrtles are often treated as herbaceous perennials and take on the appearance of shrubs. That is how yours will grow in a region such as southern New England, in USDA plant hardiness zone 5. The...MORE plant is sometimes listed as being for zones 7 to 9. Those are, in fact, the best zones in which to grow this plant, because it will grow as a tree there.