Fast-Growing Shade Trees for USDA Zones 5 to 10

If you're in a hurry to provide shade for your home or an outdoor living area, you need a fast-growing shade tree. There are plenty of options for USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10, as well as a couple that are suited to zones 2 or 3. These trees will not only provide you with a shady retreat quickly, but they will also furnish a display that adds visual interest to your landscape.

  • 01 of 07

    Red Maple

    Branch of red maple tree showing color of its fall leaves.
    Matt Anderson Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

    With a name like red maple (Acer rubrum, zones 3–9), 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.

  • 02 of 07

    Autumn Blaze Maple

    fall foliage color of Autumn Blaze maple tree.
    Brian North/Getty Images

    Like red maple, 'Autumn Blaze' maples (Acer 'Autumn Blaze,' zones 3–8) are known for their outstanding fall foliage. There are a couple of reasons why you might choose this relative newcomer over its better-known wild cousin, the red maple (Acer rubrum): Autumn Blaze is more reliably fast-growing and its fall foliage color is more reliably red (red maple's leaves often turn yellow in fall). 

  • 03 of 07

    Sawtooth Oak

    sawtooth oak tree
    Harley Seaway/Getty Images

    You will like the spreading canopy of sawtooth oak (zones 5–9), 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

    Leyland Cypress

    Leyland cypress tree foliage.
    David Beaulieu

    When Leyland Cypress (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 through 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.

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  • 05 of 07

    River Birch

    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, which are less heat-tolerant. Both are suitable for landscaping in zone 5 and perhaps even farther north (some suppliers list river birch for zone 4 and paper birch for all the way up to zone 2). 

  • 06 of 07

    Tulip Tree

    Tulip Trees
    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. Due to its growth potential, this tree is more suitable for a large lawn area than near a house or patio. 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 short. 

  • 07 of 07

    Crepe Myrtle

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

    Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) grows as a tree in zones 7 through 9, but in colder climates, such as zone 5, they are treated as herbaceous perennials and take on the appearance of shrubs.