Whether you are building a new home or rethinking your landscaping for an existing home, shade is an important factor to consider. Natural shade from trees helps lower summer cooling costs and just makes your family’s time outdoors more enjoyable in the summer months. Shade also is important for pets, for livestock and for many garden plants.
However, when we plant young trees, we usually think it will take a very long time – maybe even decades – before we have measurable shade. Yes, most trees do take years to mature, but some do not take as long as you might think to offer shade.
Keep in mind that some trees –such as the silver maple -- may gain in height quickly without establishing a strong root system and some – such as the princess tree – spread at such a rapid rate that they are regarded in many states as a weed.
For the purposes of this article, we will heed the conventional wisdom of arborists and define a fast-growing tree as one with a growth rate of about 1½- to 3 feet each year. Another way to look at it is that a healthy fast-growing tree, when planted in soil that provides the right blend of moisture and nutrients, will provide good shade within five years of planting.
Here then are five solid options for fast-growing shades.
Oaks - Several varieties of oak trees meet our criteria. The Southern red oak (Quercus falcata), which does well in USDA zones 6 to 9, grows three feet per season, ultimately reaching up to 80 feet high and offering great shade. The chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), which is suited for zones 5 to 9, also grows up to three feet a season and can reach 65 feet high with a rounded canopy. The Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) thrives in zones 5 to 9 and the Valley oak (Quercus lobata), which is suited to zones 6 to 11, both grow 60 to 75 feet high and at least as wide to provide ample shade. All of these oaks require full sun and well-drained soil.
Tulip poplar - This vigorous tree, which thrives in zones 4 to 9, can grow from a six-foot sapling to a 25-foot shade tree in just 10 years. Its mature size can reach 90 feet tall and 50 feet wide. It does well in both full sun and partial shade, and it offers striking broad leaves with tulip-shaped flowers in spring and striking gold color in the fall.
The tulip poplar prefers moist, slightly acid soil and it resists many diseases and pests.
Black gum - Suitable for zones 4 to 9, the black gum tree can reach 20 feet within 10 years of planting a six-foot sapling. Mature size of the black gum soars to 50 feet in height and 30 feet in width.
The black gum can do well in partial shade, and it can withstand some drought conditions. Because its branches spread and have an overlapping leaf structure, you will get some shade benefits even from a young black gum tree.
The tree’s flowers will appeal to bees and birds, and it has eye appeal too. In the fall, this disease- and insect-resistant tree boasts some of the most splendid fall colors of purple, red and orange.
Japanese zelkova - This beauty has bark that starts out gray in color but then, as the tree matures, turns to a lovely orange-brown color. With its strong upward reaching limbs and vase-shaped crown, the Japanese zelkova can reach 25 feet in height within 10 years of planting. Mature trees can tower 80 feet in height and can spread 50 feet in width.
Suited for zones 5 to 9, the Japanese zelkova is resistant to Dutch elm disease and can thrive in full sun or partial shade.
Maples - Some fast growing maples can grow at a rate of three feet per season. They feature spreading canopies, do well in well-drained soil and prefer full sun to partial shade.
The Southern sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. floridanum), which is also known as the Florida maple, grows in zones 7 to 9, and although it may reach 25 feet high in maturity, it boasts dense foliage that offers perfect shade and a 40-foot canopy.
The amur maple (Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala "Red Fruit"), suited to zones 3 to 8, grows up to 30 feet tall with a 25-foot canopy. The amur maple boasts small yellow flowers in spring, a deep green canopy in summer and deep red leaves in the fall.
Both of these maple trees prefer well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade.
The Freeman Maple (zones 4 to 7) has brilliant red-orange color in the fall and can soar to 80 feet high by 50 feet wide. This beauty likes full sun and moist, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH.
These are just a few landscape trees that are excellent choices. It pays to do your research ahead of time before heading to the garden center. Then you can head home with a tree that will be a wonderful addition to your lawn instead of a problem.