The best fast-growing shade trees are those that fit the site, are easy to care for, and will last a relatively long time. They can reduce cooling bills and provide privacy to the home. It is wise to consider the size the tree will attain at maturity and how close to the house it will be. Flowering trees and those that drop seed pods might be too messy for some people, but they add interest and color variety to the landscape. There are some fast-growing shade trees that are not recommended.
The first consideration is the size of the site. In a small yard, fast-growing shade trees that grow to 40-50 feet (12-15 m) might be fine unless they spread very wide. Smaller trees can be planted in rows to fill a broad area. Shade-tolerant plants will need to be selected for the rest of the landscaping. Blocking the sun can reduce cooling bills by 70%.
For easy care, disease and pest-resistant trees might be preferable. Slower growth trees, such as oaks and pines, are usually sturdier than fast growing ones, and are also less susceptible to breakage in wind and ice storms. They can be planted alongside fast-growing shade trees, and once they have reached a mature height the others can be culled. Trees with drooping branches, such as willows, can screen the yard from the street as well as provide shade.
Fast-growing shade trees that lose their leaves in the winter add extra work cleaning up leaves or fruit. Sweet gums shed spiky seed pods that must be raked and cannot usually be composted. Evergreen trees keep foliage all winter and make excellent windbreaks. They must be planted before late summer to allow them to establish strong root systems and moisture so the leaves don’t drop. Some evergreens have attractive fruit, such as pine cones, which can be collected and used decoratively.
Trees that have colorful leaves, flowers or interesting shapes add a new dimension to a landscape design. Japanese maples and tulip trees hold color most of the season. Beech trees have gray to white bark that peels attractively on some species. Lombardy poplar and cypress trees grow in a columnar shape and are suited to planting in rows along a drive, making good windbreaks or privacy screens.
Certain species of fast-growing shade trees can be problematic. Silver maples are notorious for shallow root systems and weak, soft wood that breaks easily during storms. Princess trees and mimosas are all considered invasive species that crowd out native trees. A local garden center can advise you on avoiding pest species that may be restricted in your area.