10 Fastest-Growing Trees for Shade, Privacy, and Beauty
Home & Gardening

10 Fastest-Growing Trees for Shade, Privacy, and Beauty

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day—and neither was your home’s landscaping. Case in point: Your garden’s trees. While trees can provide everything from shade and privacy, to a lush, oasis-like look in your backyard, most varieties can take anywhere from 20 to 30 years to grow to their mature size.

“I think most of us are impatient when it comes to our gardens and yards,” says Allison Futeral, owner and buyer of an Oakland-based plant nursery called Crimson Horticultural Rarities. “We want it to look beautiful now.”

If you’re looking to expedite the landscaping process, there are plenty of fast-growing trees that can help. Though these speedier species don’t exactly sprout up overnight, they can grow to their full, mature size in as little as 10 years. But just because these fast-growing trees offer a time-efficient alternative doesn’t mean you should choose one in haste. “Trees are big statements, so even though they are fast-growing, you should still give the planting of these trees as much thought as slower- growing trees,” says Futeral. “You are [still] making a commitment.”

Before you select a species, Futeral says it’s important to think about the end goal: Is this tree providing you food, shade, privacy, or just decoration? Not only will you want to consider climate, and make sure that your shortlist of trees grows in your zone, but you’ll also want to consider a tree’s full size. “Make sure to read plant labels closely and actually measure the space it will occupy when full-grown—don’t just eyeball it,” she says. “Think about where the tree will cast shade, how close it might grow to power lines, and so on.”

Even still, there are many options to choose from—so where to begin your search? To help, we tapped a few gardening experts to recommend the best fast-growing trees to add to your garden. Though these species will still require a few years to grow, the wait will be worth it. 

Crape Myrtles

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Think of crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) as the perfect mix between speed and style. Nicknamed the “Lilac of the South” by some, this tree can grow to its mature size within five to 10 years. Of course, these trees have more to offer than speed: They bring beautiful color to your landscape while attracting honey bees and other pollinators, says Futeral. “There are many varieties available, allowing you to choose a size that works best in a beautiful accent color to add to your garden.”

  • Zone: 7 to 9
  • Mature size: Approximately 25 feet high and 20 feet wide, depending on the variety.  
  • Care requirements: Requires full sunlight and a moderate amount of watering. (Crape myrtles might suffer in overly wet soil).

Chilean Mesquite

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Calling all desert dwellers: Thanks to chilean mesquite (Prosopis Chilensis), it’s possible to enjoy a fast-growing tree in your neck of the woods. “It provides some shade to your property, while still allowing dappled light though its beautiful feathery leaves,” says Futeral. Not only does this drought-tolerant evergreen thrive in areas with little rainfall, but it can also grow up to 3 feet per year in ideal conditions. Plus, this tree is relatively low-maintenance, which makes its light, airy appearance even more enjoyable. 

  • Zones: 8 to 11 
  • Mature size: 25 to 30 feet wide and tall.
  • Care requirements: Loves full, bright sun and only needs to be watered occasionally.

Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees

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Give your garden a worldly edge by planting a batch of Prunus Serrulata—or, as most of us know them, Japanese flowering cherry trees. “This tree is famous for its floral decoration in the season of spring and the outstanding colors that appear in the season of autumn,” says Nathan Thorne, a horticulturist at Handy Flowers in the United Kingdom. “They are perfect for giving a garden a little more color and love growing.” But while this gorgeous, flowering tree reaches its mature size quickly—growing 1 to 2 feet per year—it has a relatively short lifespan. (Most pros say that this tree begins to succumb to the elements in 25 to 30 years.) In the meantime, they can be a lovely addition to your zen garden.

  • Zones: 5 to 8 
  • Mature size: Approximately 15 to 25 feet tall and 13 to 26 feet wide.
  • Care requirements: Does well in full sun areas with moist, well-drained soil.

Red Oak

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On the hunt for a tree that will be an absolute showstopper come fall? Consider a red oak (Acer Rubrum). “] “A tree that has it all,” says Thorne. “It’s classical, offers shade, [and has] bright red in the fall leaves.” While red oaks will take up to 30 years to fully mature—Thorne says they can grow up to 120 feet, which makes them great for larger gardens—you’ll be able to enjoy its vibrant look sooner. In fact, under the right conditions, you can have a 30-foot-tall oak in about 15 years. 

  • Zone: 3 to 9 
  • Mature size: It’s varied. Thorne says these trees can reach 40 to 120 feet. 
  • Care requirements: These trees thrive in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Since this species is susceptible to insects and pests, consider planting them alongside resistant cultivars.

Tulip Poplar

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Since tulip poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera) have a tall, narrow look, they’re typically not the best at throwing shade. However, their sunny, tulip-like blooms make them a well-appointed pick. Though this tree taps out at about 70 feet tall, they are known to grow 3 to 5 feet per year, so they can reach their full mature size pretty quickly.  The secret, however, is to give this species the tender, loving care they deserve. “It needs watering on a regular basis, especially in its young years,” says Samuel Davis, a horticulturist and the CEO of London Gardeners. “This poplar type benefits from applying a thick mulch layer to keep the soil moisture at an ideal level and ensure proper soil temperature.”

  • Zone: 4 to 9
  • Mature size: 60 to 90 feet tall, 30 to 50 feet wide.
  • Care requirements: Tulip Poplar prefers moist, well-drained soil and full sun.

River Birch

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For a fast-growing tree that provides some much-needed shade, Davis is partial to River Birches (Betula Nigra), which can grow as quickly as 40 feet within 20 years. If a Chilean mesquite is suitable for desert-like areas, a river birch species as its aquatic alternative. “They prefer acidic, moist soil and are able to tolerate wet soils, making them ideal for placing in wet areas along watersides,” says Davis. “Late winter is the best time for pruning.” In addition to their wide span—which offers some excellent shade—they have a flaky, kaleidoscope bark that will add some rich texture to your garden. Water-loving and wonderful to look at? Yes, please. 

  • Zone: 4 to 9 
  • Mature size: 40 to 70 feet tall, 40 to 60 feet wide.
  • Care requirements: It flourishes when it receives full sun to partial shade. “The tree should be frequently watered, especially in the hot and dry areas,” Davis adds. 

Eastern Redbud

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Think of an eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) as a fast-growing tree that shows almost instant results. Though Davis says this crowd-pleasing tree can reach between 20 and 30 feet in height and width, it can grow up to 7 to 10 feet in the first few years under the right conditions. “Eastern redbud thrives in well-draining soil with moderate moisture and prefers full sun to partial shade,” he says. “Regular watering is a must during dry periods and yearly pruning to maintain shape and remove dead branches.” The eastern redbud will also produce bright-yet-delicate flowers during its first few years, so you won’t have to wait long for a smile-inducing statement.

  • Zone: 4 to 9
  • Mature size: 20 to 30 feet tall and wide.
  • Care requirements: Enjoys moderate moisture in well-draining soil as well as full to partial sun exposure. 

Hybrid Poplar

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As a cross between eastern cottonwood (Populus Deltoides) and black poplar (Populus Nigra), these hybrid trees have a long, lean look and large, triangular leaves that will bring an elegant touch to your garden. Another thing to love? They grow pretty quickly, too. While this species can reach up to 50 feet tall, they can grow as much as 5 to 8 feet each year. The drawback? Not only does this tree have a relatively short lifespan—depending on the climate, they can last for 20 to 60 years—but they’re also prone to breakage. “Pruning is essential to maintain a strong structure and remove any weak or damaged branches,” Davis says. 

  • Zone: 3 to 9
  • Mature size: 40 to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide.
  • Care requirements: Hybrid poplar loves well-drained, fertile soil—particularly alkaline, acidic, and wet soils. “It thrives in full sun and needs regular watering, especially in drier periods,” Davis says.

Sweetgum Tree

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Thanks to their spiky “gumballs” that can leave your garden looking (and feeling!) like a horticultural minecraft, sweetgum trees (liquidambar) is an admittedly a controversial option. But according to Mark Canney, d​​irector of landscape and horticulture at Arbor Day Farm, they’re still a great option for anyone who is looking for a time-sensitive tree. “The very signature glossy green leaves offer a show from spring as they emerge to the spectacular fireworks display in fall with colors of red and orange,” he says. “The sweetgum may grow 2 to 3 feet a year, and heights and widths vary depending on the cultivar.” Some species can grow up to 80 feet; however, its rapid growth will have you with a considerably tall tree in a few years. 

  • Zone: 5 to 10
  • Mature size: It depends on species, but most options tap out at 80 feet tall and 60 feet wide
  • Care requirements: These trees do not tolerate the shade, so be sure to plant in a sunny spot —ideally in clayey soil—and regularly water for the first few years.

Pecan Tree

Pecan trees are tall trees with a wide canopy.

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Craving a fast-growing, food-producing change of pace? Canney is a big fan of pecan trees (Carya Illinoensis). “Nut trees are not nearly represented enough in our urban forests or suburban landscape,” he says. “Perhaps the pecan can help change this direction.” Though this species will require some time to reach its mature size—Canney says they can be up to 70 feet tall—pecan trees grow 2 to 4 feet every year. (Under the right conditions, you can have a pretty big tree in just a few years.) Pecan trees can take up to 10 years to produce nuts, so you’ll have to wait to have enough ingredients for a mouth-watering pie; however, they’ll provide plenty of shade while you wait. 

  • Zone: 5 to 9 
  • Mature size: Typically, a pecan tree can grow to 70 to 80 feet.
  • Care requirements: These trees do best in full sun and well-drained soils.