13 Best Fast-Growing Shade Trees for Creating a Pretty Privacy Screen
Got a spot in your yard like a patio that you'd like to shield from the sun and the neighbors' view? Plant a few of these trees and you'll have a lush living fence in just a few years.
A lot of the best fast-growing shade trees can grow 50 feet tall or more, and reach maturity in 20 or 30 years. That means they can provide shade, privacy, or a windbreak to your yard more quickly than other shade trees that can take twice that long to reach maturity. The trade-off for their speedy growth is the fact that they often will start declining after they reach maturity, so they have a more limited lifespan than slower-growing trees. And sometimes their wood is more prone to breaking in storms, so as long as you're willing to prune them regularly to help keep them under control, these trees can give your home and yard a whole new look in a relatively short amount of time. Here are 13 of the best fast-growing trees to choose from.
Fast-Growing Shade Trees
Before you plant one of these selections, make sure you have a spot to put it that is well away from utility lines, homes, and driveways to minimize damage in case their large branches (or trunks) break during storms. It's also good to pay attention to the location of septic lines and sidewalks when you're deciding where to place your tree because its roots could eventually cause problems with them. As long as you're careful when you're planting and keep up with maintenance, these trees will provide many years of beauty to your yard.
A good choice for wet or swampy sites, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) has few insect or disease problems and is one of the few trees that tolerates standing water. The foliage turns russet red in late fall before dropping and exposing attractive reddish-brown bark. Growing at a rate of 18 to 24 inches per year, it can reach up to 100 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Bald cypress is native to North America and grows best with full sun in Zones 5-10.
A good replacement for poplars in warmer regions, Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) usually encounters fewer pests than poplars. These trees grow with a rounded shape and look beautiful when the leaves turn color in the fall. Growing 12 to 18 inches per year, it can eventually reach up to 40 feet tall. Though Chinese tallow trees are good for shade, avoid placing them near decks, patios, or terrace gardens because they drop a lot of flowers and fruit throughout the year. Instead, boost privacy with this fast-growing tree by placing it in the back corner of your landscape. Chinese tallow trees grow best in Zones 8-10 with full sun and well-drained soil.
Test Garden Tip: Check local restrictions before planting; it's considered an invasive species in some regions.
Known for growing along rivers and other moist areas of the eastern U.S., cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) are also known for their brittle, weak wood. They grow three to four feet per year, reaching up to 70 feet tall. Their relatives, Lombardy poplars (Populus nigra var. italica), named for the Italian region where they originated, are often used as 40- to 50-foot-tall screens. Cottonwood care can vary depending on the variety you plant, but in general, they'll grow in Zones 3-9 with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.
Test Garden Tip: Check local restrictions before planting; some species are considered invasive.
A good fast-growing tree to provide privacy in the corner of a large residential lot, dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) grows about two feet per year until reaching maturity at around 80 feet tall. It grows best in Zones 5-8 in moist or wet soil in sun or shade, and can look just like an evergreen during the growing season with soft, fine needles. In autumn, the needles turn shades of red and brown before dropping, exposing the tree's interesting branching pattern and bark in winter.
Ideal for low, wet spots in the landscape where other trees usually don't survive, European black alder (Alnus glutinosa) is native in most areas of Europe. This tree can have an extensive root system (it can stretch over 16 feet), so avoid planting near sidewalks and sewer lines. Growing rapidly when young, it eventually slows to 12 to 15 inches per year, reaching 40 to 60 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide. Plant in damp soil with full sun or partial shade in Zones 4-8.
Test Garden Tip: Check local restrictions before planting European black alder; it may be an invasive species in your area.
Strong, vigorous growers, gum trees (Eucalyptus spp.) can anchor a western landscape, making them a good fast-growing tree for privacy and shade. Plant gum trees where their fallen leaf and stem debris won't cause problems. Growing two to three feet per year, gum trees come in a variety of species that range from 25 to 70 feet tall, but they don't usually grow well in the high heat and humidity of the southeast. Place in a spot with full sun in well-drained soil in Zones 9-10.
Flourishing in a limited range in the U.S., Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) doesn't need much care and produces creamy flowers in summer. Native to China and Japan, it grows 12 to 15 inches per year and can reach 75 feet tall and wide. Japanese pagoda trees can tolerate full sun or partial shade and need rich, well-drained soil in Zones 6-8 (and mild areas of Zone 5).
Tolerant of southern heat and drought, lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) can also be grown in northern climates in large containers and brought in for winter. It shoots up at a rate of 10 to 15 inches per year, eventually reaching 25 feet tall. Its red flowers also attract hummingbirds when in bloom. Plant outdoors in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soil in Zones 9-10.
You can use leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii) as an individual tree or planted in groups for a tall, fast-growing hedge for privacy and screening. It grows one to three feet per year, reaching up to 70 feet, and prefers full sun and well-drained soil in Zones 7-10. If you don't want it to reach towering heights, just prune it regularly to keep the size under control.
One of the most common trees in the U.S., the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is native to the eastern part of North America. It grows one to two feet per year, reaching up to 100 feet tall and 70 feet wide. A common shade tree, it unfortunately has shallow roots and weak branches. Its cousin, the red maple (Acer rubrum), is also native to North America and is known for its stunning fall foliage color. Red maples grow smaller: 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Plant both these maples in full sun or partial shade with well-drained soil in Zones 3-9.
Known for their beautiful yellow-orange spring flowers, tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) also have unusual leaves shaped somewhat like tulip flower silhouettes and yellow fall foliage. They grow 15 to 18 inches per year and can reach up to 100 feet tall. The wood is weak, but you can train young trees to develop wide, strong branch angles to prevent splitting. Tulip trees grow best in Zones 5-9 with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.
With silky, fine-texture needles and long, graceful branches, North American native Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) are popular for their elegant appearance. They grow 12 to 15 inches per year and can reach up to 100 feet tall. Grow in full sun in Zones 3-8 with well-drained soil.
An old-fashioned shade tree, southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) produces pretty white flowers in spring. The slender seedpods that come after the flowers can be messy, so it's best to grow catalpa in a backyard. It grows 12 to 15 inches per year, eventually reaching up to 40 feet tall and wide. It's native to areas of southeastern North America and grows best in full sun with well-drained soil in Zones 5-9.