It’s been said that “trees are something you plant for someone else”. That’s because generations may pass in human time before many tree species reach their full glory. But sometimes you need a fast-growing tree that will give you more immediate results.
Extreme weather patterns in many parts of North America have resulted in trees lost to flooding, wind, wildfires, and drought. New housing developments are often stripped of mature trees prior to construction, leaving the new landscapes barren of trees. Invasive insects and diseases have resulted in significant losses to once-popular landscaping trees such as ash, elm, and red oak. Beyond simply replacing trees, there are a variety of reasons you might want a tree that grows to a significant size over a short period of time.
Reasons to Plant a Fast-growing Tree
Trees can be used to create privacy
Trees, especially evergreen trees, are popular for planting in a row along the property line or around a patio or deck to create a privacy screen.
Trees are important for establishing a landscape at a new building site
Whether a housing development is being constructed on land that was intentionally clear-cut, or farmland that has been converted to a subdivision, these situations leave it to homeowners to create a landscape from scratch.
Use fast-growing trees to create a natural windbreak
Trees create a barrier that can help protect more delicate plantings or structures from the force of direct winds. In cold regions a row of strategically placed evergreen trees can help reduce blowing snow drifting over a drive.
Fast-growing trees are a quick source of shade
Mature trees near a house can result in reduced energy costs in the summer as the shade they produce helps to cool the immediate environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials.”
Add trees to increase property value
Fast-growing trees are a good way to spruce up a landscape prior to selling. Attractive landscapes add value when you are trying to sell a house. If your plan is to eventually sell your house, adding one or two fast-growing trees would be a good investment to make now.
Use fast-growing trees to replace trees destroyed by natural disaster
Mature trees can be destroyed in an instant by high winds, wildfire, flooding, disease, or invasive insect species. When this happens it is best to do some research and perhaps replace the lost trees with a new species that may be more resilient to local environmental conditions or insect pests. In cases of significant tree losses, a combination of fast-growing and slower-growing trees could provide both, a short and long-term solution.
Block an unsightly view with fast-growing trees
Trees can be a great way to filter the view of utility poles, a busy road, or an unsightly structure or building.
Fast-growing trees can help reduce noise pollution in populated areas
Trees can serve as a sound buffer to noisy roadways, neighbors, or nearby businesses. Combine a solid fence or wall with trees for even better noise reduction.
Support wildlife by adding a few fast-growing trees
Ongoing development in the form of new houses, roadways, office parks, or clear-cutting for utility lines is resulting in ever-diminishing natural habitat for wildlife. By adding trees to your own landscape you can restore spaces for wildlife to find food, shelter, and nesting sites.
12 Fast-growing Trees
The decision on whether to plant deciduous or evergreen trees depends on your individual taste, setting, and the time you have available to maintain your trees. Deciduous trees can be untidy in some seasons, producing flowers, seeds, and fruits in the spring and summer months later followed by leaf drop in the fall. Too many evergreen trees can become boring. A well-designed tree plan should include a combination of deciduous and evergreen trees to provide an interesting and everchanging landscape year-round.
Fast-growing Deciduous Trees
Here are some popular deciduous trees and their pros and cons:
- Native to North America.
- Grows 1-2′ (30-60cm) per year to a mature height of 60-75′ (18-22m).
- A long-lived tree that can live to 80 years or more.
- Can withstand flooding.
- Acorns provide food for wildlife.
- Adapted to a wide growing range, USDA zones 3-8.
- Drops flowers in the spring and acorns in late summer that may require clean-up.
- Susceptible to oak wilt.
- Native to North America.
- Tolerates a wide range of environments with varying amounts of annual rainfall and temperature ranges.
- Stand up well to strong winds.
- Grows 1-2′ (30-60cm) per year to a mature height of 40-60’ (12-18m).
- Adapted to a wide growing region, USDA Zones 3-9.
- Thrives in wet or dry soil.
- Produces berries that provide food for birds in fall and winter.
- Tolerates air pollution making it a good choice for urban settings or along busy roads.
- A long-lived tree that can survive 150 years or more.
- Small fruits may require clean-up.
- Native to eastern North America.
- Reaches mature size of about 70-90’ (21-27m) at around 15 years.
- Can grow 1-2′ (30-60cm) in a year.
- Attracts pollinating insects and hummingbirds.
- Grows over a wide range, USDA zones 4-9.
- Deer resistant.
- Drops flower parts after blooming that can be messy and require clean-up.
- Native to China but a well-established landscape choice in North America.
- Under ideal conditions can grow 2-3′ (60-90cm) a year to a mature height of 60-100′ (18-30m).
- Has the aesthetic and form of an evergreen tree, but it is a deciduous conifer and drops its needle-like leaves in the fall.
- Tolerates air pollution, a good choice for urban areas and for use as a street tree along busy roads.
- Survives flooding well.
- Mature trees produce small cones that may require clean-up.
- Prefers moderate temperatures, USDA zones 5-8.
- Doesn’t tolerate early freezes well.
- Native to North America.
- Depending on planting size, can reach mature size of 50-70′ (15-21m) in about 10-15 years.
- Can grow 2-4′ (.6-1.2m) in a year.
- Good tolerance to heat, drought, poor soil, and urban locations.
- Good tolerance to floods.
- Produces sweetly scented flowers in the spring that attract pollinating insects.
- Tiny leaves mean very little raking in the fall.
- Adapted to a wide growing range, USDA zones 4-9.
- Mature trees produce long, brown seed pods that range from 7-18″ (17-45cm) in length and require clean-up.
- One of the last trees to leaf out in the spring (which may be a positive if you plant near a patio where you want to enjoy the spring sunshine, but prefer shade in the heat of summer).
- Native to Asian countries of Taiwan, Japan, and eastern China but a well-established choice for North American landscapes.
- Dark green foliage turns to shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.
- Can grow 1-2′ (30-60cm) a year to reach a mature height of 50-80′ (15-24m).
- The gray bark exfoliates as it matures, revealing orange-tinted bark underneath.
- Some tolerance to air pollution, if using in urban areas it’s best not to put next to a busy road.
- Vulnerable to ice damage.
- Prefers a somewhat narrow temperature range, USDA zones 5-9.
- Grows 1-2′ (30-60cm) per year to a mature height of 50-90′ (15-27m).
- Fragrant flowers are sweetly scented and attract loads of bees and other pollinating insects.
- Attractive pyramidal shape.
- Not a good choice if you are allergic to bee stings.
- Drought can cause leaf scorch.
- Aphid infestations can cause tree to drip sap.
- South American native that thrives in frost-free regions of North America.
- Can grow 2-3′ (60-90cm) in a year to a mature height of around 50′ (15m).
- Good tolerance to heat and humidity.
- Gives any landscape a tropical feel.
- Very narrow growing range, USDA zones 10-11.
- Root system can be shallow, water thoroughly and regularly the first year of planting to encourage the deepest root system possible.
- Fruit drop can be messy.
Fast-growing Evergreen Trees
These evergreens are popular for their durability and fast growth:
- A hybrid developed in Denmark but now well-established in North America since it’s introduction in 1967.
- Under ideal conditions can grow 3′ (90cm) or more per year to a mature height of 30-60′ (9-18m).
- Dense foliage makes this one of the one of the very best to create a privacy screen, hedge, or windbreak.
- Deer resistant.
- Few disease or pest problems.
- Intolerant of wet soils.
- Grows so fast it can become a problem if the location turns out to be too small to accommodate the rapid growth.
- Adapted to a somewhat narrow range, USDA zones 5-8.
- A hybrid introduced to North America from England in the 1800’s, that has since become one of the most popular trees for landscaping.
- Can grow 2-3′ (60-90cm) a year to a mature height of 60-70′ (18-21m) or more.
- Columnar growth habit is ideal for planting in a row to create a screen or windbreak.
- A somewhat narrow growing range, best for temperate climates, USDA zones 6-9.
- Proper site selection is critical or Leyland cypress can quickly outgrow its space and overwhelm a house or driveway.
- A hybrid cross of a European and an Asian species that is a well-established favorite in North American landscapes.
- Grows 2-3 (60-90cm) per year to a mature height of 15-30′ (4.5-9m).
- Heat and drought tolerant but can suffer sun scorch in hot afternoon sun.
- Can handle poor soil conditions, including heavy clay.
- Pollinators are drawn to the flowers in spring.
- Adapted to USDA zones 6-9.
- Requires acidic soil for best performance.
- Will not tolerate wet soil.
- Spiny leaves can make it difficult to work around or prune.
- Holly shrubs are male or female, with only the female shrubs producing berries. ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is female and requires a male pollinator for berry production.
- Native to North America.
- Grows 1-2′ (30-60cm) per year to a mature height of 20-25’ (6-7.6m).
- Heat loving.
- Can tolerate a range of soil conditions from dry to wet.
- Withstands flooding and waterlogged soils.
- Tolerates high winds.
- Deer resistant.
- Can handle saline conditions, whether near an ocean or a road salted in the winter.
- Foliage has a spicy odor when brushed or crushed. Berries can be used for scenting homemade candles.
- Adapted to a somewhat narrow growing range, USDA zones 7-10.
- Shrubs are male or female, with only the female shrubs producing berries. Both are required for berry production.
- May sucker and expand beyond the desired location.
- The leaves, stems, and branches contain flammable aromatic compounds, so this is not a good choice for a foundation planting near a house or in regions prone to wildfires.
Planting Fast-growing Trees
When to Plant a Tree
Fall is the best time to plant trees. Although they won’t make much visible growth in the cool weather and shortening days of fall, underneath the ground the roots will continue actively growing as long as the ground temperature allows. The ground tends to hold heat longer than the air temperature, but will eventually cool as winter sets in, and root growth will cease until spring. This extra time, however, allows the roots to get established and prepares the tree for a strong season of top growth in the spring.
In contrast, planting a tree in spring or summer can lead to a lot of leaf growth before a healthy root system is developed. This can result in your tree withering in summer’s heat when the insufficient root system can’t pull in enough water or soil dries out quickly. Spring planting will require more effort on your part to ensure that a newly planted tree receives sufficient water.
Where to Plant a Fast-growing Tree
When trees are small it’s difficult to imagine the mature tree and mistakes can be made when picking a location. You want to give your tree as much space as possible but not too close to the house, a patio, or even a drive. Trees produce all types of litter such as leaves, flowers, seeds, pods, nuts and fruits that can drop on the roof of the house, cars in the driveway, or clutter your patio furniture.
Expanding tree root systems can also wreak havoc on home foundations, drives, or underground utilities. It’s important to locate underground lines and pipes and try to avoid planting too near or directly over them. In the United States you should call 811 before planting trees and crews will be dispatched to flag any utility lines on your property. Then you will know the best places to plant to avoid any future problems.
How to Help a Tree Grow Faster
Providing optimum planting conditions, reliable watering, and a good location are the keys to getting the most growth out of your trees. Here is a list of six tips to get your new tree growing its fastest:
1. Give your tree the space it needs to allow as much sunlight as possible to reach it on any side.
2. Water newly planted trees regularly until the tree is actively producing new growth and foliage. If you are planting in the spring, this probably means watering at least two times a week going into warmer weather. You should apply 10-15 gallons per watering. Once the tree is well-established you should still apply supplemental water during dry spells through the first growing season.
3. Apply a layer of mulch or compost around the root zone to help retain soil moisture and add nutrients to the soil over time as the organic matter breaks down. Mulch will also help reduce weeds that might compete with your tree for nutrients and moisture.
4. There is no need to apply chemical fertilizers for at least the first year. The root mass won’t be sufficient to make good use of additional fertilizer until after a couple of growing seasons.
5. Don’t plant a new tree too close to existing trees or large shrubs where the roots will eventually compete for water and nutrients.
5. Avoid planting perennial or annual flowers around a newly planted tree as these can also compete for soil moisture.
6. Staking might be required if your new tree is in a windy location. Without a well-developed root system, a young tree can be easily tilted by frequent strong winds. Keeping the tree steady allows the roots to develop in the correct position for the future. The stakes may be removed after the first year.
Alternatives to Planting Fast-growing Trees
If you are looking for an even faster solution for adding or replacing trees in your landscape, then planting naturally small trees, or a combination of small and tall trees, may be the right solution for you. Most small trees provide satisfying results in about 10 years and still offer many of the benefits of larger trees, such as shade, noise reduction, and improved aesthetics. Small trees are also a great solution when powerlines are preventing you from growing taller tree species along your property borders. Get tips for selecting and growing small trees in our article, 12 Small Trees for a Big Landscape Look.