Worst Fast Growing Shade Trees For Your Yard
What are some undesirable fast growing shade trees? Which fast growing shade trees require a high level of maintenance? Here are a few of them:
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Northeast, Southeast, West (Zones 5-9)
The American Sweetgum tree is one of the fast growing shade trees that present beautifully-colored foliage in the fall. It grows to a height of 60’-75’ by maturity, with a canopy spread of 40-50 feet wide. This fast growing tree will increase its height every year by about 13” to 24,” making it one of the fast growing deep rooted shade trees. If planted by the curb, its roots will pop up a sidewalk or driveway and overtake any underground pipes or drainage system. The American Sweetgum tree has star-shaped leaves, which are 4-5½” in length and turn brilliant colors in the fall before they drop off. The American Sweetgum’s fruits are persistent as well, and a favorite of birds. The hard, small fruits are nicknamed as “burr balls” because of their hard spikes, and fall from the tree throughout the year. The falling leaves and burr balls may also bring some of the tree’s continually oozing sap with them when they fall into a home’s rain gutters or yard. The American Sweetgum, although beautiful, is a tree that will need constant minding: between the falling blossoms, fruits, bird activity, leaves, sap, and fast-growing roots.
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Northeast, Southeast, Midwest (Zones 4-9)
In order to grow to its enormous proportions, large fast growing shade trees like the American Sycamore shed a lot of bark during the process. It will normally grow to a height of 80’ – 100’ tall with a 60’ canopy, but it can grow larger. The American Sycamore also has the largest trunk of any other hardwoods in the United States. However, its trunk is often hollow, and it provides shelter for small wildlife and birds to nest. There are not as many limbs on the bottom of the trunk, but this is one of the fast growing shade trees that has a wide canopy with leaves that are 4 to 9 inches long and drop heavily throughout the fall until winter. The roots of the tree are shallow, but they will spread laterally as wide as the expanse of the canopy. The American Sycamore flowers in the spring, and then produces seed pods that are one-inch in diameter. These seed pods will drop during the late summer and fall months. With fast growing deciduous shade trees like the American Sycamore, any homeowner will be kept busy cleaning up huge amounts of bark, large leaves, seeds the size of ping-pong balls, and animal nests throughout the year.
Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Northeast, Midwest (Zones 5-9)
The Bradford Pear is a fast-growing ornamental tree that the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced in the 1960s as a small fast growing shade trees option, but is now thought of as an invasive species of tree and far from the best fast growing shade trees. The Bradford Pear can quickly grow to 30 – 40 feet tall, however, its weak branch structure often causes it to split apart within its first twenty years – causing branches to fall on a house or car if it’s planted too close to anything. The Bradford Pear flowers in the spring with large, showy blossoms, before its leaves come out, which are reported to have a strong and unpleasant odor. The leaves are thick and shiny, about two to three inches long and drop in the fall after they turn a deep red. The inedible fruits of the tree are about a half an inch in diameter. Birds will take them, usually spreading the seeds as they go, although the seeds will not produce any fast growing shade trees. Along with the large blossoms and the heavy leaves, though, these woody, berry-like fruits become another mess to deal with. That is, when a homeowner isn’t cleaning up the damage from the splintered-off tree branches.
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Northeast, Midwest (Zones 3-8)
The Eastern White Pine tree is designated as the tallest tree in North America of the fast growing evergreen shade trees. It grows about 4.5’ annually in its first 8-20 years and then slows down as it reaches its final height of 80’-150.’ However, in the wild, it has been documented to grow 188 feet tall with a circumference of 10’-16’ and live to be 200 years old. The canopy spread of an Eastern White Pine can be 20’- 40’ in diameter, which is quite large for any backyard. The needles of this pine tree are 2-5” long and remain a bluish-green, staying on the tree for about 18 months until they yellow and drop. These fast growing shade trees have both male and female flowers (cones). The male flowers have scales that overlap and open when they begin releasing pollen. The female cones can grow up to 8” long with a 1” diameter. These cones will also disperse seeds every 3-5 years. Hundreds of seeds from each cone can be expected, as well as plenty of pollen from the male flowers. Then, when you add in continuous sap production and the pine needles falling from a 50 tall or taller pine tree, there will be a lot of clean-up.
Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
Southeast (Zones 6-9)
The Empress tree is one of the fast growing shade trees that is primarily known for its large blossoms. It will grow to 40- 80 feet tall and has large, heart-shaped leaves which do not turn color in the fall. Its rapid growth is due to the fact that it can use a process known as C4 carbon fixation to photosynthesize faster than other trees. This means it can grow up to 15’ in one year, taking nutrients from other plants and trees around it, which makes it an incredibly invasive tree. The edible and fragrant flowers it produces are about 2” long and come out in the spring before the leaves, which are 5-12” long. The seeds, however, are what will become the real problem. The seed capsules of the Empress tree follow the falling of the flowers and start as sticky green pods which mature into a ripe brown in the fall. This is when they split open to release winged seeds that are dispersed by wind and water movement. One tree can produce up to 20 million seeds per year. Between flowers, leaves, and flying seeds, it quickly becomes the opposite of low maintenance fast growing shade trees.
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Northeast, Midwest, West (Zones 3-9)
The Hackberry tree is one of the fast growing shade trees that quickly grows between 40’-70’ tall, with a canopy that spreads 50’ – 60.’ It is a popular choice for landscaping since it is one of the fast growing drought resistant shade trees – usually climbing about 13” to 24” per year. Its leaves are shaped like spearheads and are about 2”- 4” long and about 2” wide. The fruit of the Hackberry ripens in the fall and stays on the tree for the winter. This is why the Hackberry tree is very popular with winter birds and other winter foragers. The Hackberry also produces many shoots from one limb, making it appear as if the tree is growing “brooms” in the upper canopy. These thick growths, which multiply throughout the expansive canopy, will die back in the winter and fall out of the tree. So, along with the many flowers in the spring, the large leaves that come down in the fall, branches falling in the winter, and thousands of nut-sized, edible berries to attract wildlife, this is a tree to think about before planting if you are looking for clean fast growing shade trees.
Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra)
Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, West (Zones 3-9)
The Lombardy Poplar (black poplar) is a species of the cottonwood poplar which many people plant in rows as a fast-growing privacy wall. Fast-growing meaning these trees can grow as much as 6’ per year. They will reach 40-50 feet tall in a relatively short amount of time, but with only a diameter of 10’-15.’ This is because the branches grow from the very bottom of the trunk and since they grow almost straight up, they provide a column of vegetation which acts as a natural barrier and one of the fast growing shade trees for small yards. And if you live out west, these are fast growing shade trees for desert climate. Lombardy trees, however, continually drop leaves and twigs, which have to be cleaned up weekly. The roots of the tree will clog any nearby pipes and will also lift sidewalks and invade lawns very quickly. The Lombard Poplar female trees produce masses of seeds by late summer, which are surrounded by white cottony hairs that help the seeds blow everywhere. Tree canker is also common, so these trees have a lifespan of about 10-15 years. Just long enough to reach a height where the winds can carry twigs, leaves, and cotton fluff into any rain gutter.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, West (Zones 3-9)
While the Silver Maple is one of the top fast growing shade trees planted across North America, it is the least recommended of the fast growing maple shade trees to plant by forest services. It’s a homebuilders’ trick to landscape with Silver Maples because they establish easily and grow 3’ per year, giving the impression that soil around the home is fertile, when in fact this tree can grow under almost any condition in North America. As well the roots of this tree will grow well beyond its canopy – and above ground – making it hard to grow a lawn and harmful to underground pipes. Homeowners who initially love the heartiness of the Silver Maple become concerned as it reaches its full height of 100’ and its canopy spread of 60.’ Then the leaves and “helicopter” seeds begin to drop. A mature Silver Maple can drop thousands of samaras (aerodynamic seeds), which will carpet the ground under them, and have to be continually raked. (Most animals will not eat them.) The main problem, though, is that because these seeds are airborne and about 2” inches long, they mainly fly right into gutters, winding up in downspouts, effectively clogging them almost immediately.
Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Midwest, West, Southwest, Southeast (Zones 4-10)
The Thornless Honeylocust is one of the pretty, fast growing deciduous shade trees prized for its lacy leaves and fragrant spring flowers. It is also one of the fast growing drought tolerant shade trees. As a fast-grower (24” per year), however, it is an invasive species and can take over a lawn quickly. Although it will grow to a height of 60-70 feet tall and have a matching canopy spread of 60-70 feet wide, it is actually a member of the pea family. It turns a showy yellow in the fall, with pinnately and even bi-pinnately compound leaves, making it seem like one of the best shade trees that grow fast. However, these leaves are approximately 8” long and made up of 8-18 leaflets per leaf, which are the kinds of compound leaves that get messy when they fall. As well, the Thornless Honeylocust produces dark brown seed pods that can be eaten by animals. These pods are flat and curling, usually about 1” wide by 7” long and drop in the fall along with the leaves. And as these fast growing shade trees climb past the top of your house, the main problem (between the seed pods and the extraordinary amount of miniature leaflets), will be continually clearing your gutters of their debris.
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest (Zones 6-8)
The Weeping Willow is one of the fast growing shade tolerant trees that has a short lifespan, only living 40-75 years. In that time, it will grow to be between 40’- 50’ tall with an equally large canopy spread. Since it grows at about 24” per year, it can reach an overall size of 30’ x 30’ in 15 years. The roots will spread just as wide, so weeping willows need to be planted far from any underground lines or pipes – especially your neighbors. So the Weeping Willow is the exact opposite of fast growing shade trees with non invasive roots. The leaves of the weeping willow are lance-shaped and grow 3 – 6” long. They turn yellow in the late fall before they drop, which takes them a while because on a larger tree there will be an endless supply of them. Weeping willows also constantly drop twigs and every once in a while a whole dead limb. To help prevent this, professional pruning of this massive tree is advised. More importantly though, is if these fast growing shade trees are planted anywhere near a house, the rain gutters will be jam-packed with Weeping Willow leaves from October through December.