Comparing Fast-growing Shade Trees


Steve Boehme - Contributing columnist



We’re often asked to recommend fast-growing shade trees. People with new homes on open ground often want to establish shade trees quickly. Often an established tree has been removed, leaving a big sunny spot where there was once shade. The desire for “instant shade” on a budget often leads to choosing trees that won’t be successful long term. While fast-growing trees such as Silver Maple can be cheaper to buy in the beginning, we see many families spending hundreds and even thousands over the years to have the trees “trimmed” or ultimately removed.

Some of the fastest growing trees are also the shortest lived, and can come with built-in shortcomings. Examples include Catalpa, Box Elder, Silver Maple, hybrid Poplar and willow. These trees can be the messiest, disease-prone, and most attractive to pests. They tend to break easily in wind and ice storms, and can have invasive root systems that heave sidewalks and clog sewer lines.

The fact remains that sometimes we aren’t willing to wait for hard maples, oaks and other “blue chip” shade trees to grow, and want results faster. For these situations we typically recommend the London Planetree, a cousin of the American Sycamore that grows along creeks and ponds here in Adams County. Like the Sycamore, London Planes have attractive mottled white bark, but they don’t drop messy fruit and are more disease resistant than their cousins.

London Planes can grow 3 to 5 feet per year, developing rapidly into a handsome pyramidal shape. They are amazingly tolerant of compacted soil and clay, and can survive extremes of wet and dry in almost any type of soil. They prefer full sun.

London Planetree Characteristics

Height: 70 feet

Spread: 50 feet

Growth: Rapid

Life span: Moderate to long

Soil Requirement: Any Soil

Moisture Requirement: Wet or Dry

Pruning Requirement: Needs little pruning

Limb breakage: resistant

Uses: Parking lot shade, street tree, shade in open areas, reclamation

Weaknesses: Leaf drop in drought

Silver Maple Characteristics

Height: 70 feet

Spread: 45 feet

Growth: Rapid

Life span: Long-lived on moist sites

Soil Requirement: Prefers acid soil

Moisture Requirement: Prefers moist soil

Pruning Requirement: Needs frequent pruning

Limb breakage: susceptible

Uses: Shade in open areas, reclamation

Weaknesses: Invasive surface roots, seedlings, pest susceptible

If what you’re really looking for is a more compact shade tree, there are plenty of shade trees you can depend on never to grow larger than 25 or 30 feet tall and wide. In fact, there are trees available in almost any dimension you have room for in your yard. Rather than “trim” trees constantly to keep them compact, start with a tree that naturally grows to the shape and size you want! A professional nurseryman can match the right tree with the conditions and requirements you have.

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Steve Boehme

Contributing columnist

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.