Although a fast-growing, tall tree may sound ideal, such a tree often has weak, brittle wood and the size may quickly overwhelm a suburban yard. However, not every fast-growing tree has weak wood, and, in the right location, a towering tree adds character to the landscape. Tall trees also screen views, act as windbreaks and provide anchors for understory plantings.
The deciduous tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), or yellow poplar, is the tallest hardwood in eastern North America. It grows nearly 200 feet tall in the wild, and trees in cultivation are half that height. A University of Wisconsin Extension study showed tulip poplars, grown from seed, reach 10 to 18 feet tall in five years. An 11-year-old tree, again started from seed, reached 50 feet tall. Tulip poplars need deep, moist soil and produce wide, four-pointed leaves.
Fast-growing evergreens are relatively rare, but the deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) is a graceful evergreen that, according to the University of Alabama, grows an average of 3 feet a year. A variety named Kashmir, planted on the University's campus, grew from a 2-foot-tall seedling to more than 25 feet tall in 10 years. Mature height ranges from 50 to 70 feet. They are cold hardy, pest resistant and have a soft, airy growth habit.
Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii) is a hybrid between red maple and silver maple. The silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is the fastest growing member of the maple family, but has weak wood and is attractive to pests. The Freeman maple keeps the fast growth of its silver maple parent but adds strength and pest resistance. It grows four times as fast as the red maple, according to Ohio State University, and reaches 40 to 60 feet high. It is tolerant of alkaline soils and is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.
Botanists first described the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), strangely enough, from fossils. Living specimens were not officially recognized until 1948, although earlier Chinese communities knew and used dawn redwood as an ornamental tree. Dawn redwoods are now widely available. Under ideal conditions, according to the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” young trees grow 4 to 6 feet a year and eventually grow 80 feet tall. Dawn redwoods planted in the 1940s now have trunk diameters over 3 feet wide. They prefer moist soils and are hardy to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. If using this tree as a screen, keep in mind that dawn redwoods are deciduous, like the bald cypress, and drop their needles in winter.