Gardeners often turn to fast-growing shade trees to add shade, lush color or privacy to their gardens or yards. When selecting a shade tree, you should consider the tree's growth rate, bloom time, mature size and intended use. Only plant trees that perform well in your USDA Hardiness Zone to ensure they can survive your area's coldest weather. Many shade tree varieties grow quite quickly.
Black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) belong to the Juglandaceae (walnut) plant family. Native to the Eastern United States, the black walnut grows well in USDA zones 4 to 9. This fast-growing tree reaches between 75 and 100 feet in both height and spread. Black walnuts prefer moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Yellow-green flowers bloom in May and June, followed by edible nuts on mature female trees. This deciduous tree bears aromatic green leaves that turn a non-showy yellow in autumn. Potential problems include bacterial blight, canker and aphid infestations. Black walnut trees produce juglone, a chemical toxic to many plants. Gardeners often use the black walnut tree as a shade tree in large areas.
The green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), a fast-growing member of the Oleaceae (olive) family, reaches between 50 and 70 feet in height with slightly smaller spreads. Indigenous to eastern North America, this tree grows well in USDA zones 3 to 9. Green ash trees prefer moist, loamy soils in full sun. This tree features green leaves and purple flower clusters that appear in April and May. Fungal leaf spot, oyster shell scale and ash sawflies occasionally affect this tree. Gardeners typically plant the green ash as a shade tree in lawns and along streets.
American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) quickly reach up to 80 feet in both height and spread. This member of the Fagaceae (beech) family is native to eastern North America and thrives in USDA zones 3 to 9. American beech trees prefer well-drained, moist soils and semi-shade to full sun. Green leaves become yellow to bronze in the autumn. Long-stemmed, yellow-green flowers bloom in April and May, followed by edible beechnuts on the female trees. This tree sometimes suffers from beech scale infestations. The American beech works well as a shade tree for parks and large lawns.
The water oak (Quercus nigra) belongs to the Fagaceae (beech) plant family and thrives in wet, humusy soils that receive full sun. Native to the southeastern United States, the water oak performs well in USDA zones 6 to 9. This fast-growing oak tree grows to 50 to 80 feet in height and 40 to 60 feet in width. Water oaks feature non-showy catkins and rounded acorns. The water oak often suffers from oak wilt, oak leaf blister, trunk cankers and oak skeletonizers. The water oak works well as shade trees in lowlands and moist areas.
The sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboretum), also called the sorrel tree, earned its name because its green leaves taste very sour. This member of the Ericaceae (heath) plant family tolerates semi-shade, but prefers moist, acidic soils in full sun. Hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, this fast-growing tree reaches between 20 and 50 feet in height and 10 to 25 feet in spread. The green leaves turn bright red in the autumn. Fragrant, white flowers bloom during the summer, followed by silvery seed capsules that mature in the fall. This tree has no serious disease or pest problems. The sourwood works well as a shade tree for lawns and woodland areas.