Fast-growing shade trees provide unparalleled curb appeal as well as a variety of economic benefits. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, a mature shade tree creates a microclimate which leads to significant energy savings in both summer and winter. Although some fast-growing trees are short lived and prone to breakage, the following varieties provide the benefits of shade without the aforementioned problems.
The sawtooth oak is an excellent fast-growing shade tree. The tree is tolerant of air pollution, compacted soil and drought, making it an ideal choice for parking lot and urban plantings as well as a specimen tree in the home landscape. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the sawtooth oak grows about 3 feet each year after planting.
Like most oaks, the sawtooth has a very straight, sturdy trunk with deeply textured bark. A typical sawtooth oak will reach a height of 35 to 45 feet. The canopy of a mature tree is usually a pyramidal or oval shape, 35 to 50 feet wide. The sawtooth oak has distinctive leaves with serrated edges. These leaves produce a moderately dense canopy which blankets the area below with welcome shade.
Swamp White Oak
The swamp white oak is a sturdy, rapidly growing specimen tree. This tree is extremely long lived—it's not uncommon to find one 300 to 350 years old. The strong wood is commercially valuable and sold as white oak.
Although its name implies that it likes wet soil conditions, the swamp white oak is also tolerant of dry soils and moist, well-drained soils. The tree does best in soil that has a slightly acidic pH. A mature swamp white oak attains a height of 50 to 60 feet, making it an outstanding choice for a strong shade tree.
Maples have long been valued as fast-growing shade trees. Some maple varieties, such as the silver maple, have brittle wood which makes them susceptible to storm damage. The Norway maple has the same great shade-producing qualities as stronger wood.
The Norway maple grows 40 to 50 feet tall. Varieties such as Pond and Summershade display particularly vigorous growth. Others, such as Crimson King have unusual maroon foliage. The tree has a rounded canopy with sturdy horizontal branches. Norway maples offer such dense shade that it can sometimes be difficult to grow grass underneath a mature specimen, so homeowners might want to look into a shade-loving ground cover instead.
The hackberry is a tough tree that tolerates cold weather extremely well. Although the most unusual feature of the tree is the warty bark, the hackberry is also an excellent shade tree. It grows rapidly, reaching more than 30 feet in a 20-year period.
The hackberry is resistant to wind damage and drought. A mature hackberry can be 45 to 60 feet tall, with a crown width of 45 feet. The tree has gracefully arching branches. According to the Colorado Tree Coalition, planting a hackberry on the west side of a house ensures that these graceful branches provide welcome afternoon shade.
The hackberry has small purple fruits which persist into winter, creating a welcome feast for songbirds. Hackberry wood is used commercially for boxes, crates and firewood.