Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (2022)

Choose the best trees for shade to create a cool garden oasis, enrich the environment, and help future-proof your property against climate change.

It’s important to include areas of shade and full sun in your backyard. Not only does the right balance make for a more pleasant place to relax, but it allows for a greater diversity of plants and creates a better habitat for wildlife.

With changing climates, fast-growing trees also play an important role in providing shade for homes quickly, helping to reduce overheating. Yet, conversely they can minimize the impact of adverse weather conditions such as flooding. You can also underplant these trees with the best shade plants to bring interest and color to all parts of the garden

‘It’s not just what’s above ground with a tree that’s important – it’s what’s happening below ground,’ says Rebecca Bradley, founding principal at Florida-based Cādence (opens in new tab) landscape architecture practice.

‘Trees are not just providing shade for the heat, they’re also absorbing water – helping get water back down into the ground and not running off into our waterways.’

However, planting trees for shade is not a quick solution. ‘Growing the best trees for shade is a long-term goal – I often call them trees for posterity,’ says Blythe Yost, CEO of online landscape design practice Tilly (opens in new tab).

‘It will take many years for shade trees to reach their full potential, but it is important for us to include them in our garden for the shade they provide today and the potential shade they will offer to others in years to come.’

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (1)

(Image credit: Susie Watson Designs)

The best trees for shade

‘In the garden – especially in yards where space is at a premium – trees that serve more than one function are terrific choices, especially when it comes to garden shade ideas,’ says Kip McConnell, director of Southern Living Plant Collection (opens in new tab).

'A well-chosen shade tree can also serve an important role in dividing gardens, creating outdoor rooms. For this purpose, look for varieties with dense foliage and vertical growth habits to get both shade and screening.’

The good news is that the best trees for shade are also some of the best trees for privacy, allowing you to screen your garden to create a peaceful, secluded environment.

‘Seek out varieties that not only cast shade, but also provide spring flowers or bright fall colors,' adds McConnell. 'This maximizes the tree’s visual impact in your space and provides multi-season interest.'

However, when choosing the best trees for backyard shade, Bradley stresses the importance of choosing species that will thrive in your local environment.

‘Trees that are grown in the nursery may not actually be the right choice for your area, so plant native trees and try to create a design that helps build eco systems,' she says. 'Ask yourself, what is it that nature needs?’

Check the USDA plant hardiness zone map (opens in new tab) to see whether a tree is likely to thrive in your area.

1. Oak trees

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (2)

(Image credit: Tetra Images / Getty Images)

The mighty oak is one of the best trees for shade, and treasured by gardeners around the world.

‘Hands down, my favorite tree for shade is an oak,’ says Yost. ‘Although this is an extremely broad genus, there are shade-providing varieties that grow in most regions.

'As an East Coast and Midwest landscape architect, my personal favorite is the white oak – Quercus alba – due to its graceful habit, delicately lobed leaves, and uniformly shaggy bark.’ It's a versatile tree suitable for zones 3-9.

Meanwhile, the live oak tree – Quercus virginiana – is a beloved tree in southern and central states, thriving in zones 7-10.

(Video) 10 Best Fast Growing Shade Trees For Yard 🏠🌲🌳

‘The live oak can grow in a lot of different scenarios. It's large with a huge root structure, so needs space to grow, but it’s a wonderful shade tree for your garden space,' says Bradley. 'It's also a really hardy tree that and can weather big storms.'

The downside of most oak trees is that they are slow growing and will take many years to become established.

However, a faster-growing alternative is the northern red oak – Quercus rubra – which is suitable for zones 3-8.

‘It grows at a rate of 2ft per year and develops a dense round crown that provides great shade,’ says Codey Stout, head operations manager at Tree Triage (opens in new tab). 'It can tolerate drought, pollution, and compacted soil.

‘It also offers beautiful colors in the fall, from russet to bright red, and produces acorns that birds and animals love.’

2. Tuliptree

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A versatile tree that can grow in zones 4-9, the tuliptree – Liriodendron tulipifera– is named for its delightful tulip-shaped flowers, which bloom in the spring.

John Rogan, professor of geography at Clark University (opens in new tab), favors the tuliptree as a shade provider due to its fast growth rate. ‘It can grow 2ft per year, reaching up to 90ft when established, with a canopy width as broad as 30-40ft.

'It also lives for a long time, has a very attractive leaf shape, and the single-stem trunks produce straight and tall mature trees.'

In his work, Rogan has led studies into the impact trees have on land surface temperature, and believes they hold the key to reducing our home cooling costs in summer by as much as 20 per cent.

‘Shade trees are best planted on the west side of a house, where they can shade the property during the heat of the early afternoon,’ he says.

3. American mahogany

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (4)

(Image credit: Blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo)

American mahogany – Swietenia mahagoni – is native to South Florida, where it is a popular shade tree, as well as islands in the Caribbean. It will grow successfully in zones 10 and 11, so follow the philosophy of right tree, right place.

Swietenia mahagoni is such a great shade tree for a tropical climate,’ says Bradley. ‘It is not invasive, and it is faster growing than many trees.’

This sturdy hardwood tree copes well with stormy weather and possesses fragrant clusters of flowers in the spring and summer. Its ultimate mature height is around 100ft.

4. Weeping willow

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (5)

(Image credit: Andrea Kennard Photography / Getty Images)

Few trees are as evocative of lazy summer days than the weeping willow – Salix babylonica – which provides a protective branch canopy that’s perfect for picnicking beneath.

They are also fast growing, at a rate of 3-4ft per year, offering a quick route to shade and privacy. The trees thrive in zones 6-8.

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Sadly, weeping willows are not suitable for smaller yards, as their roots can cause damage to underground pipework. But if you have a large garden and can position them 50ft away from utilities, then they will make a charming addition.

They are also short lived compared to many slower-growing trees, lasting for only a few decades. The experts at Bower & Branch (opens in new tab) suggest planting a row of weeping willows in front of a row of slower-growing, but longer lived trees such as oak.

‘When the oaks are big enough to do the job, the willows can be removed when they become old and no longer appealing in your landscape.’

Weeping willows love water, so if you have a natural pond, then position a tree next to it to complete the romantic scene.

5. Sugar maple

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (6)

(Image credit: Adria Photography / Getty Images)

The sugar maple – Acer saccharum – is a popular tree for providing shade due to its dense canopy, and it is also one of the best trees for autumn color.

‘A slower-growing Acer species with a growth rate of around a foot per year, the sugar maple tree can reach heights near 100ft at maturity, and has a large canopy,’ says Tammy Sons, owner of Tennessee Nursery (opens in new tab). ‘I just love its vibrant fall foliage of golden hues.’

Sugar maples are hardy in zones 3-8 and grow best in well-drained, acidic to slightly alkaline soil.

6. Red maple

(Image credit: Ed Reschke / Getty Images)

Another standout fall tree, the red maple – or Acer rubrum – is a moderately fast-growing species with a growth rate of 1-2ft per year.

‘Its canopy reaches 30-45ft wide and it has a mature height near 60ft,’ says Sons. ‘The red maple tree also offers one of fall's favorite colors of foliage in deep red hues.’

‘For something different, try Acer rubrum 'Red Sunset' or 'Brandywine' – they are red maples but they don't have red foliage,’ adds Gian Moore, partner at Mellowpine (opens in new tab).

The red maple grows in zones 3-9 and is tolerant of most soil types.

7. Dawn redwood

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (8)

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

The dawn redwood – Metasequoia glyptostroboides – is one of the best trees for shade in a hurry, growing in height by more than 2ft each year.

It’s also a tree with a fascinating history, as prior to the mid 20th century it was considered extinct, and revealed through fossils to have existed alongside dinosaurs.

Luckily, the dawn redwood was rediscovered growing in China, and now, though not commonplace, grows in many countries around the world.

You can grow the dawn redwood in zones 5-8, and the great news is that it’s low-maintenance, requiring no pruning and with minimal susceptibility to problems or disease.

(Video) Top 05 fast growing Shade Giving Trees in India

‘There are some interesting cultivars available of this deciduous conifer, such as 'Goldrush' which has yellow-green foliage,’ says Moore.

8. Gumbo limbo

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (9)

(Image credit: Gabbro / Alamy Stock Photo)

A South Florida native, the gumbo limbo – Bersera simaruba – is a fast-growing shade tree that will thrive in zones 10 and 11.

‘It has a beautiful peeling trunk, so it’s often called the ‘tourist tree’ due to its sunburnt appearance, revealing a lighter color underneath the peel on the trunk,’ says Bradley.

‘It is an amazingly resilient tree that stands up to our hurricanes, so we often use it as a shade tree in our landscapes.

‘It also roots very easily. I planted a seedling in my front yard and within 8-9 years it was a fully established shade tree.’

9. Eastern redbud

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (10)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘For a fast-growing shade tree, it's hard to beat the redbud – Cercis canadensis – with its beautiful pink flowers,’ says Lindsey Hyland, founder of Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab). ‘I love to watch them bloom in spring and early summer, and their fall colors are stunning.’

The Eastern redbud grows to a height of 20–30ft, with a gloriously wide canopy spreading to 25–35ft when mature.

It grows in zones 4-9, and is seen widely throughout eastern states. Redbuds are tolerant of most soil types.

10. Green ash

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (11)

(Image credit: Organica / Alamy Stock Photo)

The green, or red, ash – Fraxinus pennsylvanica – is a fantastically versatile shade tree, growing in zones 2-9 at a fast rate of more than 2ft per year, and providing a generous canopy to shelter beneath.

In the fall the leaves of green ash tree turn a glorious bright yellow, and it produces red-purple flowers in the spring.

‘The ash is a good deciduous shade tree that grows well in a variety of climates,’ says Hyland.

Though it can cope with most soil conditions, the green ash tree is increasingly susceptible to attack by the emerald ash borer, so check reports in your area.

11. American sweetgum

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (12)

(Image credit: Anne Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo)

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Providing stunning fall color, in shades of yellow through purple, the American sweetgum – Liquidambar styraciflua – is also a fantastic shade-giving tree with a good canopy size.

‘Aside from its very attractive foliage in the fall, it’s moderately fast growing, at a rate of 1-2ft a year,’ says Rogan. ‘It lives for a long time and can grow as tall as 70ft.’

The American sweetgum will thrive in zones 5-9, but it does not like pollution and needs plenty of root space.

12. Pines

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (13)

(Image credit: Danielle Swernofsky / EyeEm / Getty Images)

There are a number of different pine tree species that will create shade in your garden.

‘Pines provide terrific shade but take up lots of room, so you need to give them plenty of space. Alternatively, plant them closer than they prefer to other trees that need more space than they do – like oaks or maples,’ says Hyland.

Fast-growing pine trees are best for quick shade in large yards – try the loblolly pine (zones 6-9) or the eastern white pine (zones 3-8).

13. London planetree

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (14)

(Image credit: Sergio Amiti / Getty Images)

A hybrid of the Oriental planetree and the American sycamore, the London planetree – Platanus x acerifolia – is valued for its beautiful sycamore-like leaves and winter catkins.

Historically it was revered for its ability to withstand the pollution of England’s capital, which makes it a fantastic shade tree for urban settings in zones 5-9.

‘The London planetree is a very hardy tree featuring attractive bark with a broad canopy that grows up to a width of 60ft,’ says Rogan.

‘It can grow at a rate of 1-2ft per year, with a mature height of up to 100ft, and can live for a very long time – even hundreds of years.'

14. Catalpa tree

Best trees for shade – including fast-growing varieties (15)

(Image credit: Masahiro Nakano/Getty Images)

Catalpa speciosa is a stunning native tree that has heart-shaped leaves and a generous canopy. In the summer, it produces white, orchid-like flowers.

‘The catalpa reaches heights of near 50 ft at maturity and is hardy in zones 3-8,’ says Sons. ‘This tree is so unique because the catalpa worms it produces in the summer months are highly sought after for fish bait. For this reason, it's often called "The Fisherman's Tree".'

What is the cleanest shade tree?

Some of the cleanest shade trees are maples. Though they shed their leaves in the fall, after turning stunning shades of red and gold, they do not drop flowers, seeds or fruits. This makes them easy to clean up after.

What is the fastest-growing shade tree?

The fastest-growing shade trees grow at a rate of around 2ft per year. This group includes the northern red oak, tuliptree, and dawn redwood.

However, speed isn't everything when it comes to providing shade. 'Usually you want a shade tree to be a strong tree – and those trees don’t always grow fast,' says Bradley.

(Video) These 5 Shade Trees will keep you COOL 🌳

'That’s why we need to protect established trees. When they are removed from our environment, and we lose our tree canopy, it can never immediately be replaced.'

FAQs

What is the fastest growing shade tree you can plant? ›

Of the 11 listed here, the one that grows the fastest is the weeping willow — it adds about 10 feet to its height each year, topping out at 40 feet. Next in line are the nuttall oak at 4 feet per year, the dawn redwood at 3.5 feet per year, and the tulip poplar at 3 feet per year.

What tree grows fast and provides shade in India? ›

Pongamia pinnata (Karanj): A medium tall (10-15 m) tree with bright green, glossy leaves. The tree, when laden with lilac coloured flowers, looks beautiful in summers. This is a fast growing tree suitable for roadside avenues & public places for shade and ornamental purpose.

What is a pretty fast growing tree? ›

Leyland cypress (Cupressus × leylandii) is a bright green conifer widely used for privacy screens because it's such a fast grower. This upwardly mobile tree can grow 3 to 4 feet per year when it's young, eventually topping out at 60 to 70 feet with a 15- to 25-foot spread.

What shade trees live the longest? ›

Bristlecone Pines (Pinus Longaeva), Yew trees, and Ginkgo Biloba trees appear to be the longest lived on record. They are commonly found in climates that are subject to change drastically.

Why are trees good for shade? ›

Shade trees absorb radiant heat from the sun, reducing ambient temperature beneath them through an evaporative cooling process. Why is shade of a tree important on hot days? According to Energy.gov, it can actually reduce the surrounding air temperature by as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is the fastest growing tree in the world? ›

Record-breaking growth

The Empress Splendor (botanical name Paulownia fortunei and P. elongata) is the one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. A hardwood, it can grow 10-20 feet in its first year and reaches maturity within 10 years.

What evergreen tree is fast growing? ›

Thuja Green Giant is the number one choice in Fast-Growing privacy trees. At a rapid growth rate of 3 to 5 feet per year, that is no surprise. For tropical climates, zone 9 and zone 10, Leyland Cypress, Italian Cypress, and Wax Myrtle are the best choices for Fast-Growing privacy.

Can trees grow in full shade? ›

Few trees require shade to thrive, however, some will adapt to these conditions rather well. The deeper the shade, the more difficult it will be for any tree to develop properly. In deep shade, many of the flowering trees will not set flowers or fruit as will similar plants given more sunlight.

What are the top 10 most beautiful trees? ›

The Most Beautiful Trees In The World | Breathtaking Images
  • Rhododendron (Ericaceae) ...
  • Silk Cotton Trees (Ceiba pentandra) ...
  • Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) ...
  • Strangler Fig (Ficus) ...
  • Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) ...
  • Tibetan Cherry Tree (Prunus serrula) ...
  • Wisteria (Fabaceae leguminosae) ...
  • Yucca (Asparagaceae)

What is the strongest and longest living tree? ›

However, one species in particular outlives them all. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) has been deemed the oldest tree in existence, reaching an age of over 5,000 years old. The bristlecone pine's success in living a long life can be attributed to the harsh conditions it lives in.

What trees survive all year round? ›

Trees known as evergreens keep their leaves, called needles, all year. You can determine an evergreen by its continuous showing of foliage during cold months while other trees lose leaves. Pine trees, spruce trees, palm trees, holly trees, and Murray Cypress trees all keep their leaves year-round.

What is considered a shade tree? ›

A shade tree is a large tree whose primary role is to provide shade in the surrounding environment due to its spreading canopy and crown, where it may give shelter from sunlight in the heat of the summer for people who seek recreational needs in urban parks and house yards, and thus, also protecting them from the sun's ...

What likes to grow in shade? ›

10 Great Plants for Shade
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells)
  • Lamium Maculatum (Dead Nettle)
  • Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • Astilbe.
  • Digitalis (Foxglove)
  • Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass)
  • Primula (Primrose)
29 Jun 2022

How tall should a shade tree be? ›

Trees with a mature height between 25 to 40 feet make up the medium-sized group and a relatively few shade trees are considered small; maturing to less than 30 feet tall. Tree Forms: Fall Color: Red, orange, yellow and purple are all colors that add beauty in the fall.

What needs shade to grow? ›

Swiss Chard

Among vegetables, leafy greens are the most tolerant of shade, including kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula and chard. Related to both beets and spinach, Swiss chard tastes a little like both and is fairly easy to grow.

What is the best tree to plant near a house? ›

These include willow trees, poplars, cottonwoods, aspens, silver maples, Norway maples, and American elm trees, among others. Smaller trees with shallow roots, however, pose little risk to your home. Japanese maple trees, for instance, are safe to plant relatively close to your house.

What is the best tree to put in your front yard? ›

Evergreen Trees

We really like Emerald Green Arborvitae, Blue Point Juniper, Nellie Stevens Holly, Italian Cypress, and Oakland Holly for front yards. If you have a large yard you also have options like cypress, thuja, spruce, or cedars. Evergreen trees offer year-round interest and tend to be very low maintenance.

Which tree is best for outdoor? ›

12 Great Patio Trees
  • Crape Myrtle. The mid- to late-summer flowers — when few other shrubs or trees are blooming — is one of crape myrtle's best features. ...
  • Amur Maple. ...
  • Dwarf Poinciana Tree. ...
  • Fringetree. ...
  • Paperbark Maple. ...
  • Kousa Dogwood. ...
  • Japanese Maple. ...
  • Washington Hawthorne.

What evergreen grows the fastest in shade? ›

Eucalyptus Trees (Eucalyptus globulus) – This delightful, fast-growing evergreen tree is highly popular for its fast growth, year-round shade, and commanding presence when it reaches maturity.

What is the most beautiful evergreen tree? ›

What is the most beautiful evergreen tree? Magnolia grandiflora is the most beautiful evergreen tree. Erupting in a profusion of blooms in the spring adding beauty and scent, these trees are at their best at the start of spring, heralding the warmer days ahead.

What is the easiest tree to maintain? ›

While there is no such thing as a tree that needs zero care, these 4 won't give you lots of extra work:
  1. Japanese Maple. Japanese Maple trees are famous for their bright fall foliage. ...
  2. Serviceberry. Serviceberry trees are deciduous members of the Rosaceae family. ...
  3. Crape Myrtle. ...
  4. Magnolia.

What tree is the easiest to grow? ›

  • Altheas.
  • Flowering Cherry.
  • Crabapples.
  • Crape Myrtles.
  • Dogwoods.
  • Magnolias.
  • Redbuds.
  • Other Flowering Plants.

What's the most beautiful tree? ›

In Japan's Ashikaga Flower Park, this old wisteria has been hailed as the most beautiful tree in the world. With long, sweeping branches and dangling, purple flowers, the tree has a magical, ethereal feel.

What is a good quality tree? ›

A high-quality tree has:

A straight trunk with well-spaced branches. An exposed trunk free of wounds or damage. Roots growing straight out from the trunk.

What shrub will grow in total shade? ›

Check out some of our favourite shrubs to grow in shade, below.
  • Hydrangeas. Shrubs for shade - Hydrangea paniculata 'Great Star' ...
  • Viburnums. Shrubs for shade - Viburnum davidii. ...
  • Pachysandra. Shrubs for shade - Pachysandra terminalis. ...
  • Chaenomeles. Shrubs for shade - Japanese quince. ...
  • Pieris. ...
  • Enkianthus. ...
  • Daphne. ...
  • Sarcococca.
17 Aug 2021

Are magnolia trees good for shade? ›

Magnolias prefer a spot in the garden that receives full sun to light shade. That said, if you live in a particularly warm or dry climate, your magnolia might benefit from a location shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

What is the number one fastest growing tree? ›

The Empress Splendor (botanical name Paulownia fortunei and P. elongata) is the one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. A hardwood, it can grow 10-20 feet in its first year and reaches maturity within 10 years.

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