10 Fast Growing Shade Trees for California to Plant Today

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Written By Thomas Pitto

Propagation Expert & Permaculture Enthusiast

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Home » California » 10 Fast Growing Shade Trees for California to Plant Today

California is a landscape characterized by long hot and dry summers.

Those new to the state or moving to a new area may wonder about the best fast-growing shade trees to plant in their yard. Shade trees can lower the cost of your utility bills and are also an environmentally friendly way to keep your house cool.

Shade trees can also boost the value of your home, and improve its curb appeal. Whether you’re in the cooler regions of CA or the warm winter coastal areas, there are plenty of shade trees for you to choose from.

10 Fast Growing Shade Trees For California

1. White Mulberry (Morus alba) – Northern & Southern California

Mulberry Tree
Image by Forest & Kim Starr via Flickr

The White Mulberry is a large, fast-growing shade tree that will also produce an abundance of fruit.

The fruitless variety mapleleaf is meant to be one of the fastest-growing varieties that’s reportedly capable of growing over 20ft tall and wide in three years, under favorable conditions.

The Mulberry is an extremely adaptable, hardy, and vigorous tree, even in the desert and inland areas of California. They can be planted near the coast provided they have some shelter from strong winds.

The large leaves provide rapid shade and are winter deciduous, so will let the sun into your home in the winter and help you save on heating. Mulberry trees can take drought once established but will appreciate regular water and fertilizer for best growth.

  • Other Common Names: Common Mulberry, Silkworm Mulberry
  • Growing Zones: 3-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Early spring
  • Growth Rate: 10-12 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills

2. Chinaberry Tree (Melia azedarach) – Southern California

Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

The Chinaberry Tree is a fast-growing native to India and Pakistan, South East Asia, and Northern Australia, and is a hardy tree tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions.

The bright green foliage is pinnately compound and spring sees the tree covered in clusters of small lavender flowers that are followed by beads that are used to make jewelry.

It’s a useful tree in hot and arid areas where many other species struggle to grow. The Chinaberry has a reputation as a somewhat messy tree, with its deciduous foliage and berries, so you may want to keep this in mind when choosing to plant.

The Chinaberry is unsuitable for windy areas near the coast as the delicate branches are prone to breaking.

  • Other Common Names: Bead Tree, Persian Lilac, Cape Lilac, Texas Umbrella Tree, Pride of India
  • Growing Zones: 7a-10b
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Spring
  • Growth Rate: 5-10 ft per year*

3. Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) – Northern & Southern California

Tulip Tree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Tulip Tree is a large deciduous tree with bluish-green, lobed leaves and a conical or oval crown. Fall sees a spectacular show of color, and the warmers months see green/yellow/orange flowers that are reminiscent of tulips (as are the leaves.)

The Tulip tree is fast-growing, disease, pest, and litter-free, making it a good choice for the front or backyard for those who don’t have the time for much garden maintenance.

The fruit are brown coned samaras that ripen in fall and are favored by wildlife. The Tulip tree provides a moderately dense shade when in leaf and has moderate water needs.

  • Other Common Names: American Tulip Tree, Tulipwood, Tulip Poplar, Whitewood, Fiddle Tree, Yellow Poplar
  • Growing Zones: 4-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Spring or summer
  • Growth Rate: 3-5 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) – Northern & Southern California

Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin)
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Silk Tree is a fast-growing deciduous shade tree capable of growing upwards of 3 ft a year in the right conditions. The Silk Tree has soft and feather-like divided, pinnately compound leaves and unusual silky pink flowers.

The leaves are similar to Jacaranda, and the crown of the Silk Tree remains remarkably flat with age.

The Silk Tree is suitable for the deserts of the southwest and often looks best in its natural form as a multi-trunked tree. It’s suitable for a patio tree due to its umbrella habit and the light-filtered shade it provides.

It’s suitable for smaller gardens with limited space and can be kept in your desired shape and size by regular pruning. One thing to consider is that Silk Trees do create a lot of debris; from the fallen flowers in the spring to the leaves in the fall.

  • Other Common Names: Mimosa Tree, Tree Mimosa
  • Growing Zones: 6-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 ft tall and 20-50 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Summer
  • Growth Rate: 2-3 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

5. California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) – Northern & Southern California

California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
Image by Bri Weldon via Flickr

The California Sycamore is native to California as well as Baja California, where it grows in canyons, along streams, and floodplains.

It’s also commonly planted as a landscape and shade tree in its native range as it’s a large tree with a fast-growing rate with a pyramidal, upright habit when young.

As it ages, the California Sycamore develops a spreading irregular, round or oval crown. Whilst typically single-trunked, some multi-trunked specimens do exist.

The California Sycamore will tolerate a range of soil types, from wet to dry soils as well as acidic to alkaline, compacted, and wet soils. It’s only moderately salt and drought-tolerant. The potential large size of this tree means it’s only suitable for large landscapes.

  • Other Common Names: California Plane Tree, Aliso, Western Sycamore
  • Growing Zones: 7-10
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-100 ft tall and 40-70 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Spring
  • Growth Rate: 2-3 ft per year*

6. Brazilian Peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) – Northern & Southern California

Brazilian Pepper
Image by Jesús Cabrera via Flickr

The Brazilian Peppertree is a good choice for those after a smaller-sized, fast-growing shade tree for a patio or smaller space. The Brazilian Peppertree has denser and heavier foliage than the more commonly grown Californian Pepper Tree (Schinus molle).

The leaves are dark, somewhat shiny and evergreen, and alternate and compound. Small white flowers are followed by scarlet berries.

The Brazilian Peppertree will require a certain amount of pruning to develop an open crown and override its tendency for cross-branching. Brazilian Peppers are considered invasive in some areas, so check with local authorities before planting.

  • Other Common Names: Christmas Berry, Florida Holly, Warui
  • Growing Zones: 9a-11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Mid-fall
  • Growth Rate: 2-3 ft per year*

7. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) – Northern & Southern California

Northern Catalpa
Image by Michael Gras, M.Ed. via Flickr

If you’re looking for a fast-growing shade tree with an added something then consider the Northern Catalpa.

The Northern Catalpa provides a dense canopy of eye-catching heart-shaped leaves as well as beautiful flowers and unusual pendulous bean-like seed pods.

The twisted trunk and branches add architectural interest, to wherever this tree is planted. The Northern Catalpa may not be suited for all yards. Make sure to plant away from infrastructure due to the disruptive root system.

The Northern Catalpa will grow at a pace of one to two ft a year until it reaches its mature size.

It’ll do best planted in full sun to partial shade and will grow in acidic, alkaline, rich, moist sandy, silt, as well as well-drained wet clay soils. It’ll tolerate some flooding as well as extremely hot and dry conditions.

  • Other Common Names: Cigar Tree, Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Caterpillar Tree, Hardy Catalpa, Western Catalpa, Catawba
  • Growing Zones: 4-8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 20-40 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: May and June
  • Growth Rate: 1-2 ft per year

Available at: Nature Hills

8. Hackberry Tree (Celtis occidentalis) – Northern & Southern California

Hackberry tree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Hackberry tree is extremely hardy and can thrive in almost any type of soil and weather, including heat, drought, and cold.

Hackberry trees produce shade and privacy in the landscape and require limited care and maintenance to thrive. Minimal pruning will produce a rounded shape from its dense dark green leaves.

Fall sees the foliage change to shades of yellow and orange and is followed by small orange/yellow/purple fruit favored by many birds, including robins and mockingbirds, as well as other wildlife.

The Hackberry is capable of growing between 13 and 24 inches a year regardless of soil type.

  • Other Common Names: Common Hackberry, Western Hackberry
  • Growing Zones: 3-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: April- May
  • Growth Rate: 1-2 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

9. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) – Northern & Southern California

Bull Bay Magnolia, Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) Tree, Flower and Seed Pods
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

One of the most common evergreen shade trees in SoCal is the Southern Magnolia. They are capable of growing between 1 to 2 ft a year.

Many gardeners choose to grow the Southern Magnolia for its large, fragrant white blossom, but the large, glossy, evergreen foliage is another reason to plant this popular native of the South.

The cup-shaped flowers can measure over a foot long whilst the leathery leaves can reach up to 10”.

The Southern Magnolia is a moderately sized tree that does well in many different landscape applications, thanks to its upright habit. It likes to dry out between waterings, making it suitable for water-wise gardeners in drought-stricken areas of CA.

Plant in an area with deep, rich sandy or loamy soil that’s well-draining and acidic to neutral.

  • Other Common Names: Bull Bay
  • Growing Zones: 6-10
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Summer
  • Growth Rate: 1-2 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

10. Indian Laurel (Ficus nitida) – Southern California

Indian Bay Laurel
Image by Desert Trees via Flickr

The Indian Laure is a popular shade tree in SoCal due to its fast growth rate and dense foliage, wide canopy, and the fact that it can be pruned into just about any shape.

It handles heat without a problem, even in desert environments. Aside from the quick shade it provides, it’s also useful as a privacy screen or as a noise break.

Indian Laurel work well in any landscape where you want to add a tropical feel quickly. They are extremely drought tolerant so are suitable for water-wise landscapes.

  • Other Common Names: Indian Laurel, Cuban Laurel, Green Island Fig, Chinese Banyan
  • Growing Zones: 9-12
  • Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 60-75 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Spring
  • Growth Rate: 1-2 ft per year*

California’s Shade Trees Compared

Tree NameGrowing ZonesAverage Size at MaturityGrowth Rate
White Mulberry3-930-40 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide10-12 ft per year
Chinaberry Tree7a-10b30-40 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide5-10 ft per year
Tulip Tree4-960-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide3-5 ft per year
Silk Tree6-920-40 ft tall and 20-50 ft wide2-3 ft per year
California Sycamore7-1040-100 ft tall and 40-70 ft wide2-3 ft per year
Brazilian Peppertree9a-1130-40 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide2-3 ft per year
Indian Laurel9-1250-60 ft tall and 60-75 ft wide1-2 ft per year
Northern Catalpa4-840-60 ft tall and 20-40 ft wide1-2 ft per year
Southern Magnolia6-1060-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide1-2 ft per year
Hackberry Tree3-940-60 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide1-2 ft per year
*Growth rates are approximations; actual performance varies with climate, soil, and care.

Rapid Shade

The climate and hardiness zones of CA means that if you plan on spending time outdoors in your yard, you’ll probably need some form of shade. What better way to do this than by planting a fast-growing shade tree?

The diversity of the Californian landscape and growing zones means that there are plenty of fast-growing shade trees for the homeowner to choose from to suit your needs and aesthetic preferences.

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Thomas Pitto

Propagation Expert & Permaculture Enthusiast

Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn't hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.

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