Living in a state as hot as Florida, afternoon shade is valuable. Any Floridian can tell you how vital shade trees are to their comfort during the blazing hot summer months.
The problem with many shade trees is that they are slow growing. Which means it could take many years for them to offer any protection.
Sometimes it gets a bit warm in Florida during the winter; temperatures above 80ºF occur. For this reason, evergreen shade trees are helpful, especially in South Florida. The list includes some interesting trees such as weeping fig, neem tree, Chinese banyan, and monkeypod tree.
Below are some of the fastest-growing shade trees available in Florida. Not only do they provide excellent shade, but they are beautiful.
14 Reliable and Fast-Growing Shade Trees for the Florida Landscape
1. Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) – Deciduous
Sweetgum is a classic shade tree throughout the United States. They are also popular in North and Central Florida. It offers beautiful fall colors in shades of purple, orange, red, and yellow.
Sweetgum has a pyramidal canopy. For this reason, it makes an excellent shade tree for sidewalks, corridors, and any narrow passage. Though, I recommend that you plant multiple in a row as they are more beautiful and shade the entire path.
This does best in at least six hours of unfiltered and direct sunlight daily. It does well in most soil types, provided it is well-draining and has consistent moisture.
Other Common Names: American storax, Hazel pine, Bilsted, Redgum, Satin-walnut, Star-leaved gum, Alligatorwood
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 75 feet tall with a spread of 40 – 50 feet
2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – Deciduous
Red maple, like sweetgum, is another shade tree perfect for North and Central Florida. It offers excellent fall color, as the foliage often turns to a deep red or yellow color. Even in Florida, the leaves will change colors. In addition, its stems and late winter flowers have an attractive reddish tone.
Red maple has an oval shape. It works well as both an ornamental specimen tree and a shade tree. The tree’s shape makes it a fantastic choice for providing shade to sidewalks and driveways.
The fast-growing red maple is low maintenance. It prefers moist but not wet soils though it will do fine in most soil types. I recommend planting it in full sun to keep the fall color vibrant.
Other Common Names: Swamp maple, Water maple, Soft maple
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet
3. Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) – Deciduous
Tulip poplar is a common tree throughout North and Central Florida. It is native to the forests of that region.
The tree gets its name from its attractive greenish-yellow flowers that look like tulips. They come out in the spring. Also, the leaves have a tulip shape. In fall, the tree provides vibrant yellow color before dropping its leaves.
When young, tulip poplar has a pyramidal shape but becomes more oval with maturity. This fast-growing tree can get pretty tall, reaching over 150 feet in the forest but about half of that in the landscape.
This native tree is easy to grow. It enjoys full sun and normal moisture levels throughout the year. It does well in most soils, including Florida’s sandy ones.
Other Common Names: Tulip tree, American tulip tree, Yellow poplar, Fiddletree, Whitewood, Tulipwood
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 90 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet
Flowering Season: Spring
4. Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) – Evergreen
The camphor tree is controversial. I include it on this list because it has an attractive umbrella shape, perfect for providing shade in various landscape settings.
Some people love it, and some hate it. A reason for hating it is because it is weedy. In the summer, the tree produces numerous black fruits. They stain sidewalks and produce many seedlings, making your lawn full of weeds.
The University of Florida does not recommend planting it because it has invasive potential. Though the tree is not banned, many Florida residents love their camphor trees. So, it is your choice.
But it is one of the most beautiful and robust trees I know. Native to China and parts of East Asia, it is a famous shade tree because it is good-looking and provides wide-reaching shade. Camphor tree has glossy leaves with a waxy appearance, and when you crush them, they give off the pungent aroma of camphor.
One thing I love about this tree is how its branches spread. The branches are sometimes almost as thick as the trunk, low-hanging, and wide-spreading. I grew up with a camphor tree boarding my yard; it was enjoyable to climb and play in it.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter the type of soil in which you plant a camphor tree. It will do well in most. Overall, you can’t go wrong growing it in full sun.
Other Common Names: Camphorwood, Camphor Laurel
USDA Growing Zones: 9 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 50 feet
Flowering Season: Spring
5. Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) – Evergreen
The long-living and sturdy Moreton Bay fig are popular in southern California. But it also does well in Florida. It has a wide umbrella-like spread, making it an excellent shade tree for large lawns and spaces such as parks.
A distinguishing feature of the Morton Bay fig is its enormous “buttress root,” which extends far from the trunk. These so-called buttress roots, though not true roots but extensions of the trunk, look like octopus tentacles. The drawback of this interesting feature is that it is likely to ruin your lawn, and few plants can grow under the tree.
The Morton Bay fig like warmth and humidity and doesn’t have resistance to cold. I recommend planting it in South Florida and the Florida Keys. It will thrive in the summer.
The tree prefers fertile soil. So, you should provide lots of compost and organic substances to start it.
Other Common Names: Australian banyan
USDA Growing Zones: 9B – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 75 feet tall with a spread of over 150 feet
6. Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Evergreen
Most people know the weeping fig as a houseplant in much colder parts like North America and Europe – a reliable houseplant that purifies the air.
But did you know it is a giant and formidable shade tree in many tropical and subtropical regions? The first time I saw it growing as a shade and street tree in China, I was surprised. I stopped to check the leaves to ensure I was not mistaken.
Native to South East Asia, weeping fig thrives in South Florida thanks to the humid and hot weather conditions. There, it is a fast grower and can tolerate drought.
Weeping fig prefers well-drained, moist, and loamy soil. You can plant it in full sun to shade.
Other Common Names: Benjamin fig, Ficus tree
USDA Growing Zones: 10 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 60 feet tall with a spread of 60 – 70 feet
7. Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) – Deciduous
As the name suggests, the Chinese pistache is a close relative to the pistachio we eat (Pistacia vera).
Chinese pistache is a great shade tree for North and Central Florida because it provides remarkable fall color and can withstand a lot of heat. Not many trees from temperate regions have this welcoming combination—this fast-growing tree’s foliage has brilliant shades of orange and red.
The Chinese pistache is a medium-sized shade tree with a rounded and symmetrical shape. Such makes it perfect for small landscapes and provides shade to a patio.
This gorgeous tree does well in various soil types – clay, loam, and sand. Be sure to give it plenty of sunlight to ensure excellent fall color. Also, it will tolerate drought conditions reasonably well.
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 35 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 35 feet
8. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) – Deciduous
The weeping willow is one of the best trees to plant near water; it will grow quickly and healthily there. The graceful tree thrives on the banks of lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers.
The weeping willow has a rounded shape and can provide shade and some breeze to the landscape. One of the fastest growing trees on this list, you can expect multiple feet of growth each year.
You can grow weeping willow either in full sun or partial shade. It adapts to a wide range of soil types. Even though near water is its favorite spot, it has decent drought tolerance.
Other Common Names: Babylon willow
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 feet tall with a spread of 35 feet
9. Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa) – Evergreen
Like its relative weeping fig, the Chinese banyan is a common houseplant for temperate climates. But, once again, this is a wonderful outdoor shade tree in warm regions. As the name suggests, this shade tree is prevalent in Southern China, which has a similar climate to Florida.
Outdoors, the Chinese banyan provides a broad umbrella canopy making it a perfect shade tree. An interesting feature of the Chinese banyan is its tightly wounded multiple trunks. Also, its aerial roots, which hand down and take root whenever they hit the ground.
Chinese banyan needs a lot of moisture to establish themselves. After that, it will have some drought tolerance. This shade tree does well in full sun to partial shade.
Another need Chinese banyan have is space. Under the right conditions, this tree can be wide-reaching. According to some anecdotal reports, the tree’s canopy can spread over several acres!
Other Common Names: Chinese banyan, Curtain fig, Gajumaru, Gajamuru Indian laurel, Malyan Banyan, Indian laurel, Laure fig
USDA Growing Zones: 10 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 100 feet tall with indefinite spread
10. Moringa Tree (Moringa oleifera) – Evergreen
The leaves, pods, and moringa seeds have extremely powerful health benefits. Native to India, people across Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean use edible parts to treat various conditions such as diabetes and cancer. But it also makes an excellent shade tree for small spaces such as patios, porches, and balconies.
Moringa tree grows extremely fast. Within one year, it can grow nine to twelve feet from seed. Even if you don’t choose to use its parts, the leaves and fragrant white flowers are delicate and ornamental. Trees can bloom as early as eight months after planting seeds or cuttings.
Moringa tree does best in full sun. It adapts to a wide range of soil types as long as they drain well. Also, it prefers sandy loam soil, which is why it does so well in Florida.
Other Common Names: Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree, Ben oil tree, Benzolive tree
USDA Growing Zones: 9 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 35 feet tall and 15 – 25 feet wide
Flowering Season: Year-round
11. Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica) – Semi-Deciduous
Like the moringa tree, the neem tree is an ornamental shade tree with medicinal properties. Native to India, many reports that neem treats various conditions, including skin and digestive problems. Also, neem oil is a powerful insect repellent for landscaping use.
Neem has a dense and rounded canopy. Such allows it to provide a fair bit of shade. Also, it produces white and fragrant flowers, which add a pleasant touch to the landscape.
Neem does not tolerate cold. It will drop its leaves if temperatures are below 35ºF too often. If you plant a neem tree, you should give it at least six hours of direct and unfiltered sunlight each day. This requirement is mandatory for a healthy and thriving tree.
Other Common Names: Nimtree, Indian lilac
USDA Growing Zones: 10 – 12
Average Size at Maturity: 49 – 66 feet with a spread of 66 – 82 feet
Flowering Season: January through April
12. Pongam Tree (Pongamia pinnata) – Evergreen
Pongam tree is a remarkable shade and flowering tree. It features white, pink, or lavender pea-like flowers throughout the spring and summer. The flowers hang from the tree in clusters measuring up to 10 inches long.
This tree grows rapidly, and its wide canopy provides moderate yet good-quality shade. The leaves are glossy and attractive.
The Pongam tree does well in full sun to partial shade. It tolerates a wide range of soil types. In addition, it has good resistance to drought, soil salt, and aerosol salt. It is an excellent tree for dry spots and near the ocean.
Other Common Names: Pongam, Karum tree, Poonga-oil tree
USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 feet tall and 30 – 55 feet wide
Flowering Season: Spring through summer
13. Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) – Semi-Evergreen
The rugged and attractive southern live oak is one of the Florida landscape’s classic oak trees. Florida landscapers have been used as shade trees for hundreds of years, especially on large plantations and properties. A quintessential image of this oak in Florida is Spanish moss hanging from it. Also, it is native to most of the state.
Southern live oak is an excellent choice for shade because it has a wide canopy. It is wider than it is tall. Its branches, like the camphor tree are wide spreading, thick, and low hanging. But you can train it to have a single trunk with pruning.
Southern live oak is not a true evergreen tree. It drops all its leaves in the spring before sending out new ones. When young, the tree grows rapidly, but as it matures, growth slows.
The versatile southern live oak is adaptable to most environmental conditions. It grows in a wide range of soil and can tolerate full sun or partial shade. In addition, it has some salt spray, flood, and drought tolerance.
Other Common Names: Live oak
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 80 feet tall with a spread of 60 – 100 feet
14. Monkeypod Tree (Samanea saman)
If you have a large lawn or lot, the monkeypod tree could be the tree you are looking to plant. It has a broad canopy that looks like an umbrella, making it an ideal shade tree. This appearance is the defining feature of this tree. The more space you give it, the wider the tree spreads.
Besides its shade, the monkeypod tree features pink flowers like powder puffs. These flowers turn into edible seed pods measuring 4 to 8 inches long. In South Florida, you can expect the monkeypod tree to grow 5 feet yearly.
Be sure to plant monkeypod trees at least 30 feet away from buildings, sidewalks, or structures. They develop massive and powerful roots that can be destructive. For best results, the monkeypod tree needs at least six hours of direct sunlight daily.
Other Common Names: Rain tree, Saman
USDA Growing Zones: 10 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 feet tall with a spread of 100 – 200 feet
Flowering Season: End of Florida dry season
How to Choose Fast Growing Shade Trees
When selecting a fast-growing shade tree, you can pick one that is evergreen, semi-deciduous/semi-evergreen, or deciduous.
The benefit of evergreens is that you get shade year-round. The advantage of choosing a deciduous is that sometimes you get great fall colors, and they allow the sunlight to pass, providing warmth in winter to the landscape or home.
As a plus, a few of these shade trees also have unique properties. The edible parts of the neem and moringa tree have potent medicinal value. At the same time, the monkeypod tree and the pongam tree have gorgeous flowers.
No matter which tree you choose to plant, you should know which one is best for your local climate and environmental conditions.
Many trees on this list are sensitive to cold and frost, so knowing your USDA Florida hardiness zone is essential.
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Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.