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14 Fast Growing Shade Trees for Georgia

If you’re new to the state of Georgia and are hoping to start your own garden, then you may be interested in planting fast-growing species, so you can enjoy the many benefits of having your own garden sooner rather than later.

The hot climate of the South means that shade is vital if you want to enjoy time outside in your yard. Shade trees can reduce ambient temperature, thus reducing your power bills if planted near your home.

For best results, plant a deciduous tree on the south side of your home.

Fast-growing trees are also useful for privacy, as a windbreak, or for noise reduction if you’re in a busy area. Be sure to check the hardiness map of Georgia before you begin to ensure your best chances of success.

14 Fastest Growing Shade Trees to Grow in Georgia

1. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

American sycamore
Image by J E Theriot via Flickr

The American Sycamore is a fast-growing resilient, wide-canopied tree with a large trunk and open crown.

The bark on mature trees flakes off, revealing the paler, smooth inner bark. The leaves are broadly ovate, wider than they are long, with a pronounced point. They are a medium shade of dark green, reminiscent in shape of maple trees, and turn brown in the fall.

The American Sycamore is one of, if not the largest native trees of the eastern United States. The branching is horizontal and the canopy is rounded and casts dense shade. April sees small flowers appear in small clusters.

Adapted to wet soils, It’ll grow best in moist, sandy loams or silty clays.

Other Common Names: American Planetree, Western Plane, Eastern Sycamore, Buttonwood, Buttonball tree, Water Beech

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: April

2. Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica)

weeping willow
Image by Fabio Bruna via Flickr

The Weeping Willow is an unmistakable medium-to-large sized deciduous tree that’s full of character. It features graceful drooping branches and foliage and is suited to wet areas.

The crown is open, and if left unpruned, the branches will weep all the way down to the ground. The leaves are narrow, lanceolate, light green above and greenish gray below, before turning greenish yellow in the fall before being shed.

The Weeping Willow is dioecious, with separate male and female flowers appearing on catkins on different trees. Plant near a water source such as a pond or stream where it makes an unforgettable sight. Grows in averagely wet well-drained soils.

Other Common Names: Babylon Weeping Willow

Growing Zones: 6-8

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring, before the new leaves emerge

3. Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis)

Chinese Pistache
Image by David Prasad via Flickr

The Chinese Pistache is a fast-growing shade tree with a stunning fall show, with shades of yellow, orange, and red gracing the canopy. The bark is yellow gray but exfoliates to uncover a salmon-pink interior, adding extra vibrancy to the landscape. The canopy is wide spreading and graceful.

The Chinese Pistache is heat, cold and urban pollution tolerant and will grow in poor, sandy, and rocky soils. It’ll tolerate almost any type of soil provided it’s well-drained.

If you’re looking for a beautiful fast-growing shade tree with ornamental value to plant in your GA yard that requires little to no maintenance, then consider planting a Chinese Pistache.

Other Common Names: Pistachio

Growing Zones: 6-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-35 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: Mid-spring

4. Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

Japanese zelkova
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

The Zelkova is a tough tree that thrives in urban areas. It has an upright branching growth, a vase-like habit, and a short, open crown. The outer bark is grey-brown and exfoliates to reveal an orange inner bark. The leaves are a medium shade of grey in the summer and turn to orange, brown, deep purple, and red in the fall.

The Japanese Zelkova prefers deep, rich well-drained soil but will tolerate most soil types, including compacted soils. They are moderately drought and wind tolerant. They require some pruning when young to give them a strong branching structure, but apart from that require little upkeep. Prune in the fall.

Other Common Names: Sawleaf Zelkova

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 50-75 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

5. Chinese Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

Chinese Dogwood
Image by Jungle Rebel via Flickr

The Chinese Dogwood is a small to medium-sized tree that’s a close cousin of the native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). Depending on the age of the tree, it has a varying appearance, with young trees having an upright conical/vase shape and older trees becoming more wide-spreading with horizontal branches.

Whilst native dogwoods begin flowering around April, the Chinese Dogwood flowers a month later, spreading out the springtime show.

The flowers are followed by small raspberry-like fruit in the fall. The bark is exfoliating on mature trees and lends an interesting winter profile. Fall sees the leaves turn red to scarlet/purple and lasts up to 5 weeks, meaning the Chinses Dogwood provides interest throughout the seasons.

It’ll tolerate some shade, and prefers well-drained acidic soil. It’ll tolerate dry soils but not waterlogged areas.

Other Common Names: Kousa Dogwood, Kousa

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: May/late spring

6. Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta)

Rainbow Eucalyptus
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

The Rainbow Eucalyptus is a broadleaved evergreen tree that has to be seen to be believed. The bark of mature trees peels back to reveal a cornucopia of color, with shades of greens, orange, reds, pinks, and blues.

They can reach quite a height, so may only be suited to larger landscapes. You’ll also be rewarded with the refreshing aroma of eucalyptus year round.

The Rainbow Eucalyptus needs well-draining soil and will tolerate heat, humidity, moisture, and some salt.

They appreciate being planted near a water source such as a pond or stream. They are frost intolerant so may only be planted in the warmest coastal areas of GA, or in sufficiently warm microclimates.

Other Common Names: Mindanao Gum, Rainbow Gum, Indonesian Gum

Growing Zones: 9-11

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: Throughout the year

7. ‘Allee’ Chinese Elm (Ulmus parviflora ‘Allee’)

Chinese Elm
Image by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

The Allee Chinese Elm has been bred by the University of Georgia and has dark green deciduous foliage and a broad canopy that turns pinkish yellow in the fall. Best of all, it’s resistant to Dutch Elm Disease as well as other problems that have plagued Elm trees in recent years.

Allee Chinese Elm features an exfoliating bark and requires little upkeep. It grows best in moist well-drained soils but will adapt to many different soil types.

Other Common Names: Lacebark Elm

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 35-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late summer

8. Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba)

Image by madras91 via Flickr

Ginkgo is a very easily recognizable tree that’s believed to have been around for 230 million years, earning it the title of the living fossil. They’re also capable of living for up to 3000 years. Ginkgo’s fan-shaped leaves are one of the first to herald the fall and change to yellow at the first sign of cooler weather.

Ginkgos are commonly planted as ornamentals but can also be used as a shade tree. Whilst they can be tall at maturity, Ginkgos are also suited to smaller areas, as well as urban environments as they tolerate salt, drought, and pollution and deal well with root restriction.

Whilst Ginkgo’s can’t really be considered fast-growing with a growth rate of 12-24 inches a year, they more than make up for this by needing no pruning. Ginkgos can adapt to any soil type, including clay provided it drains well. Plant in full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Maidenhair Tree

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-50 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

9. Fruitless Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Fruitless)

Mulberry tree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

Mulberry trees are extremely fast-growing trees suitable for medium to large landscapes. They feature a dense canopy with dark green foliage that turns yellow before being shed.

Fruitless varieties are preferred by many, as the fruit tends to stain anything they come in contact with, and mulberry trees are prolific producers. Varieties with fruit are also suitable, provided you don’t mind the mess. There are also plenty more types of fruit trees that can be grown in GA.

Mulberries are extremely hardy and adaptable trees and will grow in different soil types and conditions. For best results, plant in a well-drained loamy soil. They require very little care once established and will tolerate both drought and flooding.

Other Common Names: Common Mulberry, Silkworm Mulberry, White Mulberry

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 30-45 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

10. Royal Empress Tree (Paulownia elongata)

Royal Empress Tree
Image by Auckland Museum via Wikimedia Commons

The Royal Empress Tree is often considered the fastest growing tree in the world and is impressive on many fronts. The leaves are up to a foot wide and add a tropical splash to wherever they’re planted.

The canopy is wide and the sparse branching means that it’ll let winter sun filter through, warming up your yard or home. In winter the buds feature fine hair and fill the air with a delicious floral aroma when they open in the spring.

The Royal Empress Tree provides interest in all seasons. It’s a hardy and adaptable tree that can withstand most soil types and environments.

Other Common Names: Princess Tree, Paulownia

Growing Zones: 6-10

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: In spring for 6-8 weeks

11. Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata)

Kwanzan Cherry
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

If you’re tight on space and looking for a multi-functional tree, then consider the Kwanzan Cherry. Not only is it suitable as a shade tree for small yards or patios, but it’s also one of the most spectacular flowering trees around. The double flowers are pink, large at 2 ½ inches in diameter, making them the most popular of the double flowering cherries.

The Kwanzan cherry grows in a vase form and even adjusts well to container growth. It’s a fruitless cherry tree with a medium growth rate of up to 24 inches a year. The Kwanzan Cherry will grow in well-drained alkaline, sandy, loamy, or wet clay soils. Whilst wet conditions are preferable, it also has some drought tolerance.

Other Common Names: Kanzan, Sekiyama

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

12. Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

Willow Oak (Quercus phellos) Tree and Leaves
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

The Willow Oak mixes the steadiness of an oak with the delicate beauty of a willow. In youth it has a pyramidal shape, becoming oblong/oval to rounded as it ages.

The leaves emerge light bright green in the spring, changing to a darker green by the summer and finally to yellow/red/russet in the fall. The leaves are willow-like and spear-shaped, 2-5” long. It yields round acorns ½” long with a thin saucer-like cap.

The Willow Oak tolerates poorly drained soil better than other oak trees. The acorns are a favored food source by songbirds, turkeys, squirrels, and white-tailed deer, amongst others.

Other Common Names: Swamp Willow Oak, Pin Oak, Peach Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

13. Superior Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoids x Populus nigra)

Superior hybrid poplar
Image by Oregon Department of Forestry via Flickr

The Superior Hybrid Poplar is one of the fastest-growing shade trees suitable for GA homeowners, capable of growing 8 ft a year. They are quick to establish and add aesthetic appeal to your yard with their symmetrical oval shape. The leaves are triangle shaped, 3-6” long, deciduous, dark to silvery green above, and paler underneath.

The Superior Hybrid Poplar is a cottonless variety of polar, so you won’t have to worry about clearing up any mess. These rapid growing poplar trees grow best in acidic or alkaline, wet soils.

Other Common Names: Hybrid Poplar, Cottonless Cottonwood, Seedless Cottonwood

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: N/A

14. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red maple
Image by mirabelka szuszu via Flickr

The Red Maple is the classic maple tree. It grows in a round to oval shape. Fall sees head-turning shades of fiery red. The Red Maple is a fast-growing shade tree that’s sure to keep your house cool and reduce your energy costs. It can grow between 3-5 ft a year. It requires little maintenance or upkeep apart from clearing the fallen leaves.

Red Maples live up to their name; the flower buds are red, as are the samara pods, the twigs, and the fall colors. Red Maples enjoy full sun to partial shade and grows best in moist, slightly acidic conditions.

Other Common Names: Red Maple

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: March – April

Grow Your Own Shade Fast

Shade is vital in hot climates and growing your own shade is an ecological way to keep your home cool. If you plant a deciduous tree, it’ll shade your home from the high summer sun, and shed its leaves in the winter, allowing sunlight in, thus keeping your home warm in the colder months.

GA is a varied landscape, and what you can plant will vary greatly depending on where in the state you are, so be sure to plant an appropriate species for your area.

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