10 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for USDA Zone 5

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » USDA Zone 5 » 10 Fast-Growing Shade Trees for USDA Zone 5

Planting trees on your property isn’t only about adding beauty to the landscape (though that certainly helps!). There are many practical ways to use residential trees as well.

Growing shade trees on your property is a perfect example of this. They provide shade and even insulation in the sunniest, hottest parts of the year, keeping your household cool during the day. And what’s more, there are plenty of appropriate trees that will shoot to 10-20 feet in less than ten years!

If you’re looking for a fast-growing shade tree in zone 5, here are some of the best options for you to consider.

10 Shade-Giving Trees that Grow Fast in Zone 5

1. Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Shade trees for zone 5 - Tulip Poplar
Image by Andy Reago & Chrissy Mclarren via Flickr

Despite its name, the tulip poplar is not a tulip or a poplar tree! Instead, these unique flowering trees are part of the magnolia family. And like magnolias, they are best known for their large and eye-catching green, yellow, and orange flowers, which are part of where they get their name.

Tulip poplars are also enormous, statuesque trees that can reach up to 130 feet tall. This, along with their balanced crown that spreads further as it ages, is part of what makes the species an exceptional shade tree. As saplings, they will grow at a rate of 25 inches per year before slowing to between 13 and 24 inches per year in maturity.

If you want to plant a tulip poplar shade tree in your backyard, choose a spot with deep, fertile, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH, in a location with exposure to full or partial sun.

Other Common Names: Tuliptree, Tulip Tree, Yellow Poplar

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 70-130 feet tall, with a 30-60 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Shade trees for zone 5 - Red Maple
Image by Dushan Hanuska via Flickr

If you’re looking for a fast-growing shade tree for the zone 5 landscape, the red maple should be one of the first trees you consider – it is one of the fastest-growing trees in the Eastern United States, growing a consistent 18 inches per year. It is most often grown as a reliable shade and street tree due to its dense branches and leaves, height, and significant spread, as well as its beauty.

Like many maples, the appearance of the red maple is most notable in fall when its foliage turns a brilliant, blazing red with notes of orange. It’s a guaranteed showstopper, and even in winter and spring, it manages to impress with small red flower buds that open into clusters of small flowers.

Growing a red maple has its share of difficulties, however. Its thick roots can disrupt sidewalks and infrastructure, and its bark is thin and easily damaged. Some trees may also lack the trademark brilliant red fall foliage, so purchasing trees in fall to gauge their color is always recommended.

Other Common Names: Swamp Maple, Water Maple, Soft Maple

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 feet tall, with a 30-50 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

3. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Shade trees for zone 5 - Quaking Aspen
Image by UFSWS Midwest Region via Flickr

A classic North American native, the quaking aspen is a fast-growing tree that also happens to be the most widely distributed on the North American continent.

Naturally, these narrow trees are grown in groupings, but when grown individually they make effective shade or specimen plants. This pioneer species is most convenient for landscapers who want a tree they can establish quickly, as quaking aspens grow more than 24 inches per year.

Despite their speedy growth rate and lovely bright yellow fall cloak, growing quaking aspens do have one major setback that may be an issue for some prospective gardeners. As a “succession” tree they tend to spread prolifically from seeds and suckers. Gardeners will need to cut back these new growths continually to avoid a host of unwanted aspens popping up in the landscape.

Quaking aspens prefer loamy, moist, well-draining soil in a location with full sun to partial shade.

Other Common Names: American Aspen, Golden Aspen, Mountain Aspen, Trembling Aspen, Trembling Poplar, White Poplar, Popple

Growing Zones: 2-6

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 feet tall, with a 20-30 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

4. Thornless Honeylocust (​​Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis)

Shade trees for zone 5 - Thornless honeylocust
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr (Not exact cultivar discussed)

The thornless honeylocust is a popular choice for urban and street landscaping, making it a good option as a shade tree for zone 5 gardeners living in cities or suburbs. It is a fast-growing cultivar of the original honeylocust, without the large, perilous thorns that adorn its trunk and branches. Expect your thornless honeylocust to grow at a rate of 24 inches per year.

This tree is hardy, adaptable, and easy to grow. Its graceful, sweeping branches cast dappled shade on everything beneath it and its yellow-gold fall foliage and delicate white spring blossoms add extra appeal. However, honeylocusts, both thorny and thornless, have a tendency to be over-planted which can lead to a susceptibility to diseases such as canker and root collar rot.

This honeylocust cultivar can thrive in most soil types and pH ranges and is tolerant to both flooding and drought. Plant in a location that provides at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Other Common Names: Sweet Locust

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 feet tall, with a 40-50 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

5. River Birch (Betula nigra L.)

River Birch tree NH
Image via Nature Hills

The most widely planted birch tree in the US is popular for a reason! The river birch is an attractive, fast-growing native tree that adds a whopping 26 inches to its height each year.

It is adaptable to a wide variety of soil types and environmental conditions, making it a natural choice for zone 5 gardeners who want an unfussy shade tree that will establish itself quickly in almost any spot.

Aside from its use as a shade tree, the river birch can accentuate water features on your property, or be used as a living fence, windbreak, or privacy screen. And with its ornamental light-brown exfoliating bark and lovely, bright green foliage that turns a soft, buttery yellow in fall, it can even be planted as a specimen tree.

Plant your river birch in consistently moist, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH in an area that provides full sun exposure.

Other Common Names: Water Birch, Black Birch, Red Birch

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 25-50 feet tall, with a 25-35 foot spread

Flowering Season: Winter

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

6. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

northern red oaks
Image by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

Attractive and fast-growing, the northern red oak is one of North America’s most commonly grown oak trees, and for good reasons. This tree is tall and straight with handsome, fissured bark and dark green foliage that turns red, orange, and brown in fall.

The red oak’s branching growth habit makes it an excellent option for shade trees, and it is also popularly used as a street tree and in commercial landscaping, particularly in golf courses and parks.

Due to their sophisticated stature, these trees can be used as a focal point in your backyard and on a woodland border. Expect to see more local wildlife, such as blue jays, squirrels, turkeys, and white-tailed deer who come to feed on red oak acorns.

Red oaks are highly adaptable and tolerant to salt, drought, and urban pollution. They need consistently moist, well-draining soil with plenty of sunlight. According to the University of Minnesota Forestry Outreach & Research Lab, these trees are highly susceptible to oak wilt, so be careful of where you plant them.

Other Common Names: Red Oak, Champion Oak, American Red Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 feet tall with a similar spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

7. Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa)

Shade trees for zone 5 -  Black alder
Image by Amanda Slater via Flickr

Native to Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, the black alder is a deciduous moisture-loving tree that is part of the birch family. Looks-wise it is best known for its smooth, attractive bark and glossy leaves. Often found growing in marshlands and along riverbanks, these medium-sized trees are highly tolerant of flooding and waterlogged soil. They grow very rapidly in the first ten years of life.

When used in a garden or backyard the black elder does best as a shade tree, hedge, or near a water feature. Keep in mind that the black alder is considered an invasive species in some US states, so make sure to check its status in your region before purchasing one of these trees.

Black alders prefer to be planted in moist, sandy, or loamy soil in full sun or partial shade. Considering them for an area with poor soil is also a productive choice, as they do well when planted in low-quality sites, especially compared to other shade tree species.

Other Common Names: European Alder, Common Alder, European Black Alder, Alder

Growing Zones: 4-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a 20-40 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Fall and Winter

8. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

A North Dakota native with a reputation for being one of the hardiest trees around, the hackberry is adaptable to almost all soil types.

If you’re looking for a tree that provides plenty of shade but your property has poor-quality soil, this is the right option for you! Hackberries are also attractive trees with distinctive textured bark, edible dark purple berries, and two-toned green and yellow foliage decorating an expansive crown.

These trees grow between 13 and 24 inches annually, so expect a tall and established tree fairly quickly. While their wide crowns make them excellent shade trees, you could consider planting them as windbreaks, street trees, and ornamentals as well.

Plant your hackberry in light moist, fertile soil with plenty of sun exposure – otherwise, they are not fussy about soil quality, type, or pH levels. They are also highly tolerant of heat, pollution, and salt. Be careful of planting near infrastructure as these trees have dense, spreading root systems that need plenty of space.

Other Common Names: Common Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, Nettletree, Sugarberry, Beaverwood

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 feet tall, with a 25-40 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Early Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

9. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Shade trees for zone 5 - Northern Catalpa
Image by megankhines via Flickr

With its large heart-shaped leaves and large, well-formed growth habit, the northern catalpa is an attractive and well-loved part of the American landscape. It even brightens up the landscape in spring with its delicate, bell-shaped white flowers, making it a lovely ornamental shade tree for zone 5 gardeners.

Northern catalpa also grows rapidly in the first ten years, at a rate of between 13 to 24 inches per year, before slowing down – so you can expect your new shade tree to be established quickly. This tree can also be planted as a focal point in your garden, as part of a rain garden, or near a water feature.

When planting northern catalpa ensure that you have enough space on your property to accommodate its size and root spread. According to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, these trees are highly tolerant to drought, poor soil, and urban conditions – it is not fussy about soil types or moisture levels.

Other Common Names: Catawba Tree, Cigar Tree, Western Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a 20-40 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

10. Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

paper birch
Image by Nicholas_T via Flickr

The paper birch is another beautiful birch species that grows and matures quickly and can be used to grant shade for your home and family. It grows at a rate of between 13 and 24 inches per year and has a generous crown with spaced foliage that lets soft, dappled light filter through its branches.

In terms of appearance, the paper birch is very striking, which is why it is also planted as an ornamental equally as often as a shade tree. Its stark white peeling bark and bright yellow fall foliage add a graceful and romantic element to any landscape.

You can choose loamy, sandy, or clay soil to plant your birch tree – what matters most is that the soil is moist and well-draining with an acidic pH. It needs frequent watering throughout the year and mulching and fertilizing in spring. Keep in mind that paper birches are not very tolerant of heat and pollution, so avoid growing in urban environments.

Other Common Names: White Birch, Canoe Birch

Growing Zones: 2-7

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 feet tall, with 30-40 feet spread

Fruiting Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

Beautiful Shade Trees In No Time

Zone 5 gardeners looking for the perfect shade tree for their property need look no further. The exceptional trees mentioned above can be established quickly and will grow to considerable heights, able to provide shade for you and your home in only a few years.

From the classically lovely quaking aspen to the extra hardy and fruitful hackberry, you have no shortage of shade trees to choose from that will grow well in your landscape, even in the poorest quality soil.

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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