8 Fast Growing Trees for Illinois (Including for Shade)

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Written By Thomas Pitto

Propagation Expert & Permaculture Enthusiast

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Home » Illinois » 8 Fast Growing Trees for Illinois (Including for Shade)

Fast-growing trees are often favored as they can provide the desired result as soon as possible.

This can be especially important when planting trees for a privacy screen, to filter out unwanted noise, sights, and pollution, or for shade.

8 Fast Growing Trees to Plant in Illinois

1. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) – Shade Tree

Weeping Willow
Image by jacinta lluch valero via Flickr

Weeping Willows are loved for their delicate sweeping branches and the calming serenity they exude.

Often one of the earliest trees to burst into leaf, Weeping Willows add interest throughout the seasons, with the leaves turning yellow in the autumn whilst the beautiful arching branches can be admired in the winter.

Weeping Willows thrive near a water source and are often planted to stop erosion. Plant near a new water catchment pond, or swale, to help retain water in low-lying areas.

Weeping Willows can be used as shade trees, and are capable of growing 8-10 ft a year, establishing quickly. They can be planted in full sun or partial shade.

  • Other Common Names: Babylon Weeping Willow, Silver Willow
  • Growing Zones: 5-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and wide
  • Flowering Season: Late winter before the leaves emerge
  • Growth Rate: 5-10 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Superior Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoids x Polulus nigra) – Shade Tree

The Superior Hybrid Poplar is one of the fastest-growing shade trees around. They are capable of growing a staggering 8 ft in one growing season!

Planted strategically on the south side of your property, these poplar trees can reduce your energy bills by blocking out the summer sun.

As they are deciduous, they’ll shed their leaves in the fall and let in the valuable warmth from the sun in the winter.

Superior Hybrid Poplars contain an appealing oval shape. They are a cross between the popular Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra) and the Cottonwood (Populus deltoids) providing the best of both varieties. They’ll grow in any soil type, provided it’s well-draining.

  • Other Common Names: Superior Hybrid Poplar Tree
  • Growing Zones: 3-8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 25-30 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Early spring
  • Growth Rate: 6-8 ft per year*

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

3. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) – Shade Tree

American Sycamore or American Plane tree
Image by Tatters ✾ via Flickr

The American Sycamore tree can grow up to 6 ft a year and is popular in residential areas as well as in cities in the temperate world.

It features a dense canopy with symmetrical growth that provides shade thanks to the large size of the leaves. Fall sees the leaves turn golden yellow before being shed.

The bark is smooth with shades of white, and light brown/tan which provides winter interest when the tree is dormant for the winter.

The American Sycamore is a hardy and adaptable tree capable of thriving in hot and cold situations, as well as in various soil types.

  • Other Common Names: Sycamore, Eastern Sycamore, Buttonball Tree, and Buttonball, Plane tree
  • Growing Zones: 4-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 75-100 ft tall and 50-70 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: May
  • Growth Rate: 3-6 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Chinese Elm Tree (Ulmus parvifolia) – Shade Tree

lacebark chinese elm
Image by chuck b. via Flickr

The Lacebark Chinese Elm is a hardy tree suitable for almost any situation; from polluted inner cities to isolated country fields in just about any type of soil.

The Lacebark Elm is resistant to the diseases that plague many other elms. In fact, it needs little care or attention after being planted and will grow at a rate of 2 to 3 ft per year.

This Elm features distinct and attractive bark patterns and colors throughout the year, even in the winter when there’s no foliage, the bark will exfoliate to reveal shades of green, orange, brown, and cream.

The canopy is made up of dense foliage that offers good shade, despite its smaller size.

This makes the Lacebark Elm a suitable small tree for smaller home landscapes and people who may want to obtain multiple functions from the trees in their yards.

  • Other Common Names: Lacebark Elm, Chinese Elm
  • Growing Zones: 5-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 35-50 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: Late summer/autumn
  • Growth Rate: 2-3 ft per year*

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

5. Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin) – Shade Tree

Mimosa tree
Image by Txemari (Argazki). via Flickr

The Mimosa tree features fern-like foliage, pom-pom-like flowers, thread-like petals, and a deep pink color. They are deciduous and resistant to heat, drought as well as humidity.

They can function as shade trees, are pioneer plants, and fix nitrogen into the soil, thus helping the growth of other plants in the vicinity.

Mimosa trees feature a vase shape and a flat top, with delicate cotton candy flowers held above the canopy. Seed pods follow the flowers and resemble pea-pods and turn from green to brown.

The flowers of this flowering tree produce irresistibly sweet nectar that draws in countless butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to your garden.

They are very drought tolerant and thrive in heat, making them perfect for blocking the south/south-western sun.

Plant in free-draining soil for best results.

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

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

6. Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis) – Shade Tree

Chinese Pistache
Image by David Prasad via Flickr

The Chinese Pistache is loved for its unbeatable year-round color, which includes stunning shades of orange, red and scarlet when other trees are beginning their dormancy.

The canopy is round/oval, and is adorned with thin pointed leaves that lend an exotic flair to the landscape. The vibrant green summer leaves provide good shade for homeowners.

Chinese Pistache Trees are highly adaptable trees that can tolerate urban stresses including heat, drought, pollution, and a variety of poor dry soils.

You can expect the Chinese Pistache to grow at a rate of 1-3 feet per year.

  • Other Common Names: Chinese Pistachio
  • Growing Zones: 6-10
  • Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall and wide
  • Flowering Season: April – May
  • Growth Rate: 1-3 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

7. Quaking Aspen Tree (Populus tremuloides ‘Quaking’)

Quaking aspen
Image by Wesley Carr via Flickr

Quaking Aspen Trees are native to most of North America. They are a fast-growing pioneer species that are quick to populate disturbed ecosystems or grasslands. The leaves have a wonderful heart shape that creates a delight for the senses when the wind rustles through them.

Quaking Aspens grow tall with a pyramidal shape when young but can become more rounded with age.

Leaves are dark green above and paler underneath and are held on long petioles, which cause the leaves to dance in the slightest breeze. Fall colors are usually yellow, occasionally red.

Quaking Aspens make excellent wildlife trees, with grouse feeding on the catkins and buds and deer and elk feeding on the fallen leaves.

Quaking Aspens can form colonies from root suckers and easily create a natural woodland look if left alone.

  • Other Common Names: Trembling Aspen
  • Growing Zones: 1-6
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: April – May
  • Growth Rate: 1-3 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Ginkgo biloba
Image by Pietro Zanarini via Flickr

Ginkgo Biloba are loved the world over for the intriguing shape of their leaves, their fall color, and the ancient heritage of the species. Ginkgo’s leaves change to bright yellow-gold at the first hint of cooler weather.

They are incredibly hardy trees, having survived for 200 million years, so are more than capable of withstanding urban conditions such as pollution and heat without a problem.

Ginkgo can tolerate a wide variety of soil types and are drought tolerant once established. They grow best in slightly acidic well-draining soil. Planting male varieties avoids the bad smell and mess of the fruit.

  • Other Common Names: Maidenhair Tree
  • Growing Zones: 3-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 25-50 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide
  • Flowering Season: April – May
  • Growth Rate: 1-2 ft per year*

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

Illinois Fast Growing Trees Compared

#Tree NameUSDA Growing ZonesAverage Size at Maturity (ft)Growth Rate (ft per year)
1Weeping Willow5-930-50 tall and wide5-10
2Superior Hybrid Poplar3-840-50 tall and 25-30 wide6-8
3American Sycamore4-975-100 tall and 50-70 wide3-6
4Lacebark Chinese Elm Tree5-940-50 tall and 35-50 wide2-3
5Mimosa Tree6-920-40 tall and 20-50 wide2-3
6Corkscrew Willow4-820-30 tall and 15-30 wide2-3
7Chinese Pistache6-1025-35 tall and wide1-3
8Quaking Aspen Tree1-640-50 tall and 20-30 wide1-3
9Ginkgo3-925-50 tall and 25-35 wide1-2
*Growth rates are approximations; actual performance varies with climate, soil, and care.

Rapid Growth in Illinois

Fast-growing trees provide homeowners with the results they’re after quickly. Whether you want to create a mature-looking garden quickly, provide shade, and shelter, or block an unsightly view, fast-growing trees can provide the answer.

And while the trees on this list are largely deciduous, there are plenty of suitable evergreen trees that grow in Illinois too.

These trees are also useful in sequestering atmospheric carbon, so should be considered by eco-conscious homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

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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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