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15 Fast Growing Trees to Plant in Your Wisconsin Landscape

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Waiting for trees to grow is a turn-off for many potential tree lovers and growers.

Indeed, many do not grow fast. Some can take a decade or two before they are big enough to provide shade. But this does not always have to be the case. There are various fast-growing trees for you to choose from in Wisconsin.

What you can plant depends on your local USDA cold-hardiness zone. Wisconsin planting zones range from zones 3b to 5b.

There are many beautiful, fast-growing trees for those in zones 4 and 5, such as the flowering northern catalpa.

The variety is a bit less in zone 3, but this list includes some great choices for those in that zone. The hardiest being quaking aspen, northern red oak, and red maple.

15 Great Fast Growing Trees for Wisconsin

1. American Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

American sweetgum grows in many parks, campuses, and large yards. It is native to North America and is one of the most valuable forest trees.

American sweetgum has a pyramidal shape, and it becomes more oval or rounded as it matures. It grows anywhere from 13 inches to more than 24 inches per year.

The tree is easy to identify because of its classic star-shaped leaves. The leaves have a deep, glossy green color. In the fall, the leaves turn to a brilliant shade of either yellow, orange, red, or purple.

It is better to plant American sweetgum in a spot that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Doing so helps with fast growth and rich fall color. Also, the tree requires plenty of space for root development, so it is better to not plant it near other large trees.

American sweetgum does well in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, wet, and clay soils. It has a moderate drought tolerance. The tree is not tolerant of polluted sites.

Other Common Names: American storax, Hazel pin, Bilsted, Redgum, Satin-walnut, Star-leaved gum, Alligator wood, Sweetgum

Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 70 feet with a spread of 45 feet

2. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Image by PatersonGreatFalls -A Vis… via Flickr

The deciduous American sycamore is one of the largest trees in North America. This tree is a symbol of longevity, protection, resilience, and strength for tree lovers.

Thanks to its dense and broad canopy, the American sycamore is an excellent shade tree. It grows more than two feet each year. Some landscapers report them growing six feet in a year. 

Due to its massive size, the American sycamore can serve as a perfect focal tree in your yard or land. Tough and tolerant of pollution, you will find them growing on urban streets throughout the temperate world. Also, the tough tree can withstand road salt. 

American sycamore is an easy tree to grow. It prefers full sun but will do well in partial shade. The sturdy tree strives in any soil and will tolerate wet areas. Once established, it will do fine in drought. 

Other Common Names: American planetree, Western plane, Occidental plane, Buttonwood, Water beech

Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 100 feet tall with a spread of 40 – 70 feet

3. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Image by cogito ergo imago via Flickr

Dawn redwood is one of the fastest trees available to Wisconsin landscapers. But it is only hardy in the southern parts of the state and the region along Lake Michigan. It can grow to an impressive 4 feet each year.

This ancient tree has been around since the time of the dinosaurs. It features feathery leaves, which bring a touch of elegance to the landscape. The leaves are bright green and turn orange-brown or reddish-brown in the fall. Being a deciduous conifer, it produces round ½ to 1-inch cones.

Dawn redwood is easy to transplant and grow. It prefers full sun and moist, deep, well-drained soils. It will also be fine in acidic, loamy, sandy, wet, and clay soils. This versatile tree can withstand flooding and some drought.

This rugged and ancient tree does not need much maintenance. Choose its site well because this rapid grower can reach well over 80 feet tall in a couple of decades.

Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 feet tall with a spread of 25 feet

4. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
Image by Mike via Flickr

Eastern cottonwood is a common tree east of the Rocky Mountains. If you have wet soil or need to plant a tree near a stream or lake, this one is perfect. It can grow as much as 8 feet per year in moist environments.

The deciduous tree has beautiful triangular leaves. They rustle in the wind, creating a calming sound. In the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow. In the spring, male and female trees produce separate flowers.

The females release a fluffy white seed material. Many complain that the fluffy seeds clog window screens, AC units, and coat swimming pools.

Eastern cottonwood does not need much care. It enjoys full sun, and this is the best way to ensure beautiful fall foliage. It prefers wet soils, but with regular watering will do well in drier soils. In the first few years, it needs about 10 gallons of water for each inch of the tree’s diameter.

A significant drawback of this tree is its weak limbs. They sometimes fall in icy or windy conditions. The best way to prevent this is good pruning. For safe pruning, it is better to contact a certified arborist.

Other Common Names: Necklace poplar

Growing Zones: 2 – 9

Average Size at Maturity:  50 – 80 feet tall with similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

5. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

Hackberry is a fast-growing tree that any landscaper in Wisconsin can grow. It is cold hardy to even the most frigid parts of the state.

If you decide to grow a hackberry tree, you will have few problems. Known as “one tough tree,” it can tolerate almost any soil type and does well in most climates. Also, it can withstand drought, heat, pollution, salt, and strong winds.

Hackberry produces attractive dark-red berries, which are popular with winter birds. Also, the tree attracts a wide range of butterfly species.

Expect your hackberry tree to grow from 13 to more than 24 inches each year. For the most growth, it needs at least six hours of direct unfiltered sunlight each day.

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

Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet fall with equal spread

6. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
Image by Clivid via Flickr

The fast-growing northern catalpa is a great shade and flowering tree for Wisconsin. It grows anywhere from 13 to more than 24 inches each year.

The attractive tree produces clusters of large, trumpet-shaped white flowers. Expect the fragrant blooms in May or June. Hummingbirds and bees love them. Long dangling bean-like seedpods measuring 20 inches long emerge after flowering. Northern catalpa flowers after seven years.

A mature northern catalpa tree has a twisting trunk and branches. It forms an oval shape. The heart-shaped leaves are large (12 inches long and 4 – 8 inches wide).

On care, the most stressful aspect of growing this beautiful tree is its cleanup. The flower petals and seed pods tend to be messy. Provide it with at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. Northern catalpa strives in clay, loamy, rich, sandy, silty loam, and well-drained soils.

It also does not mind wet soils. Flooding and moderate drought will not kill the tree.

Other Common Names: Hardy catalpa, Western catalpa, Cigar tree, Catawba-tree, Bois chavanon

Growing Zones:  4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 40 feet

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer

7. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Northern Red Oak
Image by Andreas Rockstein Flickr

Northern red oak is a classic Wisconsin shade tree. “One of the handsomest, cleanest, and stateliest trees in North America.” That is how renowned American naturalist Joseph S. Illick described northern red oak.

The revered native tree gained popularity in colonial times. Today, you can find it planted throughout the country and in Europe.

Northern red oak can grow more than two feet per year during the first ten years. The shade tree has a rounded growth habit.

The tree’s large (4 to 8 inches long) waxy green lobed leaves turn to an intense red in the fall. During the spring, it produces pale yellow-green catkins. Catkins are long slim clusters of tiny flowers. They appear at the same time as the new foliage. By the fall, the tree yields many acorns, which attract birds and wildlife.

For best results, northern red oak needs six hours of unfiltered sunlight each day. It prefers normal soil moisture and can tolerate some drought. It grows best in acidic, clay, loamy, moist, sandy, and well-drained soils.

Other Common Names: Red oak

Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 75 feet tall with a spread of 45 feet

Flowering Season: Spring

8. Pin Oak (Quercas palustris)

Pin Oak
Image by F.D. Richards Flickr

The fast-growing pin oak provides dense shade. Forming a pyramidal shape, it is a perfect tree for a large lawn. Expect the tree to grow more than 24 inches per year if you plant it in full sun.

Pin oak boasts large 3- to 5-inch-long leaves with at least 5 lobes. The glossy dark green leaves turn to stunning shades of scarlet and bronze in the fall. Each fall, the tree produces many acorns. They attract wildlife such as ducks, deer, and small rodents.

Pin oak can tolerate wet conditions and some moderate flooding. It prefers rich and moist soils. Also, it can tolerate sandy and clay soils. But it does not do well in dry soil, especially during the first years. If you have alkaline soil, you should not plant pin oak as it will not survive.

Other Common Names: Swamp Spanish oak

Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity:  60 – 70 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 40 feet

9. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Image by Wesley Carr via Flickr

Quaking aspen can tolerate the coldest weather you can imagine. Also, it grows anywhere from sea level to mountains. You can expect it to grow more than 24 inches each year.

This tall narrow tree provides charm to the landscape. The leaves on the tree dance in the wind making a tremble or quaking sound. Such is the source of its name. In the fall, quaking aspen leaves display a gorgeous golden yellow color.

Its attractive greenish-white to cream bark is smooth and noteworthy. The tree sends out long catkins during the spring, which turn into tiny seeds. These small seeds fly into the wind on cottony tufts.

Quaking aspen needs at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight which ensures the fastest growth. It prefers abundant moisture. The tree prefers acidic, clay, loamy, moist, sandy, and well-drained soils.

Other Common Names: Trembling aspen, American aspen, Mountain aspen, Golden aspen, Trembling poplar, White poplar, Popple

Growing Zones: 1 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 feet tall and 20 – 30 feet wide

Flowering Season: Spring

10. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Image by mirabelka szuszu via Flickr

Red maple gets its well-deserved name because it provides the landscape something red each season. Red buds and stems in the winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in the summer, and jaw-dropping foliage in fall. But fall foliage can also be yellowish.

In early spring the tree displays clusters of red, sometimes yellow, small flowers. The seeds provide food for squirrels and other rodents.

With its stately presence, red oak grows in an oval, rounded, upright, or erect shape. For this reason, it makes an attractive street tree. A row of red maple trees offers a stunning visual impact in the fall.

This Wisconsin native tree is fast growing at about two feet or more each year. For best growth, it requires at least six hours of direct unfiltered sunlight each day.

On soil, red maple prefers acidic, clay, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, silty, and well-drained soils. It prefers wet soil over dry soil but will do fine in mild drought.

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

Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet

Flowering Season: Early spring

11. River Birch Tree (Betula nigra)

River Birch Tree (Betula nigra)
Image by F.D. Richards via Flickr

Sure, river birch is a fast-growing tree. It can grow more than two feet each year. But its signature feature, like other birch trees, is its ornamental exfoliating bark. The peeling bark reveals shades of white, salmon, and cinnamon. The leaves are glossy green. 

River birch grows along riverbanks throughout many areas of the United States. For this reason, it is an excellent landscape tree for those with wet soils. Yet it also tolerates some drought. 

On care, avoid planting river birch in areas with alkaline soil. Besides wet soils, it does well in loamy, sandy, and clay soils. 

Other Common Names: Black birch, Water birch

Growing Zones:  4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 feet tall with a 40 – 60 feet spread

Flowering Season: Spring

12. Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

Silver maple is one of the most common trees in the United States.

This rapid grower can grow between 3 and an impressive seven feet year. Some landscapers report it reaching maturity in as little as 6 years.

Silver maple’s rapid growth is sometimes a curse. It prevents the branches from becoming dense. Such frailty results in weak branches that fall in heavy wind.

Despite its drawbacks, this is a beautiful specimen with its vase shape. The leaves are green on top and silver underneath, turning pale yellow in fall. The tree produces clusters of small flowers in early spring.

Caring for silver maple is easy. It adapts to a wide range of soil types. But it will grow faster in stronger in deep, moist, acidic soil. The tree requires a minimum of four hours each day of direct unfiltered sunlight.

Other Common Names: Creek maple, Silverleaf maple, Soft maple, Large maple, Water maple, Swamp maple, White maple

Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 feet with a spread of 35 – 50 feet

Flowering Season: Early spring

13. Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Landscapers in the southern United States adore the charms of the evergreen sweetbay magnolia. But they are cold-hardy enough for some areas of Wisconsin. You can comfortably grow this tree in the southern and Lake Michigan regions. 

Sweetbay is an excellent ornamental tree. It has an elegant columnar or vase shape. For this reason, it makes a perfect specimen or patio tree. 

In May or June, sweetbay magnolia produces creamy white flowers measuring about 2 to 3 inches wide. They have a delightful lemon scent. The tree has glistening dark green leaves with silver undersides. For optimal flowering, the tree needs full sun. 

This tree prefers soil that is moist and rich. It will tolerate wet soil better than dry soil. To the point that it will survive periodic flooding. 

Sweetbay magnolia grows from 13 inches to more than 2 feet each year. 

Other Common Names: Sweetbay, Laurel magnolia, Swampbay, Swamp magnolia, White bay, Beaver tree

Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 feet tall with equal spread

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer

14. Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Image by Buddha Dog via Flickr

Tulip tree is a popular tree native to eastern North America. It has a rapid growth rate of over two feet each year.

The tree gets its name from the yellow-green tulip-shaped flowers that it produces each in late spring. The flowers are about 11/2 to 2 inches in diameter and feature a splash of orange at the base.

If you are a wildlife lover, you will be glad to know that these beautiful flowers bring life to the garden. They provide valuable nectar to ruby-throated hummingbirds who breed in Wisconsin while the tree blooms.

Tulip tree seeds mature in the summer and stay on the tree until winter. These seeds provide food for a host of birds and small mammals.

The large bright green leaves grow on aromatic stems. In the fall, the leaves turn to a vibrant golden-yellow shade.

Tulip trees like full sun. It grows well in acidic, clay, loamy, moist, sandy, and well-drained soils. Also, the tree prefers regular moisture. But it will tolerate drought in Wisconsin because the state has a more humid climate.

Other Common Names: American tulip tree, Tuliptree, Tulip poplar, Whitewood, Fiddletree, Yellow-poplar

Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 90 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet

Flowering Season: Late spring

15. White Pine (Pinus strobus)

White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

This rapid-growing pine tree is native to Wisconsin. Growing at more than 2 feet each year, it makes a fantastic evergreen screen or windbreak. White pine is an excellent nursery purchase because it is easy to transplant. 

White pine boasts long, soft, flexible, slender, blue-green needles. Sometimes they reach 5 inches in length and grow in bundles of 5. 

White pine can tolerate acidic, dry, moist, and well-drained soil. Compared to other pine trees, it seems to strive in moist soil. But it will tolerate any environment, from dry, rocky ridges to bogs. 

Be careful if you have beavers, hares, porcupines, rabbits, or mice in your area. They love to eat white pine bark, which can cause some damage to the tree. 

Other Common Names: Eastern white pine, Northern white pine, Weymouth pine, Soft pine

Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 feet tall and 20 – 40 feet wide

The Diversity of Fast Growing Trees for the Wisconsin Landscape

For prospective landscapers, waiting for a tree to grow can seem daunting. But it does not need to be. The hack you need is a fast-growing tree. 

Silver maple and eastern cottonwood are among the fastest growing trees in North America on the above list. Most of the trees on this list are excellent shade trees, such as northern red oak and American sycamore. But others are ornamental and produce impressive flowers – sweetbay magnolia and northern catalpa

Of course, before you plant a tree in a spot, you need to think about sun exposure and soil type. If you are not careful about these things, even the fastest-growing trees will not live up to their reputation for speed. 

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