It’s no secret that greenery helps improve your quality of life.
Having a park, community garden, woodland or forest nearby is a luxury like no other. But for those without this luxury, planting your garden is the next best way to reap the benefits of green spaces.
A garden also has the benefit of providing your own safe and private sanctuary.
Many homeowners are after this feeling of being able to retreat to their gardens, and fast-growing trees are seen by many as the quickest and easiest way to do this.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the fastest-growing trees suitable for the diverse range of climates there are in PA.
12 Excellent Fast Growing Trees In PA
1. Goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
The golden rain tree is a flamboyant tree, grown for its loose panicle of golden flowers in the early summer. It provides fall interest too. Whilst the golden rain tree will tolerate a wide variety of conditions, it’ll flower best in full sun. It’s a good choice for a specimen tree for small yards.
The foliage is emerald green that turns a pleasing shade of burgundy in the spring. The ‘golden,’ flowers appear above the foliage in the early summer. The compound pinnate leaves also turn a shade of gold in the fall. The bark adds visual appeal to the landscape with its silver, furrowed appearance.
The golden rain tree is dense and deciduous with a more or less rounded crown. It has a low canopy, with an average clearance of 5 ft above the ground.
It thrives in both dry and moist landscapes, is also a good choice for xeriscaping and is not particular about soil ph, and tolerates high levels of pollution. All of this makes it a good choice for urban and inner-city landscaping.
The golden rain tree is such a beautiful flowering tree that is considered to have a moderate to high growth rate and can be expected to live up to 60 years in ideal conditions.
Other Common Names: Pride of India, Varnish Tree
Growing Zones: 5-9
Average Size at Maturity: 30-40ft tall and 30-35 ft wide
Flowering Season: Early June – July
2. Hybrid Poplar (Populus spp.)
Poplar trees are a favorite for homeowners across the country, due to the speed of their growth, their tolerance of a variety of different conditions, their beauty, and the shade they can offer. Hybrid poplars are amongst the fastest-growing trees in North America.
There are 35 species of poplar, and as they cross-pollinate, there are an almost infinite number of hybrids out there. Poplars are good choices for people trying to grow a shade tree or a living screen quickly; they can grow 5-8 feet a year until reaching a height of 50 ft.
Poplar varieties differ in height and breadth, but can often be recognized by their heart-shaped leaves rimmed with little teeth. The leaves are a shining green in the summer and take on a golden/orange hue in the fall.
Poplar trees need fertile, neutral, or acidic soil as well as access to plenty of water to keep their roots moist and grow well. Poplars are a good choice for backyard planting, as a specimen tree or grouped as a windbreak.
However, be aware, poplar roots can be aggressive and shouldn’t be planted close to your house as they are known to lift sidewalks and disrupt sewer pipes.
Poplars are susceptible to lethal fungal leaf spots, and canker rot. Poplars also root incredibly easily. Keep this in mind and think carefully before planting poplars in your yard.
Other Common Names: Balsam poplars, bigleaf poplars, Mexican poplars, subtropical poplars, necklace poplars.
Growing Zones: 3-9
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 20-35 ft wide
Flowering Season: N/a
3. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
There are many types of willow trees and the weeping willow is easily spotted on the landscape due to its pendulous branches that often reach the ground if left unpruned. The leaves are light green above and dark green/grey beneath. The weeping willow is a fast-growing tree that can grow up to 24” a year. They prefer full sun to partial shade.
The weeping willow grows well near water but does have some drought tolerance. They can grow in acidic, alkaline, moist, rich, sandy, and loamy well-drained soil. They provide browse food for rabbits, beavers, and bigger game such as deer, as well nesting for various birds and mammals.
Other Common Names: Babylon weeping willow
Growing Zones: 6-8
Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall, and 30-35ft wide
Flowering Season: Yellow flowers on short catkins in April and May
4. Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii)
The Leyland cypress is an extremely widespread tree, due to its rapid growth, and slender shape. It’s tolerant to a wide variety of soils and climates and is a popular windbreak due to its density and evergreen leaves.
It has a fast growth rate and can grow up to 24” a year. Leyland cypresses prefer full sun, meaning exposure to at least 6 hours of direct unfiltered sunlight per day. They feature dark green to bluish scale-like needles, that are pointed at the tips, yet soft to the touch.
The Leyland cypress will grow in moist, rich, sandy, loamy, clay, and well-drained clay soils. They produce small globular cones with a diameter of ½ to ¾ of an inch composed of eight scales.
Groups of Leyland cypresses are popular for boundaries and hedges and will require annual pruning for this. Left unpruned, they obtain a rounded, pyramidal shape. It’s also noted for its extreme tolerance to salt, growing where many other species won’t survive.
Other Common Names: Leyland cypress
Growing Zones: 6-10
Average Size at Maturity: 60-70 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide
Flowering Season: Non-flowering
5. Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
The mountain ash is a medium to fast-growing deciduous tree with an oval crown that is suitable as an accent tree.
It has ornamental clusters of white flowers in the spring atop the branches in mid-spring, followed by an abundance of fruit, from early fall to late winter. The compound leaves have a silver underside and turn a fire-red in the fall.
Mountain ash requires well-drained soil and is suitable for smaller yards. The bark has a smooth appearance and a pleasing olive-like appearance, that adds extra intrigue to the landscape.
It requires little in the way of pruning, making it easy to care for, although it does tolerate pruning well, should you wish to do so.
The mountain ash is also a good choice for anyone wanting to attract birds to their yard. It has a low canopy; typically about 4 feet above the ground. It should be grown in full sun and does well in both moist and dry conditions, making it a good choice for many home gardeners.
It doesn’t require any specific ph level, does well with pollution, and even thrives in inner cities. Mountain ash produces edible berries, that can be enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.
Other Common Names: Rowan tree, Rowan, European Mountain Ash, European Rowan
Growing Zones: 3-6
Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide
Flowering Season: White flowers in late spring to early summer on old wood
6. American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) – Shade and Flowering Tree
The American yellowwood is native from Southeastern Illinois to Oklahoma and Mississippi, east to North Carolina. Even in its native range, it’s very uncommon; it can usually be found on well-drained limestone rocks close to river valleys and slopes close to streams.
The yellowwood has a broad and branching crown, that typically begins about 6ft above the ground, making it suitable for smaller yards. Its upright branching habit makes it susceptible to breaking if subject to heavy loads of snow or ice.
The Yellowwood stands out in the garden landscape, due to its bright green, alternately pinnate compound leaves that contrast to many other species commonly planted in PA. The white, pea-sized flowers are fragrant and can be expected in alternate years or perhaps every third year. The flowers then become flattened brown pods.
The yellowwood tree provides interest throughout the four seasons characteristic of PA, as the smooth light grey bark is attractive in winter, much like beech trees. It can be planted as a specimen tree, in groups in larger yards, or as a lawn tree.
Other Common Names: Yellowwood, Kentucky Yellowwood
Growing Zones: 4-9
Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 40-50ft wide
Flowering Season: White, pea-like flowers in early spring
7. Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos formerly inermis) – Shade Tree
The thornless honeylocust is a fast-growing tree with fragrant flowers in the spring. It’s native from Pennsylvania to Nebraska, and south to Texas. It’s capable of growth upwards of 24” a year.
It’s also suitable as a shade tree (dappled shade) as it has a spreading canopy. It prefers to grow in full sun, meaning upwards of 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight a day.
The species derives its name from the sweet, honey-like substance found in its pods. The thornless honeylocust is an easy species to grow and provides visual interest in the fall because of the yellow hue of the leaves.
The small, fragrant greenish/yellow blossom are arranged around a spike-like stalk provide a good source of food for bees.
The seedpods and seeds are consumed by livestock and wildlife such as rabbits, deer, and squirrels, as well as northern bobwhite. The pods can reach up to 18” long. The thornless honeylocust tolerates both wet and dry sites, compacted soil, salt, and pollution, making it suitable for the stresses of urban life.
It has a round/oval crown and can be used to stabilize soil and minimize erosion in rocky areas.
Other Common Names: Trembling Aspen, golden aspen, mountain aspen, poplar, popple
Growing Zones: 3-9
Average Size at Maturity: 30-70 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide
Flowering Season: Late spring
8. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
A truly remarkable tree, the quaking aspen is a deciduous tree native to the cooler parts of North America. It has the widest range of any tree in North America, spanning 47 degrees of latitude and 110 degrees of longitude (9 time zones) with elevations ranging from sea level right up to the timberline.
Quaking aspens reproduce by sending suckers up from the roots. This can be hazardous as they can spread rampantly if you’re not careful. It’s not the right tree for all situations, so be aware before you plant one.
What’s thought to be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet is a group of cloned quaking aspen in Utah called Pando (Latin for I spread) and is thought to be 80,000 years old!
It’s a fast-growing species, capable of growth upwards of 24” a year. It provides fall interest with the yellow color of the leaves, as well as adding a sense of movement to the landscape, with the ‘quaking,’ leaves when the wind blows.
Other Common Names: Trembling aspen, golden aspen, popple, mountain aspen
Growing Zones: 3-9
Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide
Flowering Season: Long, silvery catkins usually in April and May
9. Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) – Shade tree
The empress tree is one of the most impressive trees on the planet. In fact, according to Guinness World Records, the empress tree is the fastest growing tree in the world. It grows quickly and spreads rapidly which is why it’s considered invasive in some parts of the world.
The empress tree has giant heart-shaped leaves with up to five lobes that can measure up to 16 inches across, which is a size most often observed in tropical and not temperate species. Fragrant flowers appear in the early spring and are followed by small winged seeds that are dispersed by the wind and water.
Paulownia’s can reach 30 feet in height in three years with a spread of 20 ft. Whilst it is a hardy species, some twigs and branches are susceptible to damage if there are high hinds or ice. They can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions as well as salt and pollution.
They have a shallow root base, that spreads rapidly. If you have a sprinkler system you probably won’t want to plant a Paulownia. Also, avoid planting too close to buildings to avoid structural damage. The shade it produces is so dense that it will likely stifle out anything that tries to grow near it.
Some varieties of Paulownia are easier to control than others and are less invasive, but some areas don’t distinguish between them, so check before planting.
Other Common Names: Royal Paulownia, Foxglove Tree
Growing Zones: 5-8
Average Size at Maturity: 30-40ft tall and 30-40 ft wide
Flowering Season: Fragrant violet/lavender flowers before the leaves in the spring
10. Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
The paper birch is one of the best-known and most widely recognized trees of the New England landscape. It’s the symbol of the north country and is the state tree of New Hampshire, and has been useful to humans for time immemorial.
Planted for its stunning white bark that curls and peels off once aged, which people used to write messages on.
The paper birch will develop on oval shape when reaching maturity, and is considered a fast-growing species, capable of growing up to 24” a year. Fall brings striking shades of yellow. Green catkins appear in April or May.
The paper birch is extremely important for numerous different types of wildlife that both feed on, and take refuge in this tree.
Other Common Names: White Birch, Western Paper Birch, Silver Birch
Growing Zones: 2-7
Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 ft tall and up to 35 ft spread
Flowering Season: April – May
11. Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
The Pin Oak is one of the fastest-growing shade trees suitable for PA. With growth upwards of 24” a year, the pin oak tolerates wet soils and prefers full sun for optimal growth. Up to maturity the form of this tree is pyramidal, becoming more oval as it ages.
The peculiar branching pattern of this species sets it apart, especially during the winter months. The pin oak will develop a single trunk, from the bottom right to the tip. 5-7” long, yellowish-green catkins appear from April to May.
The leaves are a deep glossy green, and are 3-6” long with up to 5 lobes (sometimes 7-9.) Fall sees a spectacular show of scarlets and bronze.
The pin oak yields acorns that are almost round, ½” long with a cap made of small scales. It provides dense shade and is tolerant of many soil types apart from predominantly alkaline soils.
Other Common Names: water oak, swamp oak, swamp Spanish oak
Growing Zones: 4-8
Average Size at Maturity: 60-70 ft tall and 25-40 ft wide
Flowering Season: Green/yellow catkins from April to May
12. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
The Dawn Redwood is an ancient deciduous conifer that’s been around since the time of the dinosaurs. It has a pyramid shape when young that develops into a rounder crown upon maturity.
The feathery, bright green leaves turn a shade of orange/brown or reddish-brown in the fall. It’s a fast-growing tree that doesn’t mind being transplanted. It’s one of the fastest-growing trees available for PA.
The dawn redwood prefers full sun, deep and moist well-draining soils. It grows late in the season and early fall frosts can cause this tree damage. Avoid planting in low-lying areas (frost pockets) It’s tolerant of a wide variety of soil types; acidic, sandy, loamy, well-drained to clay, and wet soils. It can tolerate some flooding as well as some drought.
Whilst it doesn’t require much maintenance, the dawn redwood does best in larger spaces, so may not be suited for smaller yards. It provides sanctuary for a variety of birds, mammals, cover for deer, and is tolerant of pollution, making it possible to plant in urban environments.
Other Common Names: Dawn Redwood
Growing Zones: 5-8
Average Size at Maturity: 70-100 ft tall and up to 25 ft wide
Flowering Season: N/A
Pennsylvania offers a range of fast-growing species for you to choose from for your garden.
Whether you’re after rapid privacy, shade, to block out noise, pollution or to achieve a mature-looking garden quickly, there are many different species of trees you can choose from in PA to suit your tastes and the size of your space.
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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.