Fast Growing Trees for Your Backyard

Spruce up the landscaping in your backyard with our top 10 recommendations for fast growing trees.

River birch
Birches are appreciated for their papery, peeling layers of bark and river birch is no exception. Distinctive curling, blackish bark exfoliates to reveal varied shades of orange, gray, and lavender, depending on the cultivar.

  • Common Names: River birch.
  • Botanical Name: Betula nigra.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Early spring.
  • Size: 40 to 70 feet tall, 40 to 60 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Rhombic to oval; green, turning yellow in fall.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to part shade.
  • Growing Advice: Prefers moist, acidic soil; will tolerate temporary flooding and drier conditions.
  • Prize Picks: Heritage tolerates heat and resists the bronze birch borer. It sports larger, glossier leaves.

Crape myrtle
Crepe paper and crape myrtles have more in common than their pronunciations. Crape myrtle blooms not only resemble the delicate craft paper, but they come in almost as many colors, with flowers that can be shades of pink, red, white, or purple. Crape myrtles are year-round beauties in the South, where they thrive in the warm climate and bloom from July to September. But the show isn’t over when summer ends. Fall brings a kaleidoscope of leaf colors, with reds, oranges and yellows mingling on the same tree. In winter, the smooth peeling bark adds a subtle charm to the landscape.

  • Common Names: Crape myrtle.
  • Botanical Name: Lagerstroemia indica.
  • Hardiness: Zones 7 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Summer to autumn.
  • Size: 15 to 25 feet high, 6 to 15 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Elliptical; green, turning yellow, orange or red in fall.
  • Flowers: Upright clusters of pink, red, white or purple blooms.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Choose a spot in full sun, and place trees in a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. Remove first flush of flowers to encourage second bloom.
  • Prize Picks: Natchez is a large variety with huge white flowers; Catawba is smaller and sports deep-purple blooms; and Seminole is a compact tree that unfurls showy, bright-pink blossoms.

Dawn redwood
Dawn redwood is a fast-growing, deciduous conifer that even does well in waterlogged soils. The conical tree produces small, light brown cones and soft, needle-shaped green leaves that become orange-brown in fall.

  • Common Names: Dawn redwood.
  • Botanical Name: Metasequoia glyptostroboides.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 8 (occasionally Zone 4).
  • Bloom Time: insignificant flowers Size: 70 to 100 feet high, 25 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Needle-like; green, turning orange-brown in fall before dropping.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to light shade.
  • Growing Advice: Does best in moist soil; seldom needs pruning.

Empress tree
Don’t wait decades for the relaxing shade of a large flowering tree. One of the fastest growing trees, the Empress tree will shoot right up, soon dangling panicles of foxglove-like blooms even before foliating. You’ll delight in the rich scent and marvel at its vigor. Just be sure to check if empress tree is invasive in your area.

  • Common Names: Empress tree, foxglove tree, princess tree, royal paulownia.
  • Botanical Name: Paulownia tomentosa.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Midspring.
  • Size: 40 to 60 feet high and wide.
  • Flower: Lavender.
  • Light Needs: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Plant balled-and-burlapped trees in early spring. Shelter from cold, drying winds.

Leyland cypress
For a natural privacy fence, plant these pretty, fast growing trees all in a row. Each will grow very quickly (about 3 feet per year) to look very similar to the others thanks to its compact, symmetrical cone shape. Just be prepared to prune heavily, as this is an especially eager conifer.

  • Common Names: Leyland cypress.
  • Botanical Name: Cupressocyparis leylandii.
  • Hardiness: Zones 6 to 10.
  • Bloom Time: Grown for its foliage.
  • Size: Grows up to 120 feet high and 15 feet wide, depending on variety.
  • Foliage: Evergreen; flattened scale-like foliage.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Best when grown in full sun. Transplants well from a container.
  • Prize Picks: Naylor’s Blue produces pretty blue-green foliage.

Lombardy poplar
Lombardy poplar grows fast, its parallel to its trunk as if reaching to the sky. And since all good things turn to gold, you can expect similarly brilliant foliage from this showpiece in fall. The only downside to this tree is its often short-lived nature.

  • Common Names: Lombardy poplar.
  • Botanical Name: Populus nigra Italica.
  • Hardiness: Zones 3 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Early to midspring.
  • Size: Up to 100 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
  • Flower: Red or green catkins.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: For row plantings, space 8 feet apart.

Sweet gum

Fastest Growing Trees - Sweet gum

RDAGID Sweet gum

Sweet gum is a fast-growing, conical shade tree with glossy green lobed foliage. Leaves turn in fall, producing spectacular fall color. Yellow-green flowers blooming in spring are inconspicuous, but watch for the abundance of spiky, spherical fruit clusters that follow.

  • Common Names: Sweet gum.
  • Botanical Name: Liquidambar styraciflua.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Late spring.
  • Size: 60 to 75 feet high, 40 to 45 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Star-shaped; green, turning yellow-purple-red in fall.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Plant in beds so the messy fruit creates less of a nuisance. Prefers moist soil.
  • Prize Picks: For a narrower variant with a wider range of fall color, try Festival. Not much space? Plant Gumball, a rounded, dense shrub.

Tulip tree

Fastest Growing Trees - Tulip Tree

Bailey Nurseries Tulip Tree

Though hard to see from a distance, the tulip tree’s unique early-summer flowers will definitely dress up your backyard. The wax-like cup-shaped blooms have six greenish-yellow petals with orange bases. But be patient – for most varieties, flowers won’t appear until the tree is 10 to 12 years old. The name comes from the distinctive shape of the leaves.

  • Common Names: Tulip tree, yellow or white poplar, whitewood, tulip poplar and canoewood.
  • Botanical Name: Liriodendron tulipifera.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9.
  • Bloom Time: Early summer.
  • Size: 70 to 90 feet high, 35 to 50 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Flat-topped, lobed; green, turning golden yellow in fall.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Prefers moist soil; proper water reduces scorch and leaf yellowing.
  • Prize Picks: Aureo-marginatum’s leaves shine with broad, golden yellow margins. Fastigiatum is narrower (25 feet) with upright branches.

Willow

Fastest Growing Trees - Sweet gumst Growing Trees - Willow

Bailey Nurseries Willow

The classic beauty of the weeping willow is well-established as is the popularity of the fuzzy catkins of the pussy willow. But don’t stop there. With more than 300 species, this fast-growing tree could produce a forest of distinctive beauties – or at least, one spectacular specimen.

  • Common Names: Willow.
  • Botanical Name: Salix.
  • Hardiness: Zones 2 to 9, depending on cultivar.
  • Bloom Time: Spring.
  • Size: Varies greatly; Up to 80 feet high and 45 feet wide.
  • Flower: Small catkins.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Aside from weeping varieties, avoid planting near water to control growth. However, be sure your willow tree has sufficient moisture.
  • Prize Picks: With its twisted branches, the curly or corkscrew willow (Salix babylonica var. pekinensis) makes a great winter ornamental. The weeping willow (Salix x sepulcralis) looks great on the water’s edge.

Japanese zelkova
Although often confused with elms, Japanese zelkova are in a league of their own and are one of the fastest growing trees. Often vase-shaped, this tree produces elliptical dark green leaves in the spring which turn yellow, orange or red in fall. Works well in many areas due to its tolerance for drought as well as a variety of soil conditions. Mature gray bark exfoliates to reveal vibrant orange.

  • Common Names: Japanese zelkova
  • Botanical Name: Zelkova serrata.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 8 (occasionally Zone 4).
  • Bloom Time: Spring.
  • Size: 50 to 80 feet high, 40 to 50 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Elm-like; yellow-orange-brown to deep red in fall.
  • Light Needs: Full to part sun.
  • Growing Advice: Best planted in spring and pruned in fall when dormant.
  • Prize Picks: Green Vase’s shape is true to form with fast-growing, upward arching branches whose leaves turn orange-brown to bronze-red in fall. Village Green is also fast-growing with warm fall color, also resistant to Dutch elm disease.
  1. says

    River Birch is a beautiful tree, but when it’s close to your house they continually drop leaves and small dead limbs. We had several we had to cut down because they were so messy! We left the ones away from the house though.

    We planted the Empress trees down a long fence line and they do grow quickly! The spring flowers are amazingly fragrant. The only drawback is that their limbs break in high windstorms. The tree isn’t harmed by it though! Love them!

  2. WG says

    Be aware that princess tree/ empress tree/paulownia is highly invasive and is threatening to overtake native forest species in many areas. It is definitely beautiful, but it is not good for the ecosystem.

  3. Teresa says

    Of all the trees listed here, I’ve only had experience with willows – my parents had planted them as part of a windbreak on our homestead in southern Idaho where we get A LOT of wind. Every time the wind blew, not just in the fall, there were always willow branches and leaves all over the lawn, and even a breeze would cause some downfall. Such a pain to get them raked up because the leaves are so small. The only thing that saved my mom’s sanity was a lawn sweeper (and moving off the farm)!

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