19 Fastest Growing Shade Trees For Large Yards

Live oaks and spanish moss

We often think of sunlight as being the main requirement for trees to grow quickly. However, there are actually a lot of trees that can grow pretty fast in shady spots! If you have a large, shady yard, there are still plenty of trees you can plant that will grow tall fast.

There are several shade tree varieties that grow fast in large yards. Varieties such as weeping willow, oak, elm, birch, maple, northern catalpa, sweetbay magnolia, Chinese hazelnut, quaking aspen, honey locust, and tulip poplar are some of the fastest growing shade trees for large yards.

We’re going to give you all of the details you need in order to help you grow any of these trees in your shady yard. We will also give you a few pointers on how to make sure your new tree gets a healthy start in life. Let’s get started with some information about what type of light requirements trees need to succeed!

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Light Requirement – What Does That Mean?

You often see plants with descriptions of light requirements such as “full sun” or “partial shade” but what exactly do those terms mean? Let’s find out before we dive into the fastest-growing trees for your shady yard.

There are four common light requirement designations used for plants; full sun, partial sun, partial shade, and deep shade. Here’s what each one means: 

  • Full sun: 6 or more hours of full, direct sunlight per day. Trees requiring this much light should be avoided in your shady yard.
  • Partial sun/partial shade: These terms are often used interchangeably and mean a plant needs 2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Most of the trees we discuss below require partial shade and will work great in your shady yard (and still grow fast).
  • Deep shade: 2 or fewer hours of direct sunlight per day. A tree with this type of light requirement is best for the shadiest yards. 

If you aren’t sure how much sunlight an area of your yard gets, this Suncalc Sunlight Calculator is a great tool. It tracks how much sunlight a spot gets over a 12-hour period and is super easy to use.

Now that you understand a little more about the light requirement terms, let’s dive into the 19 fastest-growing shade trees you can use in your yard!

Oak Trees Make Excellent Shade

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Live oak trees with Spanish moss.

There are many oak trees that can handle some shade, but only a few will grow fast in shady spots. Three fantastic oak trees you can grow in your shady yard are: Live Oak, Southern Red Oak, and White Oak.

Live Oak

The Live oak is one of the most unique oak trees you can grow. It forms long twisting branches that can dip down low, almost touching the ground. 

Live Oaks can also support the growth of Spanish moss in some areas which can add another layer of visual appeal to your yard.

Southern Red Oak

The Southern Red Oak can be a great option if you don’t have enough space for the other larger oak species in your yard. 

Its foliage turns a lovely red color in fall, adding to the beauty of this tree.

White Oak

The white oak can be grown further north than the other two oak species we mentioned. It sports a characteristic white, flaky bark that’s unlike other oak species. 

Oak tree acorns also provide a great wildlife food source to squirrels, deer, and many other animals. If you enjoy seeing wildlife in your yard, these trees are sure to draw some in for you. 

The table below will help you determine which of these three oaks will grow best in your yard. 

Also, if you’re thinking about growing an oak tree, check out our guide to learn how to grow an oak tree and where to buy for some great tips!

NameHardiness ZoneLight RequirementSoil PreferenceMature Size (feet)
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)7B to 10BFull sun to partial shadeWell-drained Height: 60 to 80
Width: 60 to 120
Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)7A to 9BFull sun to partial shadeAcidic <6.0 pHHeight: 30 to 60
Width: 20 to 50
White Oak (Quercus alba)3B to 8BFull sun to partial shadeAcidic well-drained Height: 60 to 100
Width: 50 to 80

Elms Make Great Fast-Growing Shade Trees

American elm tree.
American elm tree.

The Lacebark, American, and Winged Elm will grow great in you shady yard! These trees also have some uncommon features which will set them apart from other trees in your yard. 

Lacebark Elm

The Lacebark Elm is a beautiful tree with unusual bark. The bark is a light grey with orange mottling resembling a lace pattern (hence the name lacebark). 

This species is also the most insect-resistant species of elm in North America. 

American Elm 

The American Elm is the largest of the shade-tolerant elm species. 

If your looking to fill a bigger spot in your yard with an elm tree, this species is a great option. 

Winged Elm

The Winged Elm gets its common name from the corky ‘wings’ that develop on the branches. 

The ultimate size this tree grows to is highly reliant on proper watering and fertilization. If you want your winged elm to get nice and big, make sure it gets adequate water and nutrients.

The table below will help you decide which elm tree species will work best in your yard.

NameHardiness ZoneLight RequirementSoil PreferenceMature Size (feet)
Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)5B to 10AFull sun to partial shadeWell-drained Height: 40 to 50
Width: 35 to 50
American Elm (Ulmus americana)2A to 9BFull sun to partial shadeWet to well-drainedHeight: 70 to 90
Width: 50 to 70
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)6A to 9BFull sun to partial shadeWet to well-drainedHeight: 45 to 70
Width: 30 to 40

Birch Trees Can Surprisingly Last In The Shade

Paper birch. White trunks of silver or paper birch tree forest in brilliant fall colors.
Paper birch trees.

Birch trees can add some unique interest to your yard. Some species can either grow as single or multi-stemmed trees.

While some birch tree species can’t tolerate the shade, there are a few which can do well with limited sunlight. 

The most shade tolerant species is the sweet birch which North Carolina State University says can tolerate having less than 2 hours of sunlight per day.

However, some birch trees that are shade tolerant don’t grow particularly fast.

Now, keep in mind that birch trees by themselves aren’t fantastic shade trees. But if you plant a few to highlight the landscape of your large yard, they’ll provide enough shade to supplement a larger tree.

River Birch

The mature bark of the river birch begins to curl and peel adding to its visual appeal. It is also the fastest growing of the shade tolerant birch trees, adding as much as 24 inches of height each year.

River birch is one of the most common birch trees you’ll recognize!

Paper Birch And Sweet Birch 

The paper birch and sweet birch are moderately fast-growing species, adding 1 to 2 feet of height each year. In fall the leaves of birch trees turn a beautiful golden color. Paper birch trees are also extremely messy when they shed bark – so just keep that in mind.

See the table below to find out if your yard has the requirements needed to grow these wonderful, shade-tolerant birch trees!

NameHardiness ZoneLight RequirementSoil PreferenceMature Size (feet)
River Birch (Betula nigra)4A to 9AFull sun to partial shadeWet to well-drainedHeight: 40 to 50
Width: 25 to 35
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)3A to 6BFull sun to partial shadePrefers moist to wet sitesHeight: 40 to 60
Width: 20 to 35
Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)3A to 8AFull sun to deep shadeBest in well-drained loamsHeight: 60 to 70
Width: 35 to 45

Some Maples Make Great Shade Trees 

Boxelder maple tree providing shade
Boxelder maple tree.

While maples grow great in full sun, there are also a few species that will grow just as well in a shady yard. The Red, Silver and Boxelder Maples are going to be the fastest-growing maples you can plant in the shade. 

Red Maple 

Red Maples are one of the most commonly planted maple trees in front yards and, according to the University of Florida, are preferred over silver maples and boxelders.

They are one of the first trees to change color in the fall. Their fall color can be a stunning bright red that will add some fantastic color to your yard!

Red maple trees are also one of the best maples to plant as well!

Silver Maple

Unlike the red maple, the silver maple’s leaves turn gold to yellow color in fall which is quite attractive. Their bark is a dark to light silver color and becomes shaggy or flaky as the tree matures. This can add some interesting texture to your yard’s landscape. 

Silver maple trees also produce a TON of helicopter seeds.

Boxelder

Boxelders are a particularly interesting species in the maple family. Their leaves are actually palmate with 3 to 5 leaflets on each leaf. When leaves only have 3 leaflets, they strongly resemble the leaves of poison ivy. 

Boxelder is a great tree to consider if you don’t have well-drained soil in your yard. 

Before planting one of these trees, use the table below to make sure your yard provides the basic requirements needed for successfully growing these trees. 

NameHardiness ZoneLight RequirementSoil PreferenceMature Size (feet)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)2B to 9AFull sun to partial shadeAcidic <6.0 pH to neutral 6.0 to 8.0 pHHeight: 40 to 120 Width: 30 to 50
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)3A to 9AFull sun to partial shadeDoes well in most soilsHeight: 50 to 80Width: 40 to 60
Boxelder (Acer negundo)3A to 8BFull sun to partial shadeWell-drained to extended floodingHeight: 30 to 50Width: 30 to 50

If you’re interested, take a look at our guide on how long it takes a maple tree to grow for a full breakdown of the timeline!

Weeping Willow Trees Can Tolerate Some Shade

A Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica) can add some great visual interest to your yard with its long, sweeping branches blowing in the wind.

If you want some fall interest in your yard, weeping willows will turn a lovely shade of orange to yellow. They are also one of the first trees to start putting on leaves in the spring.

Weeping Willows can tolerate partial shade but needs at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. They also grow fast, adding more than 24 inches of height each year and reaching 40 feet tall.

If you’re confused on the what a weeping willow is vs. a regular willow, take a peak at our guide on the differences between willows here!

Weeping Willows can be grown in a variety of soil types and have some drought tolerance. These trees do best in hardiness zones 6-8. if you’re not sure what the hardiness zone is – we’ll tell you how to find it!

How To Find Your Hardiness Zone 

If you’re not sure what hardiness zone you live in, the United States Department of Agriculture has a wonderful interactive hardiness zone map.

You can simply enter your zip code and it will show you exactly which zone you live in.

Just bookmark that page for after you read the rest of our list!

Northern Catalpa Trees Can Grow Quickly In The Shade

Northern catalpa (catalpa speciosa. )
Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa.)

The Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) has a fast growth rate and can tolerate partial shade. These trees can grow up to 2 feet per year and reach heights of up to 60 feet. 

These trees provide visual interest throughout the year, having large leaves, showy flowers, and interesting fruits. The leaves of this tree can be 5 to 12 inches long and turn a yellow color in fall. 

Northern catalpa grows best in hardiness zones 5A through 9A. Soils should be well-drained to occasionally wet. 

The Norther Catalpa’s Flowers

The flowers, which appear in late spring, are quite showy. Flowers are white, bell-shaped, and emerge in clusters on a panicle as long as 12 inches. 

Flowers give way to a long, string bean-looking brown pod that can be up to 20 inches long. They attract mammals such as squirrels which will eat the fruit.  

Northern catalpa trees can be the perfect choice for a fast-growing tree in a shady yard!

Sweetbay Magnolia Trees Like The Shade

Sweetbay magnolia tree
Sweetbay magnolia tree.

The Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana) is another great, fast-growing option to plant in your yard. This tree is an evergreen and will hold on to its leaves in most places. It is recommended for hardiness zones 5A through 10A. 

The leaves of the Sweetbay Magnolia have a dark green upper surface and whitish-green underside. This can create an almost shimmering effect on the tree when the wind is blowing and the leaves are moving. 

The Sweetbay Magnolia’s Flowers

The Sweetbay Magnolia also produces large, white flowers from June to September which can be absolutely stunning. The flowers give way to bright red berries adding more color to your landscape. Many wildlife species will also feed on the berries. 

This tree can tolerate most soil types except for basic soils with a pH greater than 8.0. It can also tolerate moist soils well. Your Sweetbay Magnolia should get partial to full sunlight. 

If you’re looking for an evergreen tree, that still provides some color with its flowers and fruits, the Sweetbay Magnolia is a great option!

FYI, sweetbay magnolias are also EXCELLENT shade trees for small yards as well!

Chinese Hazelnut Is A Great Tree For Shady Spots

The Chinese hazelnut (Corylus Fargesii), unlike the American hazelnut, is a tree rather than a shrub. It’s the only tree on our list that will provide you with a tasty treat once it starts producing its hazelnuts. It can grow well in partial shade to full sun. 

This tree grows best in hardiness zones 5b to 8a. It does well in most soil types but does best in well-drained soils. The Chinese hazelnut is also resistant to the Eastern Filbert blight fungus which impacts the American hazelnut. 

The Bark Of A Chinese Hazelnut Is Quite Interesting

The bark is one of the Chinese hazelnut’s most interesting features. It is light gray and begins to peel as the tree matures revealing a beautiful coppered color bark underneath. 

The nuts become ripe and ready to eat during late summer but will be stolen by wildlife if you don’t collect them quickly. 

If you want a fast-growing tree for your shady yard that also produces an edible nut, this is the perfect tree for you!

Quaking Aspens Like Some Shade

Quaking aspens against sunlit snow.
Quaking aspens against sunlit snow.

While quaking aspens (Populus Tremuloides) do grow best in full sun, they can also tolerate partial shade. According to Utah State University, these are short-lived trees that only live for 5 to 15 years when planted outside of their native range. 

Make sure you only plant Quaking Aspens in hardiness zones 1A to 6A so your tree will have a longer life span. 

This tree is tolerant of most soil types including rockier soils at higher elevations. It can also handle moisture well. Quaking aspens will grow up to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide.

Quaking Aspen’s Leaves Are Flat 

Quaking aspen gets its name from its leaves which have flattened petioles. These petioles catch wind easier than the typical rounded petioles, making the leaves of the quaking aspen move or ‘quake’ with even the slightest breeze. 

The leaves turn a beautiful bright yellow in fall adding color to your landscape. If you live in the correct area of North America, quaking aspens can be a wonderful tree to consider for your shady yard. 

If you’re wondering about the differences between aspen and quaking aspen trees, take a look at our piece on the main difference between those aspen trees here!

Honey Locust Trees Can Tolerate Some Shade

Honey locust tree
Honey locust tree.

The honey locust (Gleditsia Triacanthos) grows rapidly in partial shade settings. This tree grows well in all sorts of soil types with various moisture levels. It grows best in hardiness zones 3A to 8B. 

Honey locusts have 3-inch long thorns on the stems that can be singular or in groups of three.

This helps to keep deer from browsing on the leaves. The leaves are pinnately or bipinnately compound with dozens of little leaflets per leaf which can be up to 8 inches long. 

If you’re worried about the thorns, you can find thornless varieties like ‘Sunburst’. Honey locust grows to be 60 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 80 feet wide. The honey locust grows more than 2 feet per year and might be the perfect tree for your yard!

Tulip Poplars Tend To Provide Some Shade In Large Yards

Tulip poplar tree blooming.
Tulip poplar tree blooming.

Tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) are one of the first trees to put on flowers in the spring in March. When the flowers begin to fall off, they are an important food source for deer.

It is a fast-growing tree, and one of the tallest on our list that will reach heights of up to 130 feet – 200 feet. You can read our guide on the full timeline of a tulip tree here but typically they live 200-250 years!

This tree prefers moist soils that are well-drained and is adaptable to various soil pH levels. It grows best in hardiness zones 4A to 9A. It can tolerate partial to full sunlight. 

Tulip poplars have large leaves, >6 inches, with four distinctive lobes. The leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow in the fall. 

Best Time To Plant These Fast-Growing Shade Trees 

The best time to plant your new tree is going to be in the early spring or fall. Planting during these times will help your tree avoid the harshest weather of the year.

Transplanting stresses trees and you don’t want environmental factors putting even more stress on your new small tree. 

Planting in spring or fall helps you avoid the harsh cold of winter and the stifling heat of summer while your new tree establishes roots. It also eliminates the threat of droughts that tend to happen during the summer months. 

Make Sure You Properly Fertilize And Water Your New Tree 

The first few years of your new tree’s life are critical to set it up for a long, happy life. You’ll want to make sure you properly fertilize it and water it while the roots are getting established during the first 1-3 years. 

Most nurseries, where you buy your new tree, should be able to tell you how much and how often to fertilize and water. Make sure you follow the instructions they give you exactly. Any damage you cause to your new tree could set it up for ongoing issues as it matures. 

A complete 10-10-10 fertilizer works great for most new trees. We recommend this All Purpose Granular Fertilizer which is easy to apply and can be used on other plants in your yard as well. 

That’s A Wrap!

Now you know which fast-growing trees you can add to your yard even if you don’t have a ton of sunlight! 

There are all kinds of options to suit whatever hardiness zone you live in, the amount of sunlight you have, and your soil type. 

  • Some trees get bigger than others so you can pick the tree that fits your space. You can also consider some of the more aesthetically pleasing characteristics you want like fall leaf color and bark characteristics.
  • Don’t forget to plant your new tree at the right time, fertilize it, and water it to get it started on the right foot in your yard.
  • No matter which tree you choose, we’re sure you’ll be happy with how quickly these trees grow in your shady yard!

If you’re interested in what trees NOT to plant in your beautiful large yard, take a peak at our guide on the messiest yard trees!

References

Bey, C.F., 1990. Ulmus americana L. American elm. Silvics of North America, 2, pp.801-807.

Holmgren, M., 2000. Combined effects of shade and drought on tulip poplar seedlings: trade‐off in tolerance or facilitation?. Oikos, 90(1), pp.67-78.

Lei, T.T. and Lechowicz, M.J., 1990. Shade adaptation and shade tolerance in saplings of three Acer species from eastern North America. Oecologia, 84(2), pp.224-228.

Lorimer, C.G., 1983. A test of the accuracy of shade-tolerance classifications based on physiognomic and reproductive traits. Canadian Journal of Botany, 61(6), pp.1595-1598.

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