12 Fastest Growing Shade Trees For Small Yards

Beautiful cherry trees in full bloom with masses of pink flowers

Today we’re talking about the fastest growing shade trees for your small yard; whether you’re familiar with landscaping or not, we’ve got a list to transform your small, shady yard!

In truth, there are several shade tree varieties that grow the fastest. The saucer magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, flowering dogwood, American redbud, emerald green arborvitae, paper birch, river birch, red maple, sargent cherry, and hakuro nishiki are the fastest growing shade trees for small yards.

Read on to learn about shade trees for your yard that will grow fast, with our list of trees to make your shady backyard even more beautiful! Here are 12 fast-growing shade trees for small yards.

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Japanese Maple Tree, Acer palmatum

Japanese maple - acer palmatum

Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, are gorgeous trees that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. What’s great about these trees is that depending on the size of your yard, you can probably find one that will work for it!

Japanese maples thrive in a range of sunlight conditions. They prefer partial shade but can do well in full sun and partial sun! They also range anywhere from 2-30 feet tall and come in a variety of shapes. Whether you want a gorgeous large canopy tree, a smaller delicate tree, or something that has a classic look, Japanese maples seriously do it all. 

You will be in lust over their foliage, which ranges through dark red, deep burgundy, shades of green, burnt orange, white and pink!

Something to keep in mind when choosing a Japanese maple is that they do best in zones 5-8. They will suffer in zones less than 5 and higher than 8 due to more extreme temperatures.

Here are a few species of Japanese maple that would be good for small spaces:

  1. Emperor I: The name of this tree says it all. The deep burgundy and purple foliage will stun you in the fall; this grows up to 15 feet wide and tall and does well in partial to full sun.
  2. Autumn Moon Fullmoon: This species will captivate you in the fall with its burnt orange foliage. This tree grows up to 10 ft tall and wide and does well in partial shade to partial sun.
  3. Shaina: This is a dwarf species that has red and maroon foliage; this species grows up to 8 ft tall and wide and does well in partial shade to full sun.
  4. Crimson Queen: With their gorgeous dark crimson leaves, this dwarf, weeping species grows up to 10 feet tall and wide and does best in partial sun to full sun.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a live Japanese Red Maple Tree (already 1-2 feet tall) here.

Crape Myrtle Tree, Lagerstroemia

Golf cart in front of crepe myrtle tree

The crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia, is an incredibly beautiful tree that offers year-round interest. In the summer, the crape myrtle has elegant showy flowers ranging from shades of pink to purple. This tree does well in full sun, partial sun, and partial shade.

In the winter, it loses its foliage, which reveals its delicate and intricate velvet bark. Although these trees grow 20-40 feet tall, they have a decently small footprint. Once crape myrtles are established, they are pretty low maintenance and resilient. They are fairly drought and heat-tolerant and require pruning every so often for shaping. 

You’ll see these trees in the south and out west in the United States. If you live in zones 6-10, these are a great option to plant in your small shady space!

Better yet, these trees are quite cost effective and pack a lot for the punch! You can get a bundle of 4 Muskogee Crepe Myrtle Tree’s here.

Saucer Magnolia Tree, Magnolia x soulangeana

Spring background, blossoming magnolia x soulangeana tree.

If you’ve ever seen a magnolia tree in person, you’ll understand why I am obsessed with these trees! They are truly magnificent specimens. 

This magnolia is a smaller tree with saucer-shaped flowers that range from pink and white to dark pink and purple. Typically, certain magnolias grow anywhere between 60-70 feet tall. 

However, the saucer magnolia, magnolia x soulangeana, grows up to 25 feet tall and blooms mid-spring. This is a perfect addition to add to your small space since it is a fast grower and grows well in the sun or partial shade. 

The saucer magnolia does best in acidic and well-draining soil but can tolerate most soils. It also grows best in zones 5-9. It can also be shaped to be around, large shrub, or kept as a tree.

If you’d like to plant it, you can have a young saucer magnolia tree shipped in right to your house!

Sweetbay Magnolia Tree, Magnolia virginiana

Magnolia (magnolia virginiana) aka magnolia sweetbay tree

Another magnolia to add to your small, shady yard is the sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana.

This fast-growing magnolia will grow between 1-2 feet per year. This magnolia species grows between 10-35 feet tall and wide, making it perfect for small spaces.

The sweetbay magnolia is an easy tree to grow, requiring minimal maintenance. It grows well in full sun or part shade; however, more sun will result in more blooms.

This tree might be a great overall tree for your space! It can also tolerate wet, acidic soil but easily grows in loamy, moist, rich, sandy, clayey, and silty soils.

Take a look at this 3 pack of sweet bay magnolia trees – which can be shipped right to your yard!

Flowering Dogwood Tree, Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood (cornus florida) is a species of flowering plant in the family cornaceae native to eastern north america and northern mexico.

The flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is a gorgeous, small shade tree with reddish flowers. This dogwood species grows to 20-25 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide, making it a perfect addition to your yard. 

Once you see a dogwood tree flower, you may become obsessed!

The dogwood flowers are unlike most flower shapes that we’re familiar with. Dogwood bracts are beautiful, showy leaves that look like flowers! These are actually called bracts, and they surround tiny little yellow flowers that make up the center of the bract, or what we know as the ‘flower.’

The bract leaves look like flower petals and are usually pink; red, or white, and in this case red!

They have a gorgeous canopy and shape with delicate, lattice-like branches. This dogwood species can tolerate moist and well-draining soils but would prefer acidic soil.

If you’d like to plant a flowering dogwood tree in your yard, take a peak at Brighter Blooms White Dogwood Tree (same as flowering dogwood.)

American Redbud Tree, Cercis canadensis

Redbud tree in bloom

The American redbud or eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, is a tree that you soon won’t forget. The redbud is known for its heart-shaped leaves with dark pink and flowers that bloom in early spring.

This tree grows at a medium to fast rate, with 1-2 feet of growth per year. When mature, the American redbud is 20-30 feet tall and 25-35 feet wide. The redbud does well in all types of soil, from sandy to clay soils, ranging from alkaline to acidic. It also prefers partial shade to full sun, which is perfect for almost any space in your yard!

The gorgeous blooms on this tree draw butterflies and songbirds and provide nesting sites for a variety of birds.

The American redbud will provide you with beautiful heart-shaped foliage that changes in color from dark purple to yellow, stunning pink-purple flowers, and a beautiful and elegant shape, making this tree a stunning choice for year-round interest in your yard or outdoor space.

Emerald Green Arborvitae Tree, Thuja occidentalis (Smaragd)

Green hedge of thuja trees. Green hedge of the tui tree. Nature, background

The emerald green arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd,’ is an evergreen that offers year-round color and interest. They are low-maintenance plants and grow up to 10-15 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. This fast-growing tree grows 1-2 feet in the first few years and 6-9 inches per year after that. 

This arborvitae is great for all types of landscapes. It offers privacy with its dense foliage and grows well in full sun to partial shade. The emerald green arborvitae will easily adapt to a variety of soil conditions, temperatures, and lighting. 

This tree grows in a pyramid-like narrow shape and can be trimmed to your liking for shaping. The size and tolerance of this tree make it perfect for any space. This is not to be confused with the green giant arborvitae, which grows up to 50-60 feet tall and 12-20 feet wide!

You can grab ready to plant Thuja occidentalis Smaragd trees here.

Paper Birch Tree, Betula papyrifera

Birch tree trunk in the sun outdoors in summer closeup. Birch bark in natural environment in sunlight in the morning.

The paper birch, Betula papyrifera, also known as the American white birch and the canoe birch. It is similar to that of the river birch with its peeling bark. 

The delicate bark of the paper birch is beautiful and thin with elegant white color. It is found mostly in New England and grows between one to two feet per year. This spectacular tree grows in full sun and partial shade and stuns with its beautiful yellow foliage. This tree also grows in a range of soils from sandy to clayey and does best in zones 2-7.

River Birch Tree, Betula nigra

The river birch, Betula nigra, commonly known as a water birch, or black birch, is one of my favorite trees. It is a gorgeous birch with so much personality and interest year-round.

Unlike other birch trees, the river birch is the only birch tree found in the southern United States. The black birch is known for its gorgeous white-gray to brown-black, reddish peeling bark. 

The river birch is a fast-growing tree that spans a range of the eastern United States to the south to Florida and west over to Oklahoma and Texas. It is commonly found growing on the edges of rivers, hence its name. Ideally, the river birch would prefer wet, acidic soil, but it is also fairly drought tolerant.

They are known to grow anywhere between 30-60 feet tall and 20-50 feet wide, so even in a small space, they will still take a while to reach their mature height. 

This birch tree will add so much character to your yard and offer you year-round interest. It is not only gorgeous in the summertime, but it is also almost more gorgeous in winter and spring, without foliage, when the bark is showcased!

Red Maple Tree, Acer rubrum

A red maple tree in fall colors in backbone state park in iowa

The red maple Acer rubrum has a variety of names. It is also known as scarlet maple, Carolina red maple, and water maple. The red maple is commonly found throughout eastern North America and other cold climates found in Canada.

Although the red maple can reach a height of 60-90 feet, they have a lifespan of more than 150 years and don’t reach maturity for 70-80 years. So even if you have a small yard, you don’t have to worry about it reaching that height in 10 or even 20 years. 

The red maple is a shade-tolerant species with an extensive climatic tolerance, as well as a variety of soil conditions. It grows well on wet, swamp-like soils, as well as dry, mountainous soils. This species is not only found as north as Nova Scotia but also as far south as Florida. 

Sargent Cherry Tree, Prunus sargentii

Pink blossoms of sargent's cherry

The sargent cherry, Prunus sargentii, is a deciduous tree native to Russia to Japan, and Korea. This cherry tree has incredible, light pink flowers that grow in clusters in spring, in April.

This tree is wonderful for small shady yards due to its smaller size. It grows between 20-30 feet tall and wide. This tree is beautiful year-round, offering beautiful flowers in the spring, dark purple and green foliage in summer, bronze leaves in the fall, and fascinating bark throughout winter. 

These gorgeous trees grow well in zones 4-7, especially in acidic and well-draining soil. They are low maintenance and drought tolerant.

Hakuro Nishiki Tree, Salix integra (Dappled Willow)

Beautiful hakuro nishiki willow with pink flowers in garden

The Hakuro nishiki, Salix integra, is a beautiful, fast-growing willow bush and tree. This dappled willow is gorgeous throughout all seasons, with beautiful variegated leaves. 

It ranges from a lovely shade of pink, green, and white, with its color-changing throughout the year. When spring hits, leaves begin to turn a pink color, green in summer, and a white-cream color in the winter.

Depending on which zone you are in, the entire bark of the plant turns a fiery red. This generally occurs in areas that have warmer winters. The stems of new growth turn the beautiful red regardless of what climate you are in.

The Hakuro nishiki grows rapidly, anywhere from 15-20 feet tall and wide. It can grow in full sun to part shade and tolerates acidic, poor, and wet soils. It is also extremely cold tolerant.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to purchase a Hakuro nishiki for your yard.

That’s A Wrap!

That’s all we have on the fastest-growing shade trees for small spaces. In general, there are tons of species of trees that may or may not work for your yard, but these are just a few recommendations to turn your small space into a backyard oasis.

To recap, here are the 12 fast-growing shade trees for small spaces:

  • Japanese maple
  • Crape myrtle
  • Saucer magnolia
  • Sweetbay magnolia
  • Flowering dogwood
  • American redbud
  • Emerald green arborvitae
  • Paper birch
  • River birch
  • Red maple
  • Sargent cherry
  • Hakuro Nishiki

There you have it; these are just some of the fast-growing shade tree species that you can plant in your yard.

Whether it be an evergreen or a deciduous tree, whatever you choose, you can keep this list handy when you go to your local garden store.

References:

Hepting, George H. 1971. Diseases of forest and shade trees of the United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 386. Washington, DC. 658 p.

Hutnick, Russell J., and Harry W. Yawney. 1961. Silvical characteristics of red maple (Acer rubrum). USDA Forest Service, Station Paper 142. Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Upper Darby, PA. 18 p.

Walters, Russell S, and Harry W Yawney. “Acer Rubrum L. Red Maple.” USDA Forest Service.

Wilson, Brayton F. 1966. Development of the shoot system of Acer rubrum L. Harvard Forest Paper 14. Harvard University, Petersham, MA. 21 p.

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