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Fast-Growing Shade Trees


We live in a fast-paced society. We want everything fast—the faster the better. This includes our desire for instant landscapes. We want trees that grow fast and provide quick shade.

Fortunately, there are many outstanding fast-growing trees for landscapes in North Dakota:

Four image grid of shade trees: American elm, thornless honeylocust, poplar and laurel willow
Fast-growing shade trees (clockwise from top left): American elm, thornless honeylocust, poplar and laurel willow

Researchers have identified American elms that resist Dutch elm disease. Prairie Expedition® (an NDSU selection), ‘Jefferson’ and St. Croix™ have the classic arching branch habit that made American elm, our state tree, cherished for centuries. Asian hybrid elms have been bred that resist the disease. These include Triumph™ and Accolade®, both known for their rich green foliage. 

It’s easy to grow a great lawn under the open, airy leaves of a honeylocust.  The hardiest variety is Northern Acclaim® from NDSU.

Hybrid poplars may grow five or more feet every year. Local nurseries may offer superior clones selected from the USDA lab in Mandan. Several varieties have columnar habits that allow them to be used to create a privacy screen quickly.

Cottonwood is one of the largest, fastest growing trees in North Dakota. Superior selections include ‘Siouxland’, ‘Skyfest’ and ‘Robusta’; none of these produce messy cotton. Keep in mind their ultimate height (some grow over 80 feet, which may ultimately create a hazard if planted near your home).

Prairie Reflection® laurel willow from NDSU is special.  It’s a 35-foot-tall tree with very dark green leaves that glisten in the sun. ‘Chermesina’ redstem willow has more of an upright habit than weeping willow, and its orange-red stems are showy in winter.

Other fast-growing trees with flaws can be a good choice in the right spot. This includes silver maple (intolerant of alkaline soil), boxelder and weeping willow (weak branching) and quaking aspen (suckers).

We are fortunate to have several outstanding nurseries and garden centers in our state. Now is a good time to visit these places, as the landscapers are less rushed and will have more time to talk to you about your landscaping needs.

For more information, explore the NDSU Tree Selector tool.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. 

Bailey Nurseries, Bergeson Nursery, Jeffries Nurseries,LincolnOakes Nursery. 2018. Online catalogs.
Herman, D.E. and V.C. Quam. 2006. Trees and shrubs for Northern Great Plains landscapes. North Dakota State University.

Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers. Dendroica ceruleaWestKastleTravis Daldy, and North Dakota State University Research Foundation.