11 of the Fastest Growing Shade Trees in California

Many trees take years to reach their mature size, but some species are capable of rapid growth. The long and hot summers of California provide the optimum conditions for many shade trees to grow and develop quickly. 

As well as providing essential cover from the hot sun, there are many shade tree species that have the ability to add aesthetic value to gardens and landscapes. 

In this article, I’ll be covering 11 of my favourite fast-growing shade trees along with their key attributes and characteristics. So whether you’re simply fascinated by the stats or keen to add a tree to provide shade to your outdoor space, this article is here to help.

Types of Fast-Growing Shade Trees in California

Trees that offer shade are characteristically tall with large overhanging branches and dense foliage that provide a canopy of full or partial shade. Or trees that grow tall and cast a long shadow providing much-needed shade away from strong direct sunlight. 

Planting a fast-growing shade tree near your house can be a cheap way to reduce aircon costs by blocking sunlight and heat to keep areas of your home cool. They are also the perfect place to seek shelter and shade from the intense heat of the Californian sunshine.  

Choosing a fast-growing shade tree may seem overwhelming so I have details about each tree’s physical attributes and growing habits. 

When deciding, it is worth thinking about the purpose of the tree. Is it purely to provide shade as quickly as possible, or do you want it to add seasonal interest to your outdoor space? Either way, you will need to decide whether an evergreen or deciduous tree is best for you.  

Deciduous Trees

Deciduous trees wake from dormancy during the spring when many develop not only shoots and new leaves but also beautiful blooms in an array of colours, shapes and sizes. Then, come fall, they provide fiery displays of yellow, orange and red leaves prior to dropping.

Much-needed shade in the summer is achieved via their leafy green canopy, while during the winter months, their bare branches allow the sun to warm the ground below.

Evergreen Trees 

If you are looking for a shade tree that retains its green foliage all year round, then evergreen trees may be for you. 

Not only can their year-round foliage provide a shady canopy during the summer months, but can also add colour and life to your garden during the fall and winter, when many other plants are bare. 

Flowering/Fruiting Trees 

As well as leaves, many fast-growing shade trees also produce fruits and flowers during the blooming season. These types of trees are popular in gardens due to their eye-catching displays.  

11 of the Fastest Growing Shade Trees in California 

Not only do shade trees provide that much-needed protection from the hot sun, but also reduce evaporation and erosion by helping to retain moisture in the soil. Introducing a shade tree to your backyard is a great way to elevate both its practicality and aesthetic appeal. 

There is a huge variety of fast-growing shade trees throughout California that vary greatly in how they look. From this variety, I have compiled a list of 11 different species in the hopes that you will discover what tree is right for you.   

1. White Mulberry 

White Mulberry
Credit: Nucatum Amygdalarum by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Morus alba 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 40 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 1 to 2 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 3 to 9 

The white mulberry is a deciduous tree that has a short trunk and a broad canopy. This tree produces sweet, black mulberries that are enjoyed by people and animals. With fertile soil and full sun, these trees grow incredibly quickly and produce a high fruit yield. 

The white mulberry is a hardy and adaptive tree that can grow in a variety of soil conditions, including the desert regions of California. It has large, glossy green leaves that provide excellent shade. 

Although these trees are drought tolerant when mature, they appreciate regular watering and fertilization during the winter to keep them healthy. 

2. Southern Magnolia 

Southern Magnolia
Credit: Acabashi by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora 

  • Ideal Position: Partial shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 60 to 80 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 1 to 2 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 6 to 10

The Southern Magnolia is one of the most common, evergreen shade trees in Southern California. It’s a great shade tree because it grows both tall and wide. The large, glossy green, elongated leaves provide shade and colour all year long. 

During the early spring, Southern magnolia will bloom large, white flowers that produce a sweet fragrance and add aesthetic value. 

An established Southern magnolia requires little maintenance and is fairly drought-tolerant. They grow well in a variety of soils and landscapes. They have shallow and widespread roots so need to be planted with plenty of space. 

3. Silk Tree, Mimosa Tree

Silk Tree/Mimosa Tree
Credit: Syrio by CC: 4.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun  
  • Average Mature Height: 20 to 40 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 1 to 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 6 to 9

The silk tree, or mimosa tree, is commonly grown as an ornamental shade tree. It’s deciduous and has dark green leaves that resemble that of a fern. Silk trees make beautiful additions to parks and gardens due to their unusual flowers. During the summer months, it blooms pink, feather-like flowers.  

The silk tree has an umbrella-like canopy that allows dappled sunlight through, making it a perfect shade tree. The canopy remains broad and flat throughout its life but can easily be pruned to maintain a desired shape or size.  

4. Australian Willow

Australian Willow
Credit: Ethel Aardvark by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Geijera parviflora  

  • Ideal Position: Full sun  
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 50 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 2 to 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 1

The Australian willow, like all willows, is known for growing rapidly. It is commonly planted as a street tree around California as it casts light shade. Native to Australia, this tree is hardy to California’s hot and arid climates. 

The central branches are strong and grow upright, creating an oval-shaped canopy. However, the branches at the periphery droop slightly, giving older Australian willows a “weeping” appearance. 

The thin and narrow leaves of this tree add to the “weeping” look and provide good shade from the hot California sun.

Being an evergreen, the Australian willow provides shade all year long. During the spring and summer months, this tree blooms small, white flowers. 

This tree grows best in arid and sunny conditions. It stores water in its leaves, making it relatively drought and fire tolerant.

5. California Sycamore

California Sycamore
Credit: Jengod by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Platanus racemose 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to part shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 40 to 100 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 2 to 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 10

Native to California, the California sycamore can be naturally found growing along wetlands, floodplains and canyons. Due to its fast growth rate and upright shape, it’s commonly grown as a landscaping and a shade tree. 

As the California sycamore matures, it develops a wide-spreading, rounded canopy. They have large green leaves that turn yellow before dropping in the fall. During the blooming season, this tree produces spherical, red flowers. 

The California sycamore can tolerate a range of soil types. It has an extensive root system so requires a lot of growing space. 

6. Bracelet Honey-Myrtle

Bracelet Honey-Myrtle
Credit: Eug by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Melaleuca armillaris

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 15 to 30 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

The bracelet honey-myrtle is a flowering, evergreen tree that is native to Australia. It’s a shrubby tree that has green, needle-like leaves that are densely compact. During the spring and summer months, the tree becomes covered with elongated, spikey, creamy flowers that look like a bottlebrush. 

The shrubby but short nature of this tree makes it ideal for providing shade and screening. Regular pruning will ensure the tree retains its density. The bracelet honey-myrtle is very hardy and can withstand drought, frost, harsh winds, and various soil conditions.  

7. Podocarpus

Podocarpus
Credit: Pekachu by CC: 4.0 

Scientific Name: Podocarpus macrophyllus 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 40 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 1 to 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 9

The podocarpus is a shrubby, evergreen tree. It has long, thin leaves that grow in ball-like clusters that densely cover the branches.  This gives the tree a unique appearance and creates a canopy that is impenetrable to shade. 

During the blooming season, this tree produces small, rounded, blue cones that swell and become red when they mature. These cones are a popular food source for birds. 

The podocarpus is a hardy tree that can withstand cold and drought. They grow fastest in full sun with moist but well-draining soil. These tough trees require little maintenance. 

8. Indian Laurel Fig

Indian Laurel Fig

Scientific Name: Fiscus microcarpa 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 60 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 2 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 12

The Indian laurel fig is an evergreen tree that boasts glossy, green, ovular leaves all year long. It’s a popular shade tree due to its dense and wide-spreading canopy. Although it can reach great sizes, regular pruning will keep this tree to a decided size. 

During the blooming season, the Indian laurel fig produces green berries that become dark purple when ripe. The berries are consumed by a variety of birds. 

Native to the tropical regions of India, this tree is adapted to growing in the hot and arid environments that are typical in many regions of California, and as such are drought tolerant. 

9. Arizona Ash

 Arizona Ash
Credit: Stan Shebs by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Fraxinus velutina 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 30 to 45 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 2 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 11

A native tree in Arizona and Texas as well as California, the Arizona ash tree is heat and drought-tolerant once established. It has a wide, dense canopy of green, spear-shaped leaves that provide great amounts of shade. During the fall, the leaves turn vibrant yellow before dropping. 

The Arizona ash tree grows best in full sun with well-draining soil. These trees have a great root spread and can grow large and fast, meaning they require a lot of space. They are also surprisingly cold and hardy. 

10. Northern Catalpa

Northern Catalpa

Scientific Name: Catalpa speciosa  

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 40 to 60 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 1 to 2 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 8

The Northern Catalpa is a very eye-catching shade tree. It has a thin trunk and a wide canopy of green, heart-shaped leaves. The dense canopy is ideal for providing shade and is commonly planted as an ornamental shade tree throughout California. 

During the spring and summer, this tree boasts large clusters of white, trumpet-shaped flowers. This tree also grows bean-like seed pods, from which new Northern catalpas can be grown.

The Northern Catalpa grows well in a variety of soil types. It’s a hardy tree that can tolerate the hot and dry conditions of California’s summer. This tree requires little maintenance but should be planted in large, open spaces that provide plenty of room for its extensive root system.  

11. Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree
Credit: High Contrast by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 60 to 80 feet 
  • Growth Rate: 2 to 3 feet per year 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 9

The tulip tree is a large, deciduous tree that provides eye-catching displays. Green leaves make up its tall, ovular crown and this dense canopy is great for providing shade. In the fall, the leaves turn fiery orange and yellow before dropping. 

Between May and June, the tulip tree blooms yellow and orange petaled flowers. By the fall, the flowers will have developed into tulip poplar fruit, which is a cone-shaped pod containing seeds. You can grow new tulip trees from these seeds.

The tulip tree grows best in sunny locations that have rich, moist and well-draining soil. It’s a good idea to prune your tree in its rapid, early growth stages. Once established it’s easy to care for.

Fast Growing California Shade Tree Care 

Providing the optimal conditions for your fast-growing shade tree will ensure it grows as quickly as possible. I have provided some general care tips that can be applied to most trees, especially mature ones, to keep them happy, healthy and fast-growing.

Watering Requirements 

One of the most crucial stages in ensuring your trees grows rapidly is watering. Water is needed for photosynthesis and to transport essential nutrients required for growth. All young trees require frequent watering to maintain moist soil conditions. Established trees tend to be more drought-hardy. 

Position

Apart from the Southern magnolia which favours partial shade, all the trees on this list should be planted in a position where they will receive full sun. Different species have different shade tolerances. Generally, trees grow bigger and faster in sunny conditions because they obtain energy for growth via photosynthesis from the sunlight. 

Soil Requirements

Typically, trees grow best in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil that is kept moist. Most of the trees on this list are tolerant to a variety of soil types and conditions. Young trees or those in poor soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter.  Nitrogen is a key nutrient required for tree growth. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the largest tree in California? 

A giant sequoia, referred to as The General Sherman is not only the largest tree in California, but the largest tree in the world. Native to a small region in the Californian Sierra Nevada mountain range it stands 275 feet tall and has a diameter of over 36 feet. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.