by Matt Gibson & Erin Marissa Russell
Landscapers and property owners alike are always on the lookout for fast-growing trees to beautify their property, provide shade for relaxations and to help lower energy costs, and increase property values. If you go through the process of selecting, purchasing, and planting trees on your property, It’s refreshing to see them grow and progress in a short period of time. When property owners invest in planting trees, they appreciate getting to spend some time enjoying their presence before they have to sell the property.
Shade trees, when planted close enough to the estate, can provide significant shade for the home, as well as the homeowner, which can reduce energy costs, and noticeably lower the temperature in their home. It is a common misconception that oak trees, because of their massive sizes and towering presence, are slow-growers.
Though most oak tree varieties grow slowly, there are also a handful of oak trees that have an above average growth rate, and can develop into large specimens in a shorter window of time. The following oak tree varieties are excellent choices for homeowners and landscapers that are looking for fast-growing shade trees to plant on their properties.
California White Oak (Quercus lobata)
Hardy to zones seven through 11, the California White Oak is a west coast native that enjoys plenty of sunshine and dry soil conditions. California White Oak seeds and saplings need regular watering at first, but once they have become established, back off on manual irrigation except for in times of prolonged drought, as these trees prefer dryer conditions than most oak trees. It is especially crucial when watering, to water the outer edges of the tree’s canopy instead of near the trunk, as the California White Oak variety is highly susceptible to root rot [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/how-to-fight-phytophthora-crown-collar-and-root-rot-in-trees/].
California White Oaks are fast growing oak trees, growing an average of over 24 inches each year. Despite their speedy growth, California White Oaks can live over 200 years. They enjoy loamy, sandy, or clay based acidic soils, They will tolerate only slight alkalinity, and prefer a dry or slightly moist, but well-draining soil. California White Oaks prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade as well, as long as they receive at least four hours of full sunlight each day.
Also known as Valley Oak, the California White Oak is one of the tallest of the oak varieties on the west coast, reaching around 40 to 70 feet tall at full maturity, with a 60 foot spread. California White Oaks are used both as shade trees and ornamental trees. Their signature spreading canopy and densely packed foliage is great at blocking sunlight, providing a naturally shady canopy below. This stunning variety also adds a majestic beauty to whatever landscape they inhabit. Their wood has been used to make steam boats, and wine barrels.
Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
Laurel oak grows in USDA zones seven through nine, and is native to the southeastern US. It prefers sandy, fertile, well-drained soil and full sunlight. The Laurel Oak grows an average of 70 feet high with a 35 to 45 foot spread. Evergreen in areas with moderate temperatures and deciduous in areas exposed to frost, the Laurel Oak’s foliage is bronze when it first emerges in the spring, but changes to dark green as the season progresses.
Laurel Oaks are incredibly fast growers, which can tolerate wet soil conditions, unlike the California White Oak. Laurel Oaks prefer full sun but will grow well in partial shade too, though it will develop a much thinner canopy. Laurel Oaks are great choices for planting in city landscapes, as they are tolerant of pollution, as well as diseases and pests. Laurel oaks are most commonly used as a shade tree. If planting near concrete, however, make sure to give your Laurels plenty of room, as they have been reported to lift up sidewalks and curbs if planted in areas with less than eight feet of lawn.
Mexican White Oak (Quercus polymorpha)
Like its relative, the California White Oak, the Mexican White Oak shares the drought tolerance trait. Situated a bit further south, the Mexican variety is a slightly smaller oak tree, reaching heights of 50 feet with a 35 foot spread. The Mexican variety is disease-resistant, and is evergreen in moderate climates. An incredibly fast grower, the Mexican White Oak can grow as much as four feet in a single year.
During the spring, new leaves will emerge in shades of pink or red, and will grow waxy and green, darkening as they grow to maturity. The foliage of the Mexican White Oak differs from the majority of oak trees, with varied shapes and serrated or clean, smooth edges. Mexican White Oaks tend to live to around 100 years.
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Growing in hardiness zones three through eight, the Northern Red Oak grows to 60 to 75 feet tall with a 45 foot spread. It gets its name from how its leaves turn a bright red during the fall months. A speedy grower, the Northern Red Oak is known to grow over two feet annually for the first 10 years of its lifespan, and tolerates compacted soil, and pollution. Northern Red Oaks are somewhat drought tolerant as well, and they require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. This variety is a great choice for a shade tree or an ornamental tree.
For more information on Red Oaks, check out our article, Red Oak Tree Guide: Identification and Care.
Nuttall Oak (Quercus texana)
A Texas native, the Nuttall Oak is the fastest growing oak tree of all oak species, growing to 70 feet tall with a 40 foot spread, sprouting up more than two feet per year every year. This is the classic species of oak tree, with a spreading shape due to its uppermost branches reaching upwards, its mid-level branches reaching outwards, and its lower branches growing towards the ground. Due to its fast growth, versatility, pollution tolerance, and ease of transplanting, the Nuttall Oak is one of the most popular oak tree varieties. Also known as the red oak, though its autumn leaves come in a variety of colors, including red, orange, and yellow.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Also known as Swamp Spanish Oak, the Pin Oak is another fast-growing oak variety, adding over two feet annually. Reaching 60 to 70 feet high with a 25-45 foot spread, the Pin Oak needs full sun and lots of water. Tolerant of wet soil conditions, the Pin Oak tree is not prone to root rot. Pin Oaks can also tolerate compacted soils, pollution, and excessive heat, but will not tolerate too much alkalinity in their soil. Hardy to USDA zones 4-8, the Pin Oak is a great choice for a shade tree, as it has a dense foliar spread. An autumn beauty, the Pin Oak’s leaves change to various shades of scarlet and bronze.
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima)
The Sawtooth Oak is an especially fast-growing oak tree during its formative years, growing over two feet per year during its youth. As it matures, however, its growth rate slows considerably. The Sawtooth oak is hardy to USDA zones five through nine, and grows to between 40 and 60 feet high, with a similar spread. Adaptable to all soil types other than alkaline, the Sawtooth Oak is a popular shade tree known for its dark foliage which turns yellow to golden brown in autumn.
Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
The Swamp White Oak is known for its attractive two toned trunks, due to its peeling bark. A great shade tree that grows very fast during its first few years, the Swamp White Oak is hardy to USDA zones four through eight. During its youth, the Swamp White Oak grows over two feet per year, but slows to just over one foot per year as it grows older. At full maturity, this variety reaches heights of 50-60 feet with a similar spread.
Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
Water oaks are a particularly quick-growing variety, adding two feet or more to their height each year. The shape of water oak trees, once mature, can be horizontal, spreading, or rounded. Water oaks can be expected to reach an eventual height of between 50 and 80 feet, with the same spread. Water oaks may be used either as shade trees or as ornamentals, and their wood is weaker than most other varieties of oak trees.
The leaves of the water oak have lots of diversity in their size and shape. They start out as a matte blue-green or glossy dark green, changing color in the fall to vivid shades of yellow. Water oaks produce tons of acorns, which are a beloved food of birds like quail, mallards, wood ducks, and wild turkeys as well as other animals, including pigs, squirrels, and raccoons. Throughout the winter, the young twigs and buds of water oak trees provide food for hungry deer.
Water oaks aren’t overly stressed by transplanting, so they can be easily moved without too much risk. They’re best known for growing in marshy, wet locations like the banks of rivers or close to ponds. However, they perform best in soil with more drainage, and can tolerate acidic soil, loam, sandy soil, or clay, and even spots where the ground is compacted or soil is heavy. Plant water oaks in spots that get either full sun or partial shade, making sure they’ll get at least four hours of direct sun every day. Grow water oaks in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9.
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
The willow oak got its name because of the resemblance its leaves share with those of the willow tree. The tree is a medium to fast grower that gains between 13 and 24 inches annually. Its eventual height can reach between 40 and 60 feet, with a spread of 30 to 40 feet. The willow oak’s overall form is pyramid-like when it is young, eventually becoming more oval as it grows older.
The spear-shaped leaves of the willow oak put on a show as seasons change, transforming from pale to bright green through spring and summer through shades of yellow, wheat, bronze, and finally russet brown in the fall. The acorns that willow oaks produce provide a food source that will attract wildlife, like songbirds [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/how-to-attract-birds-yard-garden/], quail, deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys. In areas where the ground underneath the willow oak trees floods, mallards and wood ducks will also come to feast on the acorns.
The willow oak handles transplanting more readily than most other varieties of oak trees. It grows well in lots of different soil types, including acidic, clay, loamy, sandy, and soil that drains well. The trees will even tolerate soil with poor drainage. Choose a location for your willow oak that gets full sun, at least six hours of direct sunshine per day. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9 can grow willow oaks.
If you are in need of a fast growing oak tree, you can’t go wrong with any of the varieties listed here. Be sure to check the variety you are interested in to make sure they are compatible with your growing zones. In just a few short years, your young saplings will turn into massive, majestic oaks with large shady canopies for you to relax beneath. Oak trees are some of the most colorful and vibrant trees in the world, and for shade trees or ornamentals, there are not many tree species that can compare to the oak.