Trees with characteristically rapid growth rates are often in high demand among homeowners, property managers and land developers. But while there are clear benefits to installing fast-growing trees, a tree’s growth rate is not the only trait worthy of consideration; you must consider the totality of the tree’s characteristic growth habit, needs, and structure, rather than simply selecting the fastest growing species possible. It’s also wise to consider the rooting habits, litter problems and potential for the species to spread invasively.
But unfortunately, many who seek fast-growing trees fail to consider these other aspects, and the results rarely live up to their expectations. Many poorly selected trees fail to thrive or reach their full potential, leaving the landowner disappointed, and often saddled with the financial burden of having the trees removed and replaced.
There are a variety of fast-growing tree species, varieties and cultivars that will make excellent additions to most properties, but there are also fast-growing trees that make terrible additions to properties and are best avoided. Five of the worst choices available to property owners are listed below.
The silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is a large, fast-growing maple, which often reaches heights of 50 to 100 feet. While the tree does have a lot of nice features, including its attractive two-toned summer foliage and beautiful fall color, it has generally fallen out of favor for use as a shade or ornamental tree.
Most of the problems associated with silver maples relate to their combination of weak wood and poor structure. In fact, they are among the most likely trees to shed branches in ice storms, heavy snow or strong winds. Additionally, silver maples produce aggressive, shallow root systems, which not only wreak havoc on sidewalks and house foundations, but also produce a number of sprouts, which require removal.
If you want a good maple tree for your yard, consider a sugar maple (Acer saccharum). While sugar maples do not grow as quickly as silver maples, they have stronger wood and superior fall color.
One of the fastest growing trees native to North America, eastern cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) are a pioneer species that occasionally reaches gigantic proportions. Although most cottonwoods reach heights of about 50 to 70 feet, some specimens tower 150 feet above the ground. This combination of large size and weak wood make eastern cottonwoods potentially hazardous trees, which should not be planted near your home or places that people frequent.
Cottonwoods also produce copious quantities of their cotton-like seeds. This fluffy material tends to persist for a long time and piles up around the bases of buildings. These seeds also germinate readily, helping the species to spread throughout the environment. Additionally, eastern cottonwoods are not long-lived trees, even under the best conditions, so there are much better options available.
Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) – often called yellow poplars, despite belonging to an entirely different family than true poplars belong — are a good alternative to eastern cottonwoods. While tuliptrees do not possess exceptionally strong wood, they are usually more resilient to strong winds than cottonwoods are.
Leyland cypress trees (x Cuprocyparis leylandii) are the hybrid offspring of the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and the nootka false cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). Often used in screening projects, Leyland cypresses have become quite common trees, which has led to problems with pests, blights and various canker diseases.
Additionally, Leyland cypresses reach immense sizes (often exceeding 60 feet in height), which makes them difficult to use in the types of locations where it is often desirable to place a screen. Leyland cypresses are also very short-lived trees, which rarely exceed 50 years of age.
Two good alternatives to the Leyland cypress include the ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata ‘Green Giant’) and Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Neither suffer from the pest and disease problems that often afflict Leyland cypresses, and both have a relatively rapid growth rate.
Callery pears (Pyrus calleryana) are fast-growing, disease-resistant trees that produce beautiful white flowers in the spring. Nevertheless, they are a poor choice for most properties, as they frequently lose large branches in high winds or snowstorms. This occurs not only because the tree’s wood is relatively soft, but also because these trees characteristically produce branches that attach to the trunk at very weak, narrow angles. Although most Callery pears remain rather small, large specimens may reach 30 feet in height or more, making them hazardous to anyone or anything lurking beneath them.
Additionally, these trees are an invasive species that is rapidly colonizing green spaces across the country. Though their fruits are not palatable to people, many birds relish the tough fruits, once they’ve been softened by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Later, when the birds pass the seeds in their droppings, Callery pears begin sprouting up all over the neighborhood.
Good alternatives for Callery pears include downy serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea), eastern red buds (Cercis canadensis) and flowering dogwood trees (Cornus floridana). While these trees fail to grow as quickly as Callery pears do, they’ll make much better components of your landscape.
Weeping willows (Salix spp.) are some of the most picturesque trees in the world, and they often become the focal point of any area in which they grow. However, like most other fast-growing trees, willows have relatively weak wood, which make them a poor choice for most yards and commercial properties.
Willows have very high water needs, and when planted in areas with low rainfall, they often develop very aggressive root systems, which are notorious for damaging buried water lines, septic systems and home foundations. Weeping willows are not particularly cold hardy (they are generally recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 8) and they are extremely susceptible to limb breakage in ice storms.
There are a number of superior alternatives to weeping willows, including trees with stronger wood, smaller size and better pest resistance. Weeping cherries (Prunus ‘Snofozam’) are one good example, but there are a number of other trees with a weeping growth habit available on the market.
For buying juvenile trees, you may wish to check out this tree nursery that stocks many trees from many species (at some of the lowest prices around) – The USA Nursery.
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