Imponderable Question Number One: October 22, 2020

“What is the best fast-growing shade tree?”

The truthful answer is that there is no good fast-growing shade tree. The terms are mutually self-exclusive. Every fast-growing shade tree has at least one fatal flaw that will shorten its life expectancy.

Cottonwoods grow quickly, but are they good trees?

What you really need to consider…

So you say you want a tree that grows rapidly? I’m going to ask that we make a list of all factors that are important to us in our selection of a new shade tree. I’ll put that one at the top of the list. Then I’m going to add others that people always tell me they want.

Fast growth.

Attractive tree when mature.

Adapted to our soil and our climate – in other words, able to survive in the conditions we can provide for it.

Resistant to insects and diseases – in other words, will not require frequent spraying.

Has good longevity – can be expected to survive 50-100 years or longer. Won’t die after 10 or 15 years.

Note: I’d like to interject one comment before we go any farther. Some of the trees that you may consider to be slow growing will grow 2/3 as quickly as the racehorse trees if you give them good attention to water and fertilizer. Keep that in the back of your mind.

Continued Below

Now your assignment…
From the list of five features that I’ve written out, I want you to put them in order of importance. Put in different terms, if you had to eliminate one of them, which one would it be?

Almost always, when I pose that question of people asking me about fast growth of trees, they will answer back that fast growth sinks to the bottom of the list. They want attractive trees that are adapted and relatively pest-free and that they can expect to live for a long period of time.

Chinquapin oak scores high in all categories.

And so, the question is answered to my satisfaction. I hope you agree. That is why, for most of the great state of Texas, I rank these seven trees as being the best choices for large shade trees: live oak, Shumard red oak, Chinquapin oak, bur oak, cedar elm, pecan and Chinese pistachio.

Magnolias would be on that list, too, but they are indeed slower-growing than the others. Redcedar junipers would be the best conifers for most of the state. East Texans would have several other good choices.

Your favorite independent retail garden center would be the best source of localized advice. Look for a Texas Certified Nursery Professional.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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