14 Fast Growing Shade Trees in California

Ralph Astley is a retired gardener from Philadelphia who specializes in outdoor plants and trees. With years of hands-on experience, Ralph not only cares for a diverse range of outdoor flora but also shares his extensive knowledge through well-written articles and social media posts. A trusted authority in arboriculture, he's committed to helping the community grow healthier, more robust gardens.
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Looking for fast-growing shade trees in California because you don’t want to wait for years? This listicle will come in handy.

Being the third largest state of the United States in size, it has diverse climate, this is why this list includes drought tolerant, sun loving, cold hardy, tropical, and temperate trees for the “Golden State.”

While you scroll below to discover the names of 14 shade trees that will reward you with a green canopy and protect from sun and heat, don’t miss visiting this nonprofit website designed by California State University to find out and filter the perfect local tree for your space.

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Fast-Growing Shade Trees in California

1. Arizona Ash

Botanical Name: Fraxinus velutina

USDA Zones: 7-11

Native to Arizona, Texas, and Cali, this one is a widely distributed tree in Southern California. It is a perfect choice if you’re looking for a drought-tolerant tree for semi-arid or arid growing conditions.

It can be anywhere between 30 to 50 feet tall and grows best in USDA Zones 7, 8, and 9. If you’re planting it in a hotter climate (i.e., USDA Zones 10 or 11), you may need to water it more until it establishes itself.

2. Box Elder

Fast growing California shade trees 2

Botanical Name: Acer negundo

USDA Zones: 2-10

If you’re in search of a fast growing Californian tree that can tolerate a wide range of climates, it is none other than Box Elder. This deciduous tree is native here and grows naturally along the streams of water.

Its ability to tolerate difficult conditions like flood, drought, poor soil, or salt spray makes it a must-have specimen, especially if you’re looking for a low-maintenance shade tree that can usually be up to 50 feet tall and don’t mind its little invasive nature 😉. After all, all good things come with a price!

3. California Sycamore

Fast growing California shade trees 3

Botanical Name: Platanus racemosa

USDA Zones: 7-10

Do you have space in your yard and are looking for a tree with a large stature? Then this one is perfect for you. It has large hand-shaped leaves with five lobes that can be slightly serrated, making it quite a distinctive specimen.

Just like the Box Elder, this one is deciduous as well and loves to grow along riverbanks or riparian areas, more specifically in coastal and inland regions of the state. The only difference from the former is it can be very tall, up to 100 feet, and doesn’t tolerate dry periods as efficiently.

4. Chinaberry

Fast Growing Shade Trees in California 4

Botanical Name: Melia azedarach

USDA Zones: 7-11

You can find this one more in urban and suburban spaces as it is not a Californian native but was introduced for its ornamental value and beauty. It has fern-like leaves that grow densely, which is the reason why it can provide heavy shade if growing well.

It can be up to 40 feet tall and prefers the ambiance of warmth and full sun, also known as “Pride of India,” the notable feature is its fragrant flowers and yellow inedible berries that appear after them.

It’s important to note that the mess from dropping fruits can be a big drawback and attract wildlife and insects.

5. Coast Live Oak

Botanical Name: Quercus agrifolia

USDA Zones: 8-11

Ecologically important, you should grow this tree if you’re looking for features like longevity, low maintenance, nativeness, and, most notably–year-round shade, as it has evergreen foliage that forms a dense canopy.

The Coast Live Oak has a relatively fast growth rate and become reliably drought tolerant once established. The other important aspect is its structure, which provides a habitat to wildlife and edible acorns that supply food to various creatures.

6. Fremont Cottonwood

Fast Growing Shade Trees in California 6

Botanical Name: Populus fremontii

USDA Zones: 5-9

Another tree that doesn’t grow naturally in drier climates and prefers moist soil is Fremont cottonwood. This is due to its ability to grow in riparian zones and its preference for cold and temperate climates.

This huge native shade tree has heart shaped foliage that turns golden yellow in fall. Its immense size and vigorous growth rate make this towering giant perfect for those who live in wet areas with the chances of inundation.

7. Goodding’s WillowFast Growing Shade Trees in California 7

Botanical Name: Salix gooddingii

USDA Zones: 6-10

Goodding’s Willow is a deciduous tree found in wetland areas throughout California. If you have an open, sunny space with quality soil in your garden, grow one. This is perfect for sloped sites because it prevents soil erosion.

The tree can also attain a shrub-like growth habit and is perfect if you want a natural, wild appearance in your yard.

8. Valley Oak

Botanical Name: Quercus lobata

USDA Zones: 7-11

The majestic Valley Oak is another stunning California native known for providing ample shade and fast growth. It can be 20 feet high within 4-5 years and live for centuries; the tallest of its kind, “Henley Oak,” is 150 feet tall and at least 500 years old. So, if you’re looking for a tree that never ceases to exist–grow this one.

This tree is suitable for the coastal regions of the state that resemble the Mediterranean climate. Once established, it is relatively drought-tolerant but requires sufficient watering when young.

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9. White Alder

California shade trees 9

Botanical Name: Alnus rhombifolia

USDA Zones: 6-10

Also known as California alder, this deciduous tree has an oval upright form with a dense rounded canopy and generally becomes 50-80 feet tall. This fast-growing tree is perfect for providing protection from the sun near creeks or ponds.

Apart from being a wonderful shade tree, it has great aesthetic value due to its diamond-shaped foliage and catkin-like flowers; its one more ability is to improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.

10. Southern Magnolia

Southern Magnolia 10

Botanical Name: Magnolia grandiflora

USDA Zones: 6-10

If you’re looking for a tree with big fragrant flowers with citrus notes, the Southern Magnolia is one you should choose. It blooms more prominently in late spring and early summer, but the flowering continues till fall.

And what’s more? It has large, glossy evergreen leaves and provides consistent shade due to its large canopy. It’s also moderately fast-growing and increases its stature up to 2 feet each year to achieve a huge height of 60 to 80 feet.

11. Buddhist PineFast Growing Shade Trees in California 8

Botanical Name: Podocarpus macrophyllus

USDA Zones: 7 to 11

Podocarpus is not as fast-growing as the others in this list, but it is highly ornamental. Another reason for its addition is its short stature. It only grows up to 20 to 40 feet, which is good for a not-so-big garden. You can plant it in your front yard for a welcoming entrance.

Also known as Yew Pine, it tolerates both full and part sun and is mainly used as a hedging plant, privacy screen, and for making easy bonsais, but when allowed to grow upright and with some strategic pruning, it can provide decent shade.

12. Northern CatalpaFast Growing Shade Trees in California 9

Botanical Name: Catalpa speciosa

USDA Zones: 4-8

The Northern Catalpa is unique because it grows really fast when young but slows down when maturing. When it completes its growth, it is generally 40-70 feet in height and is primarily grown for its ornamental foliage and fragrant flowers with jasmine-like notes.

This tree is widely grown in parks or other open areas due to its dense shade and low maintenance qualities. If you decide to grow it, do note that it prefers moist soil and loves regular watering during dry periods.

13. Tulip Tree

Botanical Name: Liriodendron tulipifera

USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Are you still unconvinced and looking for a quick-growing tree that can be very tall and display beautiful flowers? Well, the tulip tree must end your confusion!

It grows 70-130 feet high and displays stunning tulip-shaped flowers that attract swallowtail butterflies and other pollinators. And this is not all; one of the most impressive features is the show of yellow-gold foliage in fall.

If you’re going to plant it, select a location that is at least 15 to 20 feet away from your home or other structure, considering its towering height.

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Think Outside the Box

14. BambooFast Growing Shade Trees in California 15

Botanical Name: Bambusa

USDA Zones: 6-11

You can also grow tall bamboo varieties like weeping bamboo, golden bamboo, and giant timber bamboo. These are fast-growing and grow well in mild and warm climates. You can plant them around your house, seating area, and walkway strategically to block the sun.

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