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Not So Fast! There’s More to Choosing Trees than Speed


Everyone loves a fast grower. It’s a thrilling thing to watch a young rock ‘n roll tree put on explosive growth in a season. In the nursery, we’ve marveled at the audacity of an Autumn Blaze maple that doubles in size in a summer. But it ain’t all about speed, folks.

While we love many fast growing trees and there are plenty of situations in which they work beautifully, there’s a case for choosing trees based on more than just rapid growth. Adaptability, pest and disease resistance, maintenance requirements, and lifespan are a few more things to consider when choosing a tree. What about the tree’s value to wildlife, maintaining genetic diversity, or wind and storm resistance?

ginkgo tree
Ginkgos have fantastic fall color and are highly adaptable. Who needs speed?
Right Plant, Right Place

Ginkgo, oak, hackberry, and musclewood are just a few examples of awesome trees that get overlooked if speedy growth is the only parameter. It’s all about picking the right plant for the site.

Windy sites don’t phase tough as nails hackberries, so they’re perfect for exposed, wide open spaces. Ginkgos laugh in the face of pests, diseases, and pollution so if you want a carefree grower, they’re a great choice. Musclewoods are low maintenance, have really cool looking trunks, and tolerate some shade, so they’re great for planting where there is an established canopy.

Slow Growing? So What!

If you’re thinking of planting something that grows with a more restrained cadence, take comfort in the fact that moderate and slow growing trees typically require much less maintenance in terms of pruning. Yay! One less garden chore!

It’s always worth mentioning that many trees that are thought of as slow growing will put on impressive growth if they are well taken care of in their youth. Proper planting, good soil fertility, clearing grass and weeds, and regular watering to get them established all go a long way in encouraging a tree to grow more quickly. A big regal oak or perfectly structured hackberry (without much pruning!) are not as far away as you might think. 

hackberry tree
Hackberries are tough and provide great shade and structure with minimal pruning. Photo courtesy of Garden Bite with Teri Knight
Norther Pin Oak tree
Northern Pin Oak- a tree worth waiting for. Photo courtesy Bailey Nurseries

More Trees Means Healthier Trees

Choosing trees from a variety of families is an excellent way to safeguard your landscape from  devastating pests and diseases like Emerald Ash Borer and Dutch Elm Disease (we have several DED resistant elms). By removing the fast growth requirement, you open a door to a world of trees that might suit your needs better while you support a robust ecosystem.

Planting a diverse canopy doesn’t have to be complicated. For every fast-growing hybrid maple, plant a musclewood, a red oak, and a juniper. For every birch, plant a gingko, a hackberry, and a linden.  You get the picture. A diverse, healthy community of trees provides more interest throughout the season for us and less fodder for destructive insects and diseases.  More awesome trees to choose from? Yes please.

Musclewood tree
Carpinus (also known as blue beech and musclewood) has fantastic fall color and tolerates some shade

What about choosing trees that are equipped to deal with environmental stressors like heat, drought, and flooding? The heat wave and drought of 2021 is something we won’t soon forget, and it highlighted the need to plant species that tolerate unpredictable challenges. Hackberries, swamp white and bur oaks, and ginkgo trees are some great choices for their adaptability. Click here for an academic read on the topic and more tree choices.

Now go forth into the wide world of trees with abandon!