Fast-growing shade trees

I am looking for suggestions for a fast-growing shade tree. Have been reading about royal empress and the hybrid poplar, but welcome any ideas or suggestions.

— Martha

Probably the fastest-growing tree I can give you would be a hybrid poplar. We generally call them cottonwoods.

You can typically expect them to grow 3–5 feet per year or even more. I’ve seen a cottonwood grow 10 feet in a single growing season on occasion.

These trees typically are cottonless, but they’re not exactly trouble-free. The price you pay for that fast growth is increased insect and disease susceptibility, shallow and aggressive roots, messiness and weak branching.

However, cottonwoods seem to have fewer of these problems than the other fast guys, especially the willows, so it may be worth the “cost.”

Empress tree isn’t common around here. I’ve been leery of its cold tolerance, but I have seen some nice big trees in Fruita, so maybe I’m just being overly cautious.

They will grow fast, probably not quite as fast as the cottonwood. The empress tree can be difficult to find at times so call around or you may have to start with a small one you can purchase online.

Another possible choice would be a mulberry. Though it’s not quite as fast as a cottonwood, it still hums along.

It’s more strongly branched than the cottonwood, but it can have problems with borers. To prevent that problem, keep the tree as happy and healthy as you know how to make it.

You might also consider some preventative spraying in late summer to fall.

Boxelder also grows pretty quickly. A variety called “sensation” has pretty nice red fall color. This variety also is reportedly seedless so you’ll avoid the nuisance of box elder bugs.

There also are hybrid varieties of elms you might consider. The only suitable variety we carry is called “frontier.” This one actually stays a bit smaller but grows 2–4 feet a year.

There are larger varieties out there, but we like “Frontier” because it’s supposed to be seedless.

When is the proper time to trim a fairly large limb from a globe willow?

— Dara

You can do this just about any time you want to except for September and October (pruning then can stimulate succulent new growth at a time when you don’t want the tree to be growing).

I like to do most of my pruning on deciduous plants (those that lose leaves over the winter) during the dormant season.

The advantage is that I can more clearly see the branching structure of the plant without leaves in the way and can make better decisions as to what to cut and how much to cut.

There’s really nothing wrong with doing it the middle of summer, and I’ve done that. It’s just that if I can plan ahead, I like to see exactly what I’m doing because it’s hard to put a branch back on the tree once you’ve cut it off.

Some people like to wait until early in the spring to do any pruning, and there is a little advantage to that.

Pruning now will leave a big wound that can dry out over the winter which sometimes results in some minor die-back, especially in smaller twigs.

Pruning in mid- to late-March leaves the wound open for a shorter period of time, because the tree is about to break dormancy, and will start healing up the wound more quickly.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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