A question that is frequently asked by persons purchasing a tree is "how fast will it grow?" This is a difficult question to answer because the growth rate of any plant depends on site conditions and maintenance. In most cases, the growth rate given for a particular plant is based on optimal conditions. Quite frequently, however, our landscapes are less than optimal.
A tree evaluation plot in place at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago, Illinois may provide some reliable information. The test plot has soil that is often too wet in the spring and very dry in the summer. Once established, supplemental water and fertilizers were not provided. Trees are also competing with a stand of grass for water and nutrients. Trees were 10 feet tall (approximately 1 1/2 inches caliper) at establishment. Trees were ranked by their actual growth rate in the first 10 years after planting.
Trees rated as fast growing were at least 25 feet tall after 10 years. These included the American Elm (Ulmus americana), Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), and the Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Moderately fast growing trees measured 18 to 25 feet tall. These included Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica), Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis) , Linden (Tilia platyphyllos, T. cordata, T. xeuchlora 'Redmond', and T. tomentosa), English Oak (Quercus robur), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima), Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), and Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Slower growing trees were less than 18 feet tall after 10 years. These included European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea).
While the trees growing in this study are only a part of one study, the results can be applied to many of our landscape situations. Many homeowners want a fast growing tree in the landscape. However, we may pay a price for fast growth. Fast growing trees often have the problem of being weak wooded and break apart quite easily in ice and other types of storms. Thus, a fast growing tree near a home often becomes a hazard.
This article originally appeared in the March 24, 1995 issue, p. 27.