An old 70’s song goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” This was certainly the case for our old Labrador Retriever Strider when we relocated from the lushly irrigated suburbs of southern California to the Timberline locale five miles northeast of Flagstaff.

Our property was devoid of nearly all vegetation, and poor Strider was beside himself in search of a patch of shade. In the mornings and evenings he lounged in the shadows cast along the fence and house, but by noon, he had to take comfort in a jerry-rigged shelter of lawn furniture and old linens. Desperate for a practical solution, we headed for the local nurseries in search of fast-growing shade trees.

It wasn’t long before our dog was enjoying the lacy canopy of our “Sunburst” honey locust, a shade tree we planted smack dab in the middle of the backyard especially for him.

In the intervening eleven years since Strider’s quest for shade, I’ve gleaned a bit of knowledge about fast-growing shade trees, which I’ll share with you.

Strider’s honey locust is now a strikingly attractive moderate-sized shade tree with fern-like chartreuse leaves and is somewhat drought-tolerant. “Shademaster” is another variety that sports a denser canopy. These trees make handsome specimens along roads and thrive in most soils with good drainage.

Although red maples are not normally recommended for dry, windy environments such as Timberline’s, my neighbor has one that puts on a spectacular show of bright red leaves each fall. He has given it the ample irrigation and sunlight preferred by these gorgeous trees. There are several varieties, so consult your nursery about which ones suit your microclimate and are truly fast-maturing.

Looking for a tree that displays pinkish white flowers in the spring and burgundy leaves all summer? A good choice would be the flowering plum. Additionally, it’s the perfect tree for small yards and ten-foot parkways. Snip off any thin, green, vertical “sports” that arise from main branches. Be sure to look for hardy cultivars like “Newport” if you live in a colder microclimate.

If you’re in the market for a moderately fast-growing evergreen, you may opt for a Ponderosa pine, Flagstaff’s own iconic native tree. You must, however give it abundant room to grow in height and width.

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Globe willow can reach 70’ tall and 60’ wide, grows extremely rapidly, and is fairly tolerant of drought, poor soils and windy conditions.

"Purple Robe" black locust sports lovely purple clusters of flowers in early summer. It attains a height of 75’ with an open crown. Its roots can be aggressive, so plant it far from water and sewage lines. It’s drought-tolerant once established.

Often serving as a windbreak, the cottonwood is common in Doney Park and Timberline but requires plenty of room to spread high and wide, and the roots may be invasive.

Your trees will stand a greater chance of survival and grow at their maximum rate if you keep them well-watered through their first few years. Most of the trees I’ve mentioned here are available at our local nurseries, but it would be a good idea to check ahead.

Cindy Murray is a biologist, a tutor of schoolchildren and a Master Gardener. Lynne Nemeth, executive director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff, is the editor of Gardening Etcetera. To reach her with articles or ideas, please email


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