Trees have a genetic growth rate for development based on their species and influenced by their environment. People often base a selection of a tree on growth rate preferring something where they will see rapid results rather than opting to buy a tree perceived as “slow” growing. And many species which have the reputation for being slow growing may actually grow fast in their youth.
Before you succumb to the desire for instant gratification, consider some of the following points because, as is often the case in life, there are trade-offs.
Fast-growing species tend to have weaker wood and can be shorter lived than slow growing species. This relates to their ability or “strategy” in dealing with disease and insect pressures, which is the topic of another blog although briefly addressed in Trees Don’t Heal, They Seal.
A fast-growing tree whose wood is weak can be a higher maintenance tree than slow-growing species. They may require more intensive or ongoing clean up as they have a tendency to be “self-pruning”. A lovely example being a willow tree that will shed limbs or twigs every time the wind blows. They often require pruning on a shorter rotation in order to keep them in check within the landscape. They may quickly outgrow the site, or need pruning simply to maintain a desirable structure.
There is a certain mindset that states a tree can be made to grow faster by fertilizing. Well, that is true. However, pushing vegetative growth (which is what fertilization does) is at the expense of the tree’s ability to put resources into root development, storage and defense; important functions for health and longevity in trees. As I just stated, a fast-growing tree will generally require pruning on a shorter time rotation than a slow-growing one, add in the fact of forcing growth to make it grow faster, and you end up compounding that issue. And that wonderfully succulent growth is candy to many insects as well as disease organisms. Many fast-growing trees already have a long list of insect and disease organisms, increasing that probability by fertilization, and you have a tree with a maintenance schedule and cost factor you may not have counted on.
Bottom line: faster is not always better. When it comes to trees you often want to bank on the tortoise, not the hare.