There may be some difference between a fast windbreak and an ideal windbreak. Since many fast growing deciduous trees provide little wind breakage in the winter months, my go-to choice for screening/windbreaks is Thuja (standishii x plicata) 'Green Giant'. I am in USDA hardiness zone 6 and they thrive here in Pennsylvania. Here are some reasons why I prefer this tree over some others (such as leyland cypress).
- The plant can easily put on 3 feet a year or more
- Adaptable to all soil types (sand, clay, shale, low nitrogen, dry, etc) except for saturated.
- Very uniform grower in a group planting such as a windbreak
- Flexible branches can easily withstand 2' of snow
- Bright green year round
- Deer resistant (as compared with emerald arborvitae)
- Very disease/pest resistant - generally carefree
- Thrives in dappled to full sunlight
The downside is the cost, which is high if you are getting large trees to start with, like most people prefer to do. But if you start with 3' trees, you have a 20' windbreak in less than 10 years, and 30' ten years after (with proper spacing). That is fast for a conifer.
If you need a deciduous tree for some reason, i would choose the 'Hybrid Willow', for fast growth. They advertise 12-20' of growth a year, but when I've planted them, they pushed 6-10' a year for the first few years. Still pretty fast though. Because this isn't a long lived tree, and won't look so great after 30 years, I'd plant a second row of trees (something slower and more substantial) in the back. When they reach the height you need, you could cut back the willows (In that case prepare for insane regrowth).
Here's a list of good windbreaks that take longer to grow (only species which I've used for this in zone 6 where I live):
- Blue Spruce, Very dense, generally carefree, not uniform if grown from seed
- Eastern White Pine, faster growing, less dense. Can be picky with soil
- Dawn Redwood, good apical dominance, grows in damp or dry soils. Less dense, deciduous. Fast growing
- Bald Cypress, similar to Dawn Redwood, slower growing, can grow in wet soil/standing water
- Norway Spruce, one of the best adapted conifers to this climate. Dense with sufficient moisture (dry soil causes shedding of branchlets)'
- Street Keeper® Honeylocust. Very happy with the growth rate, density, structural integrity and pest/disease resistant. Adaptable with an aggressive root system.
And some which I did not prefer (ended up being high maintenance or needing replacement with a different species)
- Lombardy Poplar, short lived, disease prone, prone to storm damage (also cottonwood)
- Douglas Fir, not well adapted to this climate. Needs yearly spraying for needle cast and other diseases
- Siberian Elm, not very dense, prone to storm damage
- Black Locust, low foliage, disease prone