Climate change impacts tree species differentially by exerting unique pressures and altering their suitable habitats. We previously predicted these changes in suitable habitat for current and future climates using a species habitat model (DISTRIB) in the eastern United States. Based on the accuracy of the model, the species assemblages should eventually reflect the new quasi-equilibrium suitable habitats (~2100) after accounting for the lag in colonization. However, it is an open question if and when these newly suitable habitats will be colonized under current fragmented landscapes and realistic migration rates. To evaluate this, we used a spatially explicit cell-based model (SHIFT) that estimates colonization potentials under current fragmented habitats and several estimates of historical migration rates at a 1 km resolution. Computation time, which was previously the biggest constraint, was overcome by a novel application of convolution and Fast Fourier Transforms. SHIFT outputs, when intersected with future suitable habitats predicted by DISTRIB, allow assessment of colonization potential under future climates. In this article, we show how our approach can be used to screen multiple tree species for their colonization potentials under climate change. In particular, we use the DISTRIB and SHIFT models in combination to assess if the future dominant forest types in the north will really be dominated by oaks, as modelled via DISTRIB. Even under optimistic scenarios, we conclude that only a small fraction of the suitable habitats of oaks predicted by DISTRIB is likely to be occupied within 100 years, and this will be concentrated in the first 10–20 km from the current boundary. We also show how DISTRIB and SHIFT can be used to evaluate the potential for assisted migration of vulnerable tree species, and discuss the dynamics of colonization at range limits.