Shade trees and tall shrubs allow gardeners to use low-growing accent plants that need protection from the sun and wind. Trees at full leaf stage block the sun from filtering through windows and reduce summer cooling costs. But trees and shrubs aren't that only plants that provide shade. Homeowners with small yards benefit from strategically placed foundation plants that further reduce summer heat gain through evaporative cooling.
Some bamboos rapidly grow up to 60 feet tall, and so provide quick shade as living screens. Running bamboos, such as Golden Grove and Koi, send out rhizomes up to 100 feet from the mother plant and easily take over landscapes. Clumping types, such as Chinese Mountain and Umbrella, produce new rhizomes from the base of the plant, and this tends to limit growth. Most bamboos are tropical, but some are temperate and grow as far north as New England. Bamboos prefer sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
Giant Chinese silver grasses grow 8 to 12 feet high. They provide shade as specimens at the back of a perennial border or as screens when planted in mass. They are clump-forming and develop tapered foliage with sharp margins. Their white flowers bloom late in the summer and persist into winter. Giant Chinese silver grasses grow rapidly in full sun but slowly in partial shade.
Pampas grass plants grow 8 to 10 feet high and spread vigorously. The foliage produces distinctive silvery-white, feather-like plumes. Homeowners often use the plants as specimens, not realizing the tremendous amount of space they require. The plants tend to be invasive and need more maintenance to keep them in check. They work well in commercial landscapes and along highways as shade barriers or windbreaks. The plants adapt to a wide variety of soils and grow in partial sun or shade.
Dutchman's Pipe vines grow up to 30 feet tall and perform as shade canopies when trained to climb an arbor, trellis or fence. Their heart-shaped leaves develop a medium green color with golden-green margins. Their pipe-shaped flowers appear brownish-purple or green in summer and emit a strong odor. The plants prefer full sun to partial shade and require little water.