UNITED STATES—After working so hard to bloom so impressively in spring or summer, bulbs redirect their efforts into saving up their energy for winter dormancy. That is why their fading foliage lingers after faded flowers get pruned away. The foliage eventually dries and deteriorates, leaving plumped dormant bulbs to overwinter underground. It is all their natural life cycle.
However, to bloom well the following spring, many bulbs need to be chilled while dormant. Such bulbs are from cooler climates. The chill convinces them that it really is winter, and that it will be safe to bloom when weather gets warmer in spring. They can get rather confused without adequate chill. Some may never bloom as well as they did their first spring.
Tulip, hyacinth, lily, anemone and ranunculus are probably the best examples of the worst perennial bulbs. Technically, they are perennials. Where winters are cooler, they may naturalize and bloom every spring. Here, winters are just too mild. They bloom very impressively in their first spring, but rarely bloom as well the second spring, and only if pampered.
Narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth and bearded iris are much more reliable. Crocus and freesia are a bit more demanding, but can be reliable if they get what they want. Montbretia and crocosmia are reliable enough to become invasive. Gladiola and dahlia, which are not quite as reliable as crocus, are summer bulbs, so get planted a bit later.
Of course not all bulbs are true bulbs. Some are corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. Some get planted deeply. Bearded iris and a few others get planted shallowly. A few others do best in pots. In their first year, some bulbs can be planted in phases so that they bloom in phases the following spring. However, all bulbs of each type will synchronize by their second year.
Anemone, ranunculus and bearded iris bloom too synchronously to be phased. No matter when they get planted, each type blooms at the same time. However, some bearded iris bloom as early as the earliest of daffodil, and others bloom late. Some even bloom twice!
Highlight: Mexican bush sage
In the first year, Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, does not get very big. Then it gets cut back to the ground at the end of winter. It gets about twice as big in the second year, only to get cut back again as winter ends. By the third or fourth year, healthy maturing plants can grow to five feet tall and seven feet wide each season. While cut back, big clumps can be divided to propagate.
Strikingly purplish blue floral spikes bloom from summer or early autumn until frost. The odd white “tags” that protrude from the fuzzy bracts are the true flowers. The lanceolate leaves are grayish sage green and somewhat fuzzy. Plants are well rounded like tumble weeds, and should not be shorn. Mexican bush sage is very popular among hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
Mexican bush sage wants full sun exposure, and unlike most other sages, it prefers relatively rich soil. Fertilizer can compensate for inferior or dense soil, and improves foliar density, but too much can delay bloom. New plants like to be watered regularly, especially if they grow well. As they mature and disperse their roots, they become less reliant on regular watering.