UNITED STATES—Narcissus, daffodil, freesia, snowdrop, snowflake, grape hyacinth, various iris and most other early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like plants should be perennials. We plant them with the hope that they will survive after bloom to bloom for another season, and perhaps for many seasons. Some should multiply to provide more bloom over the years. Bloom is just part of their annual cycle.
Lily, crocus, hyacinth, tulip, anemone and ranunculus are not nearly as likely to bloom more than one year for a variety of reasons. Some prefer more chill in winter. Some dislike the long and dry summers. Some survive as perennials, but do not bloom again. However, in some special situations, they also can bloom annually. After spring bulbs, there will be a different set of summer bulbs.
So, what happens after bloom? After exhausting much of their stored resources on production of bloom and foliage, bulbs try to recover and regenerate resources for the following season. Most work to replace their exhausted bulbs with comparable new bulbs. They need foliage to do this, but eventually shed their foliage as their new bulbs go dormant for the following autumn and winter.
Of course, they all do this at different rates. Some smaller bulbs are surprisingly efficient, and shed their foliage as soon as the weather gets warm later in spring. It is amazing that they can store up so much in such a minimal time. Other bulbs shed slowly, as their deteriorating foliage lingers for a few weeks into summer. Foliage of summer bulbs that bloom later is likely to linger until frost.
Because it is essential to the regenerative process, deteriorating foliage cannot be cut back prematurely. It is not always easy to hide either. In mixed plantings, it might be obscured by ground cover or other plants. Alternatively, warm season annuals can be planted over the area. Some of us braid daffodil leaves, but others believe that braids draw attention to the deteriorating foliage.
Those of us who still dig and store and perhaps chill marginal bulbs, must wait for complete dormancy.
Their little tufts of tuberous roots that were buried late last year were not much to look at. They were more like bits of dried and shriveled sea anemone than something that would grow and bloom with fluffy anemone like flowers. Ranunculus do not bloom as prolifically as related anemones, but they do so with different colors and bulkier flowers that seem crowded with too many thin petals.
Ranunculus like what so many flowering annuals like. They want rich soil, regular watering, full sun exposure, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer. They start blooming early in spring, and can continue blooming with multiple flowers a bit longer than other early spring bulbs that bloom only once. They finish bloom as the weather gets warm, and their handsome parsley like foliage starts to yellow.
Ranunculus are probably best mixed with other perennials and annuals that will compensate for them as they go dormant later in spring. They can alternatively be grown in a cutting garden just for cut flowers. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and wide, even if the flowers stand slightly taller. The full and symmetrical flowers can be various hues of white, pink, red, orange, yellow or purple.
Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.