Some bulbs are so popular that once-a-year gardeners consider nothing else when they plan a bright display for spring - and tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths seldom fail to bloom that first year.
That's because embryo flowers are already snuggled deep inside the bulbs waiting for spring temperatures to awaken them. But whether they bloom in the second year depends on how they've been looked after and, most importantly, where they were planted.
For instance, most tulips and crocuses are native to bright hillsides with freezing winters and bak-ing summers. They need similar conditions if they are to become perennial. As a result, their planting place should have at least six hours of sun daily and excellent drainage. They need to be fertilized after bloom and then kept absolutely dry once the leaves have died down.
Container gardeners can achieve this by having a tulip-crocus only container they move under cover for summer then bring out again when fall rains arrive.
Variegated tulips, such as the white-edged leaf of New Design or Praestans Unicum, or the cream-green leaves of the yellow-flowered Garant, are especially precious since they give you spectacular display even before they bloom.
Crocus corms need the same conditions as tulips and most also need protection from squirrels that dig and eat the bulbs.
Tulips can sometimes be protected by planting six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) deep. But crocuses may need a layer of wire on top or planting inside a plastic recycled fruit bag.
Daffodils and hyacinths have been developed from plants that make dense masses in temperate, welldrained, shady woodlands.
Gardeners who plant them in a similar spot may find they enlarge into big clumps that flower every spring. Planting under tall shrubs or trees with early spring sun but summer shade is a good substitute.
But in tougher conditions, it's the dwarf daffodils and narcissus that return year after year.
People who want larger daffodils and narcissus to return annually could try one of the naturalizing mixes.
Hyacinths like a similar environment to daffodils but can handle deeper shade. Many gardeners plant them in pots for late winter bloom indoors. The breeders are trying to move closer to a red hyacinth, but blues, whites, apricot and yellows are by far the most common.
After blooming, if fertilized as the leaves begin dying back, they do very well planted outside in shady or semi-shady corners. In later years, their stems get longer and their blooms fewer as they begin revealing their bluebell heritage.
The six-inch (15-cm) Iris reticulata is another lover of sun and good drainage.
It's a reliable returner. The deep-plum coloured George and the medium blue Harmony are especially good naturalizers.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via firstname.lastname@example.org.