Flowering Quince: Cinderella of the Early Spring Garden
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 22, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Flowering quince blooms in late winter to early spring at a time when gardeners welcome their bright colors.
Flowering quince has been around for years. I remember it in the yards and gardens of my childhood. I admired it even then, and my eyes drank it all in when the school bus traveled through the countryside with its load of winter-weary children. It colored bleak Mississippi landscapes with its glorious bright red blossoms that glistened among the daffodils. I am almost certain that my memory of it is more beautiful than the shrub itself, although, who can fault something that blooms at a time when color is so much needed?
The outline of the shrubs is usually rounded, but it can vary considerably and may be erect or rambling. Waxy 1 1/2-inch flowers that resemble apple blossoms emerge anywhere from January to March in the South. Flowers are borne on old wood in clusters of two to four and may be red, salmon, pink, or white. Most flowers are single, but some cultivars have double flowers. Fruit is an astringent hard, yellow, two-inch apple-like fruit. Although not good to eat raw, it makes a tasty jelly or marmalade.
Culture and Use
Flowering quince is an adaptable, easy to grow shrub that does best in full sun. It is tolerant of dry soils, but can develop chlorosis in high pH soils. Periodic pruning improves bloom. Old canes and suckers can be removed every year. Shrubs can be pruned back to about 6–12 inches above the soil. Pruning should be done immediately after flowering since flowers are borne on the previous season's wood.
Problems include its susceptibility to apple scab and fireblight. Scale, mites and aphids can also be problematic. Because of its twigginess and thorns, leaves and garbage can collect in the plant and cause an untidy look.
Use flowering quince as a hedge or barrier plant or in a shrub border. Tall types can be used as specimens or can be espaliered to accent a wall or fence. Thorny gray-brown branches are attractive in floral designs.
A pink-flowering cultivar
Kinds of Flowering Quince
Three distinct species of flowering quince are Chaenomeles speciosa, C. japonica, and C. ×superba (a cross between the two). Many cultivars exist. Dr. Dirr lists some of the most common which include 'Cameo' (double apricot pink flowers), 'Jet Trail' (white), 'Minerva' (cherry-red), 'Nivalis' (white), 'Spitfire' (vivid red), and 'Toyo-Nishiki' (pink, white, red and combination-colored flowers on the same branch). ‘Texas Scarlet' grows to about 4 feet tall and has bright red blossoms. Many consider this one to be the best because of its spreading habit and profuse flowering.
Keep a lookout for flowering quince this spring. Get a good look and hold it in your memory. In a short time it will be a nondescript shrub that will not get a second glance. It's one of our season markers, signaling that winter's time is short, and that spring is in the offing.
At a Glance
Common name: Flowering Quince
Scientific name: Chaenomeles speciosa
Pronunciation: kee-no-MAY-leez spee-see-OH-suh
Relatives: Rose, plum, crabapple
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4–10
Salt Tolerance: Slight to moderate
Size: 6 to 10 feet tall x 6 to 10 wide
Propagation: Cuttings (softwood, semihardwood, or hardwood), layering, seed, sucker removal
Makes about 4 half pint jars
From Elaine Courtney, Okaloosa County Extension, Crestview, Florida
3 ¾ cups quince juice (3.5 pounds quince + 7 cups water)
¼ cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
Prepare Juice: Select about ¼ firm ripe and ¾ fully ripe quince. Sort, wash and remove stems and blossom ends; do not pare or core. Slice quince very thin or into small pieces into a saucepan. Add water, cover and bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Extract juice, using a jelly bag.
Making the jelly: Measure quince juice into saucepan. Add lemon juice and sugar and stir well. Boil over high heat to 220 degrees or until jelly mixture sheets from spoon.
Remove from heat; skim off foam quickly. Pour jelly immediately info hot canning jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.