Plant Profile: Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles Speciosa)

Old flowering quince shrub that has been pruned a lot. Beautiful early-spring bloomer.
David Beaulieu

The flowering quince is a thorny, multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that has a somewhat messy growth habit but beautiful red, orange, white, or pink flowers, and shiny, dark-green foliage. Related to roses, the thorny habit and easy-to-grow nature make it a good choice for barrier plantings.

Description

In natural environments, the different varieties of the native species grow 6 to 10 feet high with a similar spread, but there are also cultivars that have been developed which grow to only about 3 to 4 feet in height, such as the popular Double Take TM series.

The shrub is a dense mound of gray-brown spiny twigs. Scarlet, red, or pink flowers about 2 inches in diameter, with five petals, appear in March and April. The flowers last for about 10 to 14 days are followed by yellowish-green fruits that can be used in preserves and jellies. The oval leaves with serrated edges are a glossy dark-green, growing to a maximum of about 3 1/2 inches.

This plant has prominent critics, including Michael Dirr, one the most prominent experts on woody plants, who describes flowering quince as "oafish," "a tangled mass of stems," and "a hummocky mass." But many people find its easy care and dense, thorny growth habit makes for an easy, low-maintenance option where a dense, impenetrable hedge shrub or border is required.

Botanical Information

Flowering quince is native to China and Korea and is sometimes known as Chinese flowering quince. The scientific name is Chaenomeles speciosa, and it is closely related to two other common landscape plants, Chaenomeles cathayensis, and Chaenomeles. japonica (Japanese quince). Flowering quince is a member of the rose family, as evidenced by its thorny stems and flowers and leaves that resemble those of roses. It is one of the oldest of all landscape plants, having been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia.

Several cultivars of flowering quince are commonly sold at garden centers, and there are also hybrids of other cross-bred Chaenomeles species.

Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9 can find cultivar suitable for their gardens. The popular Double Take TM series is grown in zones 5 to 8.

Chaenomeles speciosa flowers
GYRO PHOTOGRAPHY/a.collectionRF / Getty Images

Landscape Uses

With a thorny habit and a relatively short bloom season, flowering quince is not a great specimen plant, but it works well planted in mass along borders or as an informal barrier hedge. In large mixed orders, it can provide an early-spring accent. The closely related Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is a classic cottage garden plant; the fruit can be used in jellies and jams.

The Double Take™ series of flowering quince shrubs are said to be deer-resistant plants, but they are not resistant to rabbits. Flowering quinces are known to be plants that attract hummingbirds.

spring garden early spring grassy bank, chaenomeles speciosa, narcissus, view to erica bed & orchard trees, march, docton mill, devon
Juliette Wade / Getty Images

Growing Flowering Quince

Grow flowering quince shrubs in full sun and in well-drained loam soil for the best flowering display. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer in early spring, or apply compost as a soil amendment. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, an overly alkaline soil pH can lead to problems with chlorosis, so keep the soil pH slightly acidic or neutral. Plants grown in clayey soils will survive but may not be as vigorous.

Mulch the base of the shrubs to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. While these are reasonably drought-tolerant shrubs once established, young plants will need to be watered at times.

Prune just after blooming is over, since the bushes bloom on old wood. Pruning should be fairly light, but when done immediately after blooming it will stimulate new growth that makes for more profuse blooming the following spring.

Recommended Cultivars

  • Chaenomeles x superba 'Jet Trail': grows 3 to 4 feet with white flowers.
  • Double Take™ series: 'Scarlet Storm,' 'Orange Storm' and 'Pink Storm' grow to 5 feet in height with double flowers of scarlet, orange, or pink.
Frosted flowers of ornamental quince (Chaenomeles x superba), February
Frosted flowers of ornamental quince (Chaenomeles x superba). Sue Bishop / Getty Images

Problems

Flowering quince, like other members of the rose family, is susceptible to fungal leaf spot. Fireblight and scab can sometimes occur. Aphids can badly damage new growth but the damage is not life-threatening. Other insect pests include scale and mites. Chlorosis (yellowing of the foliage) can occur in high pH soils.