Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a somewhat messy growth habit but beautiful red, orange, white, or pink flowers to go with shiny, dark green foliage. Related to roses, flowering quince has a thorny habit and easy-to-grow nature that makes it a good choice for barrier or border plantings. The shrub is a dense mound of gray-brown spiny twigs with five-petal flowers about 2 inches in diameter. The flowers last for about 10 to 14 days and are followed by yellowish-green fruits that can be used in preserves and jellies. The oval leaves with serrated edges are glossy dark green, growing to a maximum of about 3 1/2 inches.
Flowering quince is typically planted in the fall or winter months as a nursery container plant and must be watered consistently until the roots are established. It has a medium growth rate and can take several years to reach its full 6- to 10-foot height.
|Common Names||Flowering quince, Chinese flowering quince|
|Botanical Name||Chaenomeles speciosa|
|Mature Size||3-10 ft. tall, 3-10 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Winter, spring|
|Flower Color||White, orange, red, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||5 to 9 (USDA)|
Flowering Quince Care
Most gardeners find flowering quince an easy plant to maintain. It grows adequately in most soil types other than alkaline clay, and pruning is necessary only if you decide to shape the shrub. It will gradually spread through suckering, so these will need to be removed if you want to keep the shrub contained.
A member of the rose family, flowering quince can be susceptible to fire blight, so be alert for the stem dieback that signals this bacterial disease.
Grow flowering quince shrubs in full sun. It can grow in partial sun, but the flower display will be better if the plant is exposed to full sunlight.
Plant flowering quince shrubs in well-drained loam for the best flowering display. An overly alkaline soil pH can lead to problems with chlorosis, so keep the soil pH slightly acidic or neutral. These plants can be grown in clay and sandy soils but may be less 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 regularly during dry periods—1 inch of water per week through a combination of rainfall and irrigation is ideal. Water in the morning so excess moisture has time to dry before evening. Sprayed water can cause leaf spots, and leaves may drop if the foliage stays wet.
Temperature and Humidity
Flowering quince is reliably hardy in zones 5 to 9, though gardeners in zone 4 are sometimes able to grow it—especially if they select cultivars bred for their climate. This shrub is normally hardy down to about minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but young plants can be sensitive to cold. Once flowering quince is established, the plant is quite forgiving of a wide range of temperature and humidity levels.
Feed flowering quince with a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer in early spring before new growth occurs, or apply compost as a soil amendment. For the amount of fertilizer to use, follow the product label instructions. Scatter the fertilizer carefully on the soil around the plant; do not let it touch the foliage, as it can scorch the leaves. Follow with a deep watering to distribute the fertilizer around the roots.
Types of Flowering 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.
In natural environments, the different varieties of the native species grow six to 10 feet high with a similar spread. Several cultivars of flowering quince are commonly sold at garden centers, and there are also hybrid crosses of other Chaenomeles species. Some notable varieties include:
- Chaenomeles speciosa 'Moerloosei' has an unusually long bloom period in early spring; pink and white flowers bloom for several weeks. The plants grow 3 to 10 feet wide and up to 15 feet wide.
- Chaenomeles speciosa 'Geisha Girl' is a smaller 4- to 5-foot plant that blooms with apricot-colored flowers in late spring.
- Chaenomeles speciosa 'Orange Delight' has bright orange double blooms that make for a gorgeous spring display.
- Double Take series: 'Scarlet Storm,' 'Orange Storm,' and 'Pink Storm' grow to 5 feet high with double flowers of scarlet, orange, or pink.
Several hybrid crosses between C. speciosa and C. japonica (Japanese quince) are also excellent landscape plants. Here are some award-winning options:
- Chaenomeles x superba 'Jet Trail' grows 3 to 4 feet tall with white flowers.
- Chaenomeles x superba 'Crimson and Gold' is a fast-growing, very small shrub (2 to 3 feet) that produces deep crimson flowers for several weeks in early spring.
- Chaenomeles x superba 'Pink Lady' is a 5-foot shrub that produces rich pink flowers in early spring.
- Chaenomeles x superba 'Nicoline' has bright scarlet flowers borne on 4-foot plants in early spring.
It's best to avoid pruning unless necessary to shape the shrub, such as when used in a hedge. 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. Pruning does interfere with fruit production, so avoid pruning if you are growing these shrubs to use the fruit in jellies or preserves. If you don't want the shrub to spread, then make sure to remove suckers at ground level as they appear.
Propagating Flowering Quince
Propagating flowering quince can done through rooting stem cuttings or planting seeds. Rooting stem cuttings is the better method if you are growing a hybrid plant, as you are guaranteed to get an offspring plant that is identical to the parent plant. Cuttings for flowering quince should be semi-hardwood cuttings—partially mature wood with fully sized mature leaves but some green wood attached to firm stems. Late summer to early fall is the best time to propagate by this method:
- In late summer, cut several stem clippings (about 6 inches long) from the previous year's growth (old wood). The diameter of the stems should be that of a pencil. Leave the top leaves intact, but remove the rest of the leaves.
- Score the bottom section of each stem cutting to reveal the cambium layer beneath the bark.
- Dip the scored cutting end in a rooting hormone, then embed it in a small pot filled with a porous potting mix, such as a blend of peat moss and sand.
- Cover with plastic (such as a loosely secure plastic bag) and set it in a spot with bright light but not direct sun.
- After a month, check to see if the cutting has rooted by gently tugging the stem. If the stem resists pulling, then it is rooting properly.
- Wait one more month and then transplant outdoors.
How to Grow Flowering Quince From Seed
In order for seeds to germinate, they must go through stratification or a freeze and thaw cycle. You can mimic the winter cold by putting the seeds in the refrigerator for 60 to 90 days; then remove them, plant in soil, water, and cover with plastic until germination occurs. Transplant seedlings into separate containers once two sets of true leaves develop. Keep the soil moist but not damp. Continue growing the plants until they reach a height of about 12 inches, then transplant.
Potting and Repotting Flowering Quince
Smaller cultivars of flowering quince (with a mature size of 4 feet or less) can be successfully grown as potted plants for the patio or deck, though you should be careful where you position the plants, as they are quite thorny. And remember that the plants will not be especially attractive after the spectacular bloom period is over.
Use a large, heavy pot with good drainage, filled with a standard commercial potting mix. Blending in some additional sand may help the potting mix drain better. In colder regions (zones 5, 6), it is best to move the pots to a sheltered location for the dormant winter months, as the exposed above-ground roots can be susceptible to cold damage. Potted flowering quince plants generally need to be repotted every two to three years.
Flowering quince can be subject to quite a bit of damage from hungry rabbits in the wintertime, especially when the plants are young. Protect the plants by encircling the base with a closed cylinder of metal hardware cloth with the bottom embedded several inches deep in the soil to prevent burrowing.
In more northern climates, protecting the root zone with a thick layer of mulch will help young plants survive the cold. Once mature, this protection is usually not needed.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Aphids can badly damage new growth but the damage is not life-threatening. Other insect pests include scale and mites. Where necessary, spraying with a horticultural oil or neem oil can combat these pests.
When spring rainfalls are heavy, flowering quince is susceptible to fungal leaf spot, which can cause defoliation. Spraying with fungicide can help with these fungal diseases. Fireblight and scab can sometimes occur. Fireblight is a bacterial disease that causes branches to die back one-by-one. Oozing cankers may also appear. Affected limbs should be removed and destroyed.
How to Get Flowering Quince to Bloom
Flowering quince shrubs typically bloom prolifically for a relatively short period in the early to mid spring—sometimes even in late winter in warmer zones. With pure species plants, the bloom period can be quite as short as a week, though some hybrid varieties are touted as being "long-blooming." Even here, the bloom period is rarely more than two or three weeks, at most.
- Poor bloom may occur when the flower buds are damaged by early spring frosts, which is common in the northern end of the hardiness range (zone 5). The plant is not permanently damaged, and flowering will return the following year, assuming there is not a repeat of the untimely frost.
- Badly timed pruning can also snip off the flower buds and ruin the bloom season. If pruning is necessary, do it immediately after the shrub has finished blooming for the season. These shrubs bloom on "old wood" from the previous year's growth, so avoid pruning that removes bud-bearing wood.
- Flowering quince reacts badly to alkaline soil and may withhold flowers if the soil pH is not acidic or neutral. Blending in elemental sulfur can rectify alkaline soil.
- Finally, flowering quince needs plenty of sun and will withhold flowers if growing in shady conditions.
Common Problems With Flowering Quince
Overall, flowering quince shrubs are relatively low maintenance if their basic cultural needs are met, but no shrub is entirely immune to problems. In addition to the sometimes devastating impact of fireblight, flowering quince shrubs sometimes prompt the following complaints:
Chlorosis (yellowing of the foliage) can occur in high pH (alkaline) soils. This can often be rectified with an annual feeding with an acidifying fertilizer. A more permanent solution is to amend the soil with elemental sulfur, which lowers soil pH.
Homeowners are sometimes disappointed by the lack of year-round appeal of these shrubs. Flowering quince is extraordinarily showy during the rather brief bloom period but is decidedly ordinary in appearance at other times of the year. Flowering quince is not a good choice if you're looking for a shrub with multi-season appeal—though its thorniness does make for a good barrier hedge.
How is this plant best used in the landscape?
With its thorny habit and relatively short bloom season, flowering quince is not a great specimen plant, but it works well planted en masse along borders or as an informal barrier hedge. In large mixed borders, it can provide an early-spring accent. The fruit from quince shrubs (especially the related C. japonica) can be used in jams and jellies.
How long does a flowering quince shrub live?
A flowering quince shrub that remains healthy can live for several decades. Plants 40 years old are not uncommon.
Is the fruit of a flowering quince shrub edible?
The small apple-like fruits are rather sour and bitter if eaten directly off the plant, but quince fruits are often used in jellies and preserves.
How does wildlife interact with this shrub?
Flowering quinces are known to be plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Because of its thorny nature, it is fairly resistant to damaging browsing from deer.
What is the difference between flowering quince and Japanese quince?
Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is a smaller shrub (usually growing to no more than 3 feet). It is considered less ornamental than C. speciosa, and thus is rarely sold in the trade. Many of the so-called Japanese quince plants are not pure species, but rather hybrids between C. speciosa and C. japonica.
Mengelm K, Geurtzen, G. Iron Chlorosis on Calcareous Soils. Alkaline Nutritional Condition as the Cause for the Chlorosis. Journal of Plant Nutrition, v9,3-7,161-173, 1986, doi:10.1080/01904168609363434
Chaenomeles—Flowering Quinces. Gardenia.
Chaenomeles speciosa. North Carolina State Extension.
Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings. North Carolina State Extension.
How To Plant, Prune, Fertilize, Water And Care For Flowering Quince Bushes. Wilson Bros. Gardens
Fireblight in Ornamentals. Penn State Extension.