Originating in Japan, Japanese quince has been introduced and cultivated in many locations throughout the world, including the United States. Popular for its showy early spring flowers, this species is a low-growing deciduous shrub that is easy to care for. It is also favored for use as a bonsai plant, particularly in Japan.
The fragrant flowers and fruit, known as quince, attract birds, bees, and butterflies. Quince fruit is too hard and tart to be eaten raw, but is used to make jellies and preserves. In some parts of the world, quince is bletted (left to near rot) to make it softer and sweeter, and therefore edible.
The botanical name for Japanese quince is Chaenomeles japonica. The genus name Chaenomeles is the Greek word for "split apple" a reference to the flower produced by these plants, as well as the apple-shaped fruit. The species name "japonica" is the Latin word for Japanese.
The most common names for this attractive shrub are Japanese quince or simply japonica. Other common names include Cydonia, dwarf quince, Maule's quince, and ornamental Japanese flowering quince.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones
Japanese quince is recommended for USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Size and Shape
This shrub typically grows 2 to 3 feet in height and will spread to as much as 6 feet across. Its growth is dense and bushy.
Japanese quince will tolerate partial shade but will produce the most blossoms if planted in full sun.
Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit
The Japanese quince produces tangled thorny branches that are gray-brown. The leaves are dark green and coarsely-toothed, growing 1 to 2 inches in length. In winter, the leaves wither and usually fall off, although dried leaves may cling to the branches throughout the winter.
In March, the blossoms burst forth from buds that have developed on the bare branches during the late winter. The flowers are composed of five petals with white stamens in the center. They are typically a brilliant orange-red but may be pink or even creamy white. It is not until after blossoming that new leaves are produced.
In the autumn, the tree bears small apple-shaped fruits. The fruit is green to yellow and very hard, making it difficult to eat in the raw state. Fruit that has been cooked or softened by a frost can be eaten. More often, the fruit is used to create jelly, preserves, or combined with apples to make a pie.
Japanese quince is well suited for use as a low hedge or barrier plant. It can be trained to grow on a trellis or espaliered, which is grown along a wall or frame. Garden borders or specimen planting are another possible use for this species.
In winter, branches with formed flower buds may be cut and taken indoors to force blooming. This makes for an attractive winter floral arrangement.
One of the reasons for the popularity of Japanese quince is its ease of care. It tolerates a wide range of conditions and is drought resistant. During dry periods, it should be watered regularly, taking care to avoid over-watering. Like any shrub, Japanese quince will benefit from an annual all-purpose fertilizer, but it is not required.
Maintenance and Pruning
Pruning is not required unless the shrub is being espaliered. Avoid heavy pruning, as flowering takes place on old growth. After spring blossoming is completed, prune side shoots to five or six leaves. Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches at the same time. Never prune branches while they are flowering. Japanese quince will produce suckers, which should be removed promptly.
Pests and Diseases
Japanese quince is prone to fungal leaf spot, particularly during a springtime that is wetter than usual. New growth is susceptible to aphids. Scale and mites are sometimes a problem.