Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Common Flowering Quince, Flowering Quince, Chinese Quince

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a deciduous shrub that’s native to China. Its edible fruit appears in autumn and is often used in jams and jellies. The plant can also be used as a privacy hedge that will attract hummingbirds in droves.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Chaenomeles speciosa, the flowering quince, Chinese quince or Japanese quince, is a thorny deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub native to eastern Asia. It is taller than another commonly cultivated species, C. japonica, usually growing to about 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The flowers are usually red, but may be white or pink. The fruit is a fragrant, hard pome that resembles a quince.

This plant is widely cultivated in temperate regions for its twining habit and its showy flowers which appear early in the season, occasionally even in midwinter. It is frequently used as an informal low hedge. Numerous cultivars with flowers in shades of white, pink and red have been selected. The following cultivars and hybrids have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:

The following cultivars have received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:

  • ‘Geisha Girl’ (salmon pink)
  • ‘Moerloosei’ (scarlet)
  • ‘Pink Lady’ (pink)

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Both full sun and partial shade will work for this low-maintenance flowering plant, but planting in full sun will help to produce the best flowers. Place your flowering quince in an area where it will receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily and your plant will put on a striking display of flowers in early spring. It will also grow in partial shade, where it has access to direct sunlight for between 2-6 hours a day, but it won’t flower as much.

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.

Watering

Once established, flowering quince is drought-tolerant and only requires moderate watering, but younger plants will need to be watered more often to help them grow. Aim to water deeply once aweek, checking to see if the soil is dry before you do so. This will help to prevent certain fungal diseases, like root rot. Watering your plant at its base, rather than from above, will protect the foliage, while watering in the morning enables excess moisture to evaporate before night falls.

Soil

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.1 These plants can be grown in clay and sandy soils but may be less vigorous.

Fertilizing

Fertilizing your flowering quince will help with healthy growth and flower production. Feed your plants with a slow-release, general-purpose, dry fertilizer in early spring before new growth appears. When applying fertilizers, be sure to spread them on the soil, instead of directly on any plant parts, to avoid scorching. Water thoroughly after feeding.

Planting Instructions

plant your flowering quince in the winter while it’s still dormant. Prepare a planting hole that’s about twice or thrice as wide and deep as the plant’s root ball, mixing in organic matter to improve clay or poor quality soil. Position your plant in so that the top of the root ball is in-line with, or just slightly higher than, the surface level of the soil. Then, fill in the hole and tamp down. Water when the hole is filled halfway, and then again after planting. If planting in rows, plants should be at least 4.5 m apart.

Pruning

Pruning flowering quince is necessary only if you decide to shape the shrub. It will gradually spread through suckering, so these will need to be removed at ground level as they appear if you want to keep the shrub contained. Prune just after blooming is over since the bushes bloom on old wood and avoid removing bud-bearing wood.3 Pruning does interfere with fruit production, so avoid pruning if you are growing these shrubs to use the fruit in jellies or preserves.

Propagation

Rooting stem cuttings

Propagating flowering quince is 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. Choose semi-hardwood cuttings, which are partially matured wood with fully sized mature leaves but some green wood attached to firm stems.4 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 secured 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.

Seed

For flowering quince seeds to germinate, they must go through stratification or a freeze-and-thaw cycle. Take these steps.

  • Mimic the winter cold by putting the seeds in the refrigerator for 60 to 90 days.
  • Remove seeds from cold storage and plant in moistened soil. Loosely cover the pot with a clear plastic bag 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 

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. Fill the pot with a standard commercial potting mix. Blending in some additional sand may help the potting mix drain better. In colder regions (zones 5 and 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.

Overwintering

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.

Pests and Diseases

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 horticultural oil or neem oil can combat these pests.5

When spring rainfalls are heavy, flowering quince is susceptible to fungal leaf spot and scab, which can cause spotting and then defoliation. Spraying with fungicide can help with these fungal diseases.

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. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that causes branches to die back one by one. Oozing cankers may also appear. There is no cure for fire blight but affected limbs should be removed and destroyed.

Common Problems 

Flowering quince is a relatively low-maintenance shrub if its basic cultural needs are met, but no plant is entirely immune to problems. In addition to the sometimes devastating impact of fire blight, a flowering quince shrub sometimes prompts the following complaints.

No Flowers

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. In addition, badly timed pruning can also snip off the flower buds and ruin the bloom season.

Yellowing Leaves

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.

Drab Appearance

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.

III. 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 6 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’: The shrub 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’: This shrub is a smaller 4- to 5-foot plant that blooms with apricot-colored flowers in late spring.
  • Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Orange Delight’: It has bright orange double blooms that make for a gorgeous spring display.
  • Double Take series ‘Scarlet Storm’, ‘Orange Storm’, and ‘Pink Storm’: all grow to 5 feet high with double flowers of scarlet, orange, or pink. These plants are thornless and fruitless.2

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’: It grows 3 to 4 feet tall with white flowers.
  • Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and Gold’: This 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’: The plant is a 5-foot shrub that produces rich pink flowers in early spring.
  • Chaenomeles x superba ‘Nicoline’: This shrub produces bright scarlet flowers on 4-foot plants in early spring.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

  • Medicinal uses

The species has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for rheumatism, cholera, dysentery, enteritis, beriberi and vitamin C deficiency syndrome.

Not only the leaves and fruits but various other parts of the plant including roots, seeds, bark twigs, and flowers all have long history of clinical trials in curing many human ailments.

  • Culinary uses

The shrub produces yellowish-green fruits that can be used in preserves and jellies. The flowering quince fruits are edible after they have ripened but are bitter right off the shrub.

V. Harvesting and Storage

Aside from attractive blooms, flowering quince also produces edible fruits that are often used in jams and jellies. Begin harvesting the fruits as soon as they start turning from light green or light yellow to golden yellow. Take extra care when picking fruits as they bruise easily, and avoid damaged or mushy fruits. Use a sharp and clean pair of pruning shears to snip fruits from the plants.

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) Details

Common name Common Flowering Quince, Flowering Quince, Chinese Quince
Botanical name Chaenomeles speciosa
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Growth rate Medium
Harvest time Fall
Height 6 ft. 0 in. - 12 ft. 0 in.
Width 6 ft. 0 in. - 12 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Gold/Yellow