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Flowering Quince Shrubs

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

This old flowering quince shrub has obviously received a lot of pruning attention over the years. Enough to please Michael Dirr? For a look at what a mature specimen looks like unpruned, click "More Images" below.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Flowering Quince:

The taxonomy of the type of flowering quinces I planted in my own landscaping is Chaenomeles speciosa. I grow cultivars in the Double Take™ series: 'Scarlet Storm,' 'Orange Storm' and 'Pink Storm.'

Plant Type:

Flowering quinces are multi-stemmed deciduous shrubs.

Characteristics:

Bushes in the Double Take™ series reach a maximum of about 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide, meaning they're more compact than some older varieties of flowering quince shrubs. As their cultivar names indicate, they bear red flowers, pink flowers, or orange flowers. The shades change as the blossoms age (e.g., scarlet ages to a maroon). The bushes in this series are thornless and fruitless. Plants bloom in April in my zone 5 garden.

The series name is indicative not only of the notion that you'll "do a double take" when you witness the beauty of these bushes' blooms, but also of the fact that they have double flowers.

Planting Zones for Flowering Quince Shrubs:

The species plant, Chaenomeles speciosa is indigenous to the Far East. Gardeners typically grow the Double Take™ series in planting zones 5-8.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Grow flowering quince shrubs in full sun (for the best flowering display) and in a well-drained loam. To fertilize, use 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 it slightly acidic or neutral.

Uses:

Not showy enough from season to season to be used as a specimen plant, I recommend growing it en masse along borders or as an early-spring accent in mixed border plantings. I have also seen varieties that bear thorns planted in hedges, for which the thorns furnish a measure of security. The old-time favorite Chaenomeles japonica is a classic cottage garden plant; the fruit was used in jellies, in a pinch.

Wildlife Attracted by Flowering Quince Shrubs:

According to their developers, the bushes in the Double Take™ series of flowering quince shrubs are deer-resistant plants. However, I know from personal experience (see below) that they are not rabbit-resistant. In terms of drawing "good" wildlife, they are known to be plants that attract hummingbirds.

Care:

Prune just after blooming is over, since the bush blooms on old wood.

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

Outstanding Features:

What is the best feature of these plants? That's a no-brainer: the gorgeous red, pink and orange colors of the flowers. Other types of flowering quince shrubs can produce white flowers (there's a cultivar called 'Jet Trail'), although I rarely see this color in people's yards. I think most people share my view that the value of these plants lies almost exclusively in the exquisite color of the pink, red and orange varieties. For more on my opinion (and the opinions of others) of this bush, see below.

More:

Micheal Dirr is one of this bush's famous detractors. In the Chaenomeles speciosa entry in Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, we find the following descriptions of flowering quince shrubs (p.180):

  • The habit is "oafish"
  • It produces a "tangled mass of stems"
  • It can become a "hummocky mass"

All of which leads to his suggestion that the bush be pruned frequently.

Dirr is not alone in his negative estimate of flowering quince shrubs. My wife, Maria doesn't care for the bushes we encounter when we're out on our drives, regarding them as messy-looking.

So why do I defend the honor of flowering quince shrubs? Quite simply, the ones with the pinkish-red flowers bowl me over every time I see them. There's nothing else that blooms in this color here in New England in early spring. Those spring blossoms atone for whatever sins the plants may be guilty of during the other three seasons of the year. I also admire the shiny, dark-green foliage.

Having wanted to grow flowering quince shrubs for a long time, I was excited to begin testing the Double Take™ series. I started off with the very small plants that were shipped to me from the nursery in June, 2010. Knowing that bushes can sometimes take a while to become sufficiently established and mature to bloom, I didn't allow my hopes to become too high that I would have flowers in the spring of 2011.

And it's a good thing I didn't! Not that it was necessarily the plants' fault, though. No, I found out the hard way that part of growing flowering quince shrubs is practicing wild rabbit control. Due to rabbit damage to my plants during the winter of 2010-2011, my bushes were chopped down to ground level.

So in 2011, up went the chicken wire to protect my plants from rabbits. The result? I was the proud father of my first Chaenomeles speciosa flowers in April, 2012! True, the flowers were too close to the ground for optimal viewing. Thanks to the rabbits, my flowering quince shrubs were still short. But because those blooms were long-awaited, I was determined to appreciate them to the fullest, even if it meant getting down on my hands and knees to do so!


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