If an Olympics was held for countries contributing winter flowering shrubs and trees to gardens worldwide, Japan and China would be among the top medal contenders. Tally the score in your own garden or town: camellia, flowering cherries, flowering apricot, winter honeysuckle, wintersweet, witch hazel, and edgeworthia.
Another Asian shrub with deep roots in the garden is the common flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa. Sometimes the quince is referred to as the ugly duckling of winter shrubs because its dense growth habit includes a preponderance of gangly and tangled thorny branches. However, in late winter the shrub transforms into a showgirl specimen donning clusters of white, pink, red, rose, or salmon single or double blossoms before lustrous green leaves appear.
The easy to grow medium shrub matures to a height and width of 4-8 feet. Quince flowers best in a sunny to partial sun location in hardiness zones 4-9. It adapts to most soil types and prefers acid soil. Chlorosis, a yellowing of leaves, results in highly alkaline soils with a pH greater than 8. The shrub tolerates pollution, urban environments, and drought conditions.
In summer the flowers give way to small aromatic edible rocklike greenish-yellow fruit consumed by wildlife and made into confections by humans. The high pectin content of quince makes it a choice fruit for jams, jellies and marmalades. Quinces are mixed with pears and apples for fruit pastries and compotes.
Quince is easy to propagate and does so readily on its own forming thickets.
Gardeners share the plant with neighbors through tip cuttings, root division or layering. Seed propagation requires cold stratification.
Quinces have a wide variety of landscape uses shrub borders, windbreaks, under tall canopy trees, en masse, informal hedges, or as single specimens. They are also excellent candidates for espalier and are successful bonsai specimens. Their dense thorny twigs are security barriers and fences around the perimeter of the property.
In some areas of the country blossoming coincides with the return of hummingbirds. Quince blossoms become the nectar source for the long-distance migrants.
In winter quince branches are a clipped to force into premature bloom indoors. Quince is often planted in the company of its complement, forsythia.
Hundreds of cultivars exist but only a few are available commercially. Cultivars have been bred for disease resistance, compact growth habit, color variations, fewer thorns, and stem appeal in winter. Consider the cultivars ‘Cameo,’ ‘Jet Trail,’ ‘Contorta,’ ‘Texas Scarlet,’ ‘Cardinalis,’ and ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ when researching specimens for your garden. Mail order sources include Forest Farm, Heronswood, Ty Ty, Wayside Gardens, and White Flower Farm.
Quince, a member of the Rose Family, is susceptible to fire blight, scale, canker, apple rust, and apple mosaic virus. Apple scab can cause defoliating by mid-summer. Aphids appear on new growth.
Annual rejuvenation pruning is recommended to control what Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, describes as “a hammocky mass of unmanageable proportions.” Pruning should be done after flowering and will enhance the shrubs overall ornamental appearance and increase blossoms.
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