Rounding a narrow curve on 2-lane Farm Road 17, I was surprised at the sight: a hedge of quince shrubs in full flower bordering an old farmhouse.

Flowering Quince

The dramatic color display of quince can brighten the dullest of areas.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Flowering Quince at farmhouse

A quince hedge can make a bold, beautiful statement to a winter-weary garden.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

East Texas is pretty dreary in late February, and about the only forecast of spring in the countryside is winter wheat growing green in the fields. The bright red color of the flowers on the leafless branches of the deciduous quince was a welcome sight to a traveler, so I stopped and took some pictures.

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles) is not exactly uncommon in the South and Southwest, but it’s not the most popular kid on the playground either. Who knows why it’s lost its glitter – maybe due to competition from new azalea cultivars, Indian hawthorns, Nandinas, Abelias and other evergreen shrubs. Quince is as pretty as any of them, in my opinion. It’s probably tougher, too; the ones I came across on the road between Athens and Grand Saline, TX, were showing no evidence of winter damage, and apparently had received no recent attention. In the abandoned farmyard, they seemed to share a kinship with the old-standard irises in the yard, oblivious to time and treatment, flowering loyally in late winter and needing no care at all, save warming temperatures and longer days. Like the irises, they likely had been planted many years before I came along.

Not all quinces sport the deep red flowers of the Farm Road 17 variety. Japanese horticulturists have worked for centuries identifying preferred selections and creating hybrids of flowering quince that bloom in shades of scarlet, crimson, rose, brilliant red, white tinged with pink, pink tinged with white, and many others. There’s even a hybrid flowering quince, Chaenomeles x superba, that’s found in many colors and flower shapes, including single, semidouble and double.

Quince is famous for the beautiful flowers it produces at a time of year when little else of interest in happening in the garden. Depending on the USDA hardiness zone where it’s grown, quince will flower in January in the Deep South to late March in the northern US (zones 4-9). And you can cut branches in the winter and force them to bloom indoors much earlier. I’d say the only negative you can find on this plant is its gnarled, bare appearance in winter.

This pretty shrub performs best in moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. It endures alkalinity, but will become chlorotic in very alkaline soils (pH of 8 and higher). It’s quite tolerant of pollution and urban environments, as well as drought-tolerant.

Quince cultivars grow 5-10 feet tall and about as wide, and they’re responsive to hedging. Trimming and reshaping should be done immediately after flowering, at which time you might apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate vigorous new growth for the next few months. By fall, you can apply a balanced fertilizer, or one with high phosphorus content, to promote fruit set.

Flowering quince is a traffic-stopper in late winter and looks great throughout spring and summer. Do you have a spot in your landscape for a colorful, hardy, drought-tolerant shrub?