February Flower of the Month: Flowering Quince
When planning your garden, I encourage you to plant for every season. The winter landscape may feel bleak and lackluster but it is one of my favorite seasons.
As an Arborist, I love seeing the architecture of the garden -- the striking lines and branching habits of the trees and deciduous shrubs.
You'd be surprised how many fun flowering trees and shrubs there are to brighten the winter garden!
One such plant is the Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciose). The Greek origin of Chaenomeles meaning split apple and speciose meaning showy.
The quince comes in a variety of colors including white, red, and pink, and comes into bloom in late January into early February. While they are all early bloomers, my white quince blooms about a month earlier than my pinks.
The little buds and blooms clustered on these funky wooden branches add great lines to any floral centerpiece. They can stand alone in a large vase, or can be used for support to hold up the blooms of orchids or amaryllis--toss those generic bamboo stakes and spice it up with these blooming branches. The quince is versatile and delicate---simply lovely.
How to Plant Flowering Quince in Your Garden
Things to think about to find the right spot for your quince:
Size. The mature size of the variety you choose—keeping in mind you will likely be harvesting branches so your size will remain smaller than mature size.
Access to sun. The quince flowers best when in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
What they look like in the off-season. While the quince is spectacular when it blooms, it doesn’t look like much the rest of the year. I plant them on borders or nestled away where you can see them, but where they’re not taking up a main area of focus ---save those spots for your year-round specimens!
Access to other structures. It is ideal to plant the quince close to a structure or hardscaping (man-made features like paths or walls) where it can draw some extra warmth. With swelling buds in the winter and our crazy weather, if the quince is too exposed, the swollen buds can get burnt if the temperature drops. I recommend a frost cloth during its budding stage—weather dependent of course.
How to Care for Your Quince
The quince likes an acidic soil (pH 3.7-7). When fertilizing treat it like your azaleas or rhododendron---I prefer Hollytone which is an organic fertilizer for acid loving plants.
The quince is drought tolerant once established--always love that!
The quince blooms on old wood, which means the buds set on the previous seasons growth in the late summer. Do any structural pruning only after the quince blooms to avoid cutting off your February lovelies.
To keep a nice young plant with an open framework (my personal pruning mantra):
Remove any dead wood
Remove 1/3 of the old wood to the base of the plant. Old wood will be darker in color and loses blooming vigor with age.
Remove lateral branches that shoot into the center of the plant causing congestion. A congested framework will reduce airflow which can increase possible disease problems. Plus, I don't know about you, but I love an airy and layered plant.
When taking cuttings, prune back to a strong, outward facing bud to promote new growth toward the exterior of the plant.
Prune off lanky stems with awkwardly positioned branches--honestly, as hard as it is for me to ignore these (I have been called an aggressive pruner), I do my best to turn a blind eye, and target this funky guys the next season when I am taking cuttings!
How to Arrange your Flowering Quince
When cutting from your quince choose branches that have a habit for what you intend to use them for in your arrangement--tall for staking or lots of character and funk to add lines to a centerpiece. You’ll want to cut your quince before the buds are fully opened--once open they are more fragile.
If the temperature is near or below freezing when you cut your beauties, bring them in and place them in lukewarm water overnight before the next step.
Snip the ends again, and then take a hammer and gently tap the ends to soften the wood to allow for more water absorption. This practice is controversial and many times unnecessary, but there are certain woodies that I have found where this does make a difference, and the quince is one of them!
The swollen buds will begin opening within 1-2 weeks. If trying to time for an event, I do recommend giving then the 2 weeks. I've made this mistake and my quince didn't make the show. If your buds start opening too fast, slow them down in a cool place--like the great, outdoor walk-in cooler!
For me, the quince reminds me that the blooming bulbs and flowering trees of spring are just around the corner.