Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Flowering Quince

Chaenomelese speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’

Chaenomelese, usually known as Japanese quince or flowering quince, blooms in late winter with such audacity and bravado that it cheers the bleakest day and the greyest mood with its beauty.  The heritage C. japonica shrubs of my childhood covered themselves with single, scarlet flowers a little bigger around than a quarter.  A lot of hybridization has gone on since then and the shrubs in most nurseries today have double flowers in scarlet, orange, pink, peach, and sometimes white.  The scarlet flowers shine like beacons through the fog.

Chaenomelese (kee-nah-MAH-leez) species,  and there are only four, all originate in Asia. These beautiful shrubs are members of the rose family of plants, and their flowers look like tiny roses blooming on a winter day. Like roses, they have thorns.  Instead of hips, they produce small, yellowish apple-like edible fruits that mature in the autumn.  They are very hard and tart to eat out of hand, and so are most often used to make preserves.

Chaenomelese speciosa is now also known as Chaenomelese lagenaria, according to the NCSU dendrology website. The patented hybrid ‘Double Take’ Scarlet Storm offers outstanding color, double flowers, thornless branches and it doesn’t produce fruit. It is a very tidy, carefree shrub. These modern, named cultivars offered under the ‘Double Take’ designation have neither thorns nor fruit. But they all have large, double flowers. Other selections in the series include Double Take ‘Orange Storm,’ ‘Peach Storm,’ ‘Pink Storm,’ and now Double Take ‘Eternal White’ C. speciosa.

Flowering quince is an ornamental, deciduous shrub hardy in zones 5-9.   Its buds swell in late winter, finally bursting into bloom during a spell of warmth on the cusp of spring.  Our first flowers opened around February 27 this year.  Any early bees, or other pollinators, will find plentiful nectar and pollen in these abundant flowers. 

There are many attractive cultivars among C. japonicas and C. speciosas. One of the most unusual, and graceful, is C. speciosa ‘Contorta,’ which has pale pink and cream single flowers. This is an excellent shrub to cut and bring inside to force in a vase even earlier than it blooms in the garden.


Shrubs grown in full sun produce more flowers, but the shrub will grow in partial shade.   Flowering quince prefer acidic to neutral soil and it will grow on all soil types and in a variety of conditions.  In its native Japan and Korea, this shrub often grows on mountainsides, and it appreciates good drainage.  Plant on slopes as a beautiful solution for erosion control.

All newly planted shrubs appreciate a bit of coddling for their first year or two.  You might give your new Japanese quince a little compost at planting time, water it in well, and keep it watered during hot, dry spells through its first summer or two.  Once established, these shrubs are very drought tolerant.  It is unlikely you’ll need to fertilize them unless your soil is very poor.  If that is the case, mulch them with compost, or apply other organic fertilizers if their leaves look a little yellow or their flowers grow sparse.

Prune in late spring once flowering is finished because flowering quince blooms on old wood.  If you prune anytime after mid-summer, you risk cutting away next spring’s flowers.  Shrubs are available in a variety of sizes, but most commercial cultivars remain relatively small, growing to only around 5’-6’ tall and wide.  It should be possible to find one that won’t overgrow your available space.  Prune out any damaged or crossed wood.  You might also head each cane back by a few inches to encourage branching and bushiness.  As shrubs establish, rejuvenate by removing some of the oldest, less productive canes each year to stimulate new canes to emerge.

Even without thorns, flowering quince remains unattractive to deer or rabbits.  Its flowers will attract the ‘right’ sort of attention from wildlife, but its dark green, leathery leaves will survive the season.  Plant this shrub with confidence that it can grow unmolested by herbivores.

Many gardeners grow Chaenomelese as a thorny hedge, or include shrubs in mixed borders and hedgerows.  Choosing heirloom cultivars will provide you with sturdy thorns on each cane to discourage most would-be trespassers.  Smaller selections make an interesting foundation planting.  Whether grown for beauty or utility, Japanese quince is a an excellent, low-maintenance shrub that will pay dividends for decades to come.

You might enjoy more Plants I Love That Deer Ignore.

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  1. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with the thorny quince hedge here that was planted by the former owner. Stoloniferous, I would need an excavator to remove it! It’s main redeeming feature is that the first hummingbirds of May are generally seen sipping the flowers. 🙂

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    • Now that is a lovely benefit, Eliza. Do you harvest fruit from it? I remember we never used the fruit when I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was edible. The birds and other wildlife, beyond the hummingbirds, must adore your thorny quince hedge! ❤ ❤ ❤


      • We also get Baltimore orioles sipping the nectar, but they always move on later, it seems. The fruit has a nice tart aroma, but I’ve never used them to make jelly…full of pectin though!

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  2. As much as I dislike modern cultivars, I was pleased to see the attempt to reintroduce this traditional flower. I got samples of the first three ‘Double Take’ flowering quince, ‘Scarlet Storm’, ‘Orange Storm’ and ‘Pink Storm’, although ‘Pink Storm’ might have been ‘Peach Storm’. They were much weaker than the old traditional sorts. Only ‘Orange Storm’ survives, and is out there now. The common old fashioned orangish pink sort grows wild at some of the older homes here, and we would like to relocate some rooted bits into our landscapes. We found a similar red flowering quince where an old house was removed decades ago.

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    • I wish you success with propagating the old fashioned orangish pink quince. That would be a great service to keep that line going and use it again in other landscapes. The heirloom plants from old homes are wonderful. It is interesting how plants move in and out of fashion, and what was abundant just a few years ago becomes very hard to find. I ordered a C. ‘Contorta’ last night from a supplier in GA and am looking forward to growing that out. It should be stunning when it comes into bud each winter, but I’m not sure whether I’ll like it the other 11 months of the year. But I’m going to give it a try because its flowers have that unique pink/cream blending sometimes found in seashells. Have you seen the new Double Take C. ‘Eternal White’? The flowers emerge with a greenish cream tinge. I would like to grow it, too. Apparently this is the first season it is commercially available. It is very interesting that with your expert care, most of the sample shrubs didn’t survive. I would have expected the scarlet to be the survivor, not the orange! Japanese quince are generally tough once they get going, and your experience makes me wonder what else was sacrificed in the hybridization, beyond the thorns and the fruit.

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      • Proven Winners stopped sending samples to me, likely because I was a bit too honest with my critiques. They want columnists to sell their products. Besides, since white is my favorite color, I prefer plain white, without any blush or even a greenish cream tinge. I have not met a flowering quince that I do not like, but I still prefer the old classics. The old orangish pink sort is no problem to grow. It extends stems from the roots. I merely pull up stems with roots on them.

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      • I just heard from a nursery person/friend that PW has become much more stringent on their standards for vendors, and much more pricey in the last year or two. It may make the plants harder to find retail, and more expensive if one does find them. I like the plan of simply pulling up rooted stems and replanting them 😉 Honesty always wins the day, in my opinion. Keep it up!

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      • Well, to me, those cheap and common sorts of plants that are easy to grow and propagate and keep alive for decades are truly sustainable. However, sustainability is not profitable to growers who supply replacement plants. It is merely a buzz word that sells.

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      • I worked on a ‘Master Gardener’ project called “Sustainable Gardening” for over a year and still had to ask someone, “What is ‘Sustainable Gardening’?” I didn’t get it from what was being done there. Now, I am getting a clue, but far from really understanding how to keep it going over long periods of time, particularly with such variable and extreme weather patterns like we’ve had these past 10 years. It appears that sustainability is important to ecologists, many landscape designers, and some gardeners. But is only another catchphrase for advertising for many growers, who introduce their newest and brightest each year. It seems that sustainability is where design meets the potential of the land, meets deep understanding of the local ecosystem…. and works within that paradigm.

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      • Exactly, it is now a buzzword. I try to explain to people that sustainability is not about planting ‘anything’, and that what we plant is not necessarily an asset to nature. People seriously believe that trees are necessarily good, without considering all the resources that go into such commodities, or all the resources that go into maintaining such trees in a climate that they would not naturally survive for long in, or how detrimental exotic species can be to an ecosystem, or that places like Los Angeles were deserts with only a few trees, but are now crowded with much more vegetation than was naturally there, etc., . . . Sustainability is all about marketing now.

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      • That is such an interesting perspective, Tony. I am one of those folks who talks a lot about the ecological importance of trees for many reasons, including as keystone species host plants for Lepidoptera, as well as their importance to sequester carbon, hold ground against erosion, and of course to return water to the atmosphere. But in my Eastern Temperate Forest biome, all of that is correct and our trees can be supported by rainfall, for the most part. Native trees, especially, are an important part of our ecology. But I see what you are saying about turning that on its ear for those living in a desert biome. What a problem you must have with folks moving to CA from other parts of the country, and wanting to recreate the landscapes they remember from wherever they came from.
        I’ve come to understand ‘sustainable’ gardening as developing a pleasing, productive landscape that requires little or no additional ‘inputs’ (water, chemicals, fertilizer, replacement plants) from the gardener. Is that close to how you see it?

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      • Yes, but realistically, water is necessary here for a ‘productive’ landscape. I mean that gardening is impossible without some degree of irrigation to sustain fruit and vegetable production. I do not want to irrigate outside of the landscape, but within the landscape, I want to grow too many exotic and productive fruit and vegetable plants. More ornamental landscaping is more important in urban areas here, merely because urban development would be uncomfortable without it. That is why I have no problem adding so many environmentally irresponsible trees to Los Angeles.

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