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Vermont Garden Journal: A Colorful Shrub For Spring

Not only does flowering quince provide food for pollinating bees, but its fruit can be used to make jam for human consumption.
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Not only does flowering quince provide food for pollinating bees, but its fruit can be used to make jam for human consumption.

With spring knocking at our door, sort of, I'm always on the lookout for signs of the season. One shrub that fails to disappoint in my garden is the flowering quince or Chaenomeles.

This Asia native is hardy to zone five, and maybe in colder areas if grown in a micro-climate. The gangly six- to 10-foot-tall shrub produces flowers that bloom in April in colors such as white, pink, orange, salmon and red. The flowers bloom on one-year-old wood before the leaves emerge putting on quite a show for early spring! They're a good food source, too, for pollinating bees.

While older varieties, such as 'Texas Scarlet,' have thorns, making them excellent hedge or barrier plants, newer varieties have no thorns and are more compact. I like the 'Double Take' series. Plants grow three- to four-feet-tall and wide, have no thorns, and produce double pink, peach, orange or scarlet colors. These newer varieties are drought-tolerant and bloom longer than the older selections.

Flowering quince also can produce fruits in summer. Like the tree-fruit quince, these fruits are edible and can be used in jam making but need to be cooked first. They have a strong citrus-like flavor. Newer varieties, though, may not produce fruit.

Flowering quince can grow in a part-shade area, making them a versatile plant in the landscape. Of course, you'll get the best flowers and fruits in full sun. Plant them in a mixed shrub border with later-blooming shrubs such as lilac, weigela and ninebark to have a continual flower show for weeks in spring. Prune after flowering to keep them in bounds and protect the stems from rabbits during winter.

Now for this week's tip:  if you have forced daffodils, tulips, iris or crocus growing in pots indoors, don't toss them after flowering. Keep the foliage growing in a sunny window. Once it warms, plant them in the garden. Unlike bulbs forced in water, those in potting soil may survive to flower again next year.

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