A Quince Essential Fruit - How to Grow Quince Trees

, written by gb flag

Quince fruit

Fashions come and go, no less in fruit-growing than in the width of trouser-leg (though rather more slowly), but if you want to be á la mode in your garden right now I recommend you plant a quince tree. It's even The California Rare Fruit Growers Association's 2014 fruit tree of the year.

Its renaissance is long overdue. The tree itself is full of character, tending to grow into an irregular shape with twisted branches. Its flowers, which appear in June, are single, large and pinky-white. The large fruits ripen to golden-yellow and shine out from among the strikingly large leaves, which are grey and furry underneath, making you want to stroke them. The fruit itself is delicious.

What I love, though, is its part in history and myth. It's often mooted that the apples awarded to Aphrodite by Paris were actually quinces, as might have been the fruit with which the serpent tempted Eve. It seems the seeds were once used as a gelling agent (before commercially produced gelatine made things easier) and it has always been a useful source of pectin for jams. Quince trees live to a ripe old age, and venerable examples include the four wizened veterans in the Cloisters Museum in New York.

Tasty, Scented Fruits

On top of all this, though, is a beautiful taste and scent. The fruit has to be cooked as it's too hard to eat fresh (an exception, in a good summer, may be the early-ripening variety Ivan), but although many recipes call for long hours of baking, if you stew it in a pan it will actually cook in about fifteen minutes. Its slightly spicy, intensely rich flavour combines excellently with apples or dried fruit.

The fruits smells rather like pineapple—not the fresh fruit (the introduction of which probably helped in the quince's decline), but pineapple sweets. A bowl of quinces will scent a room, and some people even recommend putting one in the car as an air-freshener.

Growing Quince Trees

Another good point is that a quince will tolerate most soils, acid or alkaline. It's happiest on a deep, rich loam that stays moist and if I had a pond or stream I'd put one next to it, so long as it didn't become waterlogged. Light soils should have plenty of compost added before planting and a thick organic mulch applied every year. In a very dry summer, you should give it a very thorough soaking.

Planted in open ground, it's not a first choice for the smallest garden as, depending on rootstock and soil conditions, it can grow anywhere from around 10 feet (3 meters) to 20 feet (6 meters) tall. However, it could also be trained against a wall and recently a Patio Quince has been developed, so even if space is limited it's not out of the question. A bonus is that, being self-fertile, only one tree is needed.

Quince tree

Advice is generally to cosset your quince in a warm and sunny spot or, in colder northerly areas, to grow it against a south-facing or west-facing wall (in the States it is hardy in Zones 5-9). However, as always, growing isn't an exact science, and we've found that in the UK's warmer south our east-facing Vranja variety is quite happy in a bit of shade.

Once established, quince trees need very little pruning. In winter, remove dead, diseased or damaged stems. If yours has a particularly untidy mode of growth you could also even up the tree's shape a bit and take out any branches that are creating congestion.

Best Quince Varieties

Quinces are either apple- or pear-shaped. The slightly misshapen pear shapes look dramatic, but apple-shaped Leskovic is the hardiest and probably the best choice for colder positions. Vranja (the only quince with an Award of Garden Merit) and Meech's Prolific are very reliable, and Bereczki is said to crop heavily and have one of the best flavors. There is a surprising variety of cultivars (one of the world's largest quince collections is held in Oregon, USA) and advice from a local nursery should put you on to a good choice for your area.

Harvesting, Storing and Using Quinces

The fruit ripens gradually to a rich yellow and though it's tempting (think of Eve's apple), it should be left on the tree as long as possible to allow the flavor and perfume to develop. Ideally this means until the end of October. The only exception is if frosts threaten, when you should gather them before the cold gets them.

Storing demands a little thought as their perfume will affect any fruit stored nearby. Put them somewhere separate, where they don't touch each other, and check regularly for rot. The fruit will keep for around 3 months.

Quince can used in savory dishes to accompany meat, but also, like the medlar, to make a cheese or jelly, and is the secret to a really special apple pie. You'll never want to eat one without quince again.

NB Don't confuse this quince (Cydonia oblonga) with Cydonia japonica, the Japanese Quince (also known by the Latin name Chaenomeles). That also bears edible fruit but is generally grown as a beautiful shrub.

Picture of patio quince courtesy of DT Brown

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"How close to a pond or stream could we plant a quince tree? Would it be similar in placement to a willow?"
Brent on Monday 12 May 2014
"Where can one get such a tree in Indiana?"
Elaine on Sunday 8 March 2015
"Hi Elaine. I'm not sure exactly where you would fine one in Indiana. My suggestion would be to check local nurseries that sell fruit trees. It may also be worth searching for quinces sold by stockists local to you online."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 9 March 2015
"I have two quince trees that I planted two years ago. First year, thousands of flowers, many apples, but before reaching right size most of them became brown together with the leaves surrounding them. I consulted the adviser at a garden center and was told that all the brown was rust. Was given a bottle of SPECTRACIDE IMMUNOX with the instructions to spray three times, every two weeks, from the moment the trees wake up in the spring. Second year: followed instructions, but the result was worst than the first year: from two grown trees I picked up three quinces. Went back to the garden center and was told that the fungicide is the best available. This is the third year. Do you have any suggestions that differ from what I was told so far? Thank you for your courtesy. Joseph Monastero "
Joseph Monastero on Monday 4 May 2015
"Hi Joseph. Without seeing the fruits it's hard to say. It does sound like you may have had brown rot, which commonly affects quinces. I'd suggest that as well as any sprays you use, you concentrate on ensuring ground conditions are excellent. Add a good layer of well-rotted organic mulch. Is the tree getting enough sun? That could compromise the number of fruits, though it sounds like you would have had plenty in the first year had they not gone brown. Sometimes fruit trees that crop heavily one year then crop insufficiently the next as they are 'exhausted' from the previous year. So it may simply have been that last year was an off year and your chances of success will be far higher this year."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 5 May 2015
"Hi I'm in England where we've just planted a patio quince. It's flowered well and is just beginning to get small fruits. I've read somewhere that these need discarding so the tree can concentrate on growing stronger. Is this correct?"
joan on Tuesday 2 June 2015
"Hello Joan, Elaine, and Joseph, Joan: I'd say just let the quince determine if it is ready to bear the fruit. Unless your tree is oddly determined to overbear, it will probably drop any extra fruit shortly after the petals fall. The fruit on my tree all set out at the tips of longer branches. Most of the flowers dropped their petals and then fell off within a week. Elaine: I ordered my Smyrna quince from Trees from Antiquity, a reputable on-line nursery in California--which needs to be done early in the calendar year as their supply of particular varieties is limited. This company is notable here in the US since they grow and sell several different varieties--it pains me to look at the options UK gardeners have!). If you order by mail, I recommend always googling the company for reviews. I always look at the results on "Davesgarden.com" Joseph: the various Apple, Hawthorne, and Quince rusts in North America exhibit very tell-tale symptoms on the leaves, fruit, and twigs of their hosts as you can see here: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/cedar-apple-rust-and-gymnosporangium-rusts/#rosaceae-image I had quince rust in 2012 during the first year I had my tree and eventually lost most of that first year's branches. I now have a rather poorly shaped young tree as a consequence. I should add that quince rust can be hosted by a number of other plants, including hawthorns, which are numerous in my neighborhood, so the fact I probably had the only quince in the area didn't matter. My nearby neighbors provide a dozen or so of the many cedar trees that provide the alternate host for the fungi. Since then, I've used Captan, from bud break on, usually about every 7-10 days. I'll go a bit longer if the weather has been very dry. Up till this year, I've stopped using Captan on the quince the end of June, but now that I've got fruit on the tree I may need to reconsider because of ... Brown rot. I already use Captan to prevent brown rot on my peach tree and tried to do so last year on a Japanese plum. Brown rot often infects fruit through existing wounds--which was the case with my plums. Wounds can be caused by wind damage, hail, birds, and insects. In the case of my plums, I missed one application of insecticide last spring--the one that should have been applied about 7 or 10 days after "shuck split"--and had plum curculio beetles strike almost every small fruit on the tree. I lost most of the fruit long before they ripened, but the few that got close all developed brown rot and had scars from the curculio visit. A quince grower who experienced something very similar with her quinces has a great post here: https://janedata.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/quince-stricken-by-brown-rot/). As you've probably guessed I think an insecticide may also be required to prevent things like Plum Curculio beetle larva, Codling moth larva, and Apple maggots from ruining your fruit, but the exact mix of insect pests you'll face depends on your location. So, try to consult a university extension service in your general area. Of course, you probably won't find specific recommendations for growing quinces, but true quinces (Cydonia oblonga) are basically similar to apples in terms of insect pests. To prevent the development of resistance in the insects I'm targeting, I'm currently using, in rotation, two consumer products: an OMRI approved organic pesticide containing Spinosad, and a pyrethroid-based product. Neither of these products can be applied around active pollinators."
Don Blume on Sunday 7 June 2015
"Hi I wonder can you grow quince in a large pot could you use the Vranja variety"
Susan on Sunday 18 October 2015
"Hi Susan. You should be able to grow quinces in pots, no problem. Look for a quince grown on a dwarfing rootstock and raise the pot off the ground on pot feet to allow excess moisture to drain away. The variety 'Vranja' is a good choice because it is completely self-fertile and has large fruits. Good luck!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 October 2015
"I live in Calgary, Alberta, I believe we are zone 3, would quince grow here?"
Theresa on Wednesday 21 October 2015
"Hi Theresa. I'm afraid zone 3 is a little too cold for quinces."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 21 October 2015
"Anyone know where I can get Meech's Prolific Quince? I'd even try seeds or cuttings! "
Sharon on Sunday 13 March 2016
"Hi Sharon. Where abouts are you? There are lots of suppliers in the UK. And as it's an old American variety I would imagine there are quite a few suppliers in the US. "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 13 March 2016
"hi my tree is ~ 9 years old, tall, superb shape; but in the spring blooms hundreds of flower that will dry up and fall down; what is wrong with it??"
mariana chepa on Tuesday 26 April 2016
"For Sharon, Ben, Mariana, and others: Mariana, Your post caused an email to end up in my in box. Do you get any fruit to set? Most quince fruits set on the tips of branches, so the flowers along branches often drop off. While quince are usually self-pollinating,they are said to benefit from having more than one tree. It could be that your tree is in need of company. Meech's Prolific: From what I've been able to see over several years of occasionally searching, Meech's Prolific Quince trees are impossible to find for sale in the US. Ben: Quinces fell rapidly out of favor before WWII here where I live in the Northeastern USA in part because of changing attitudes towards home gardening but also because they are highly susceptible to Quince Rust (aka Hawthorn Rust). I contacted Trees of Antiquity about Meech's Prolific a couple years ago. The owner said the only person he was aware of who was growing it commercially was also on the West Coast and had in the past supplied Trees of Antiquity with varieties for propagation, and he said he would look into adding it to the company's offerings, but that hasn't happened yet. The variety's lack of availability is particularly annoying to me, since I live in Connecticut where the variety was discovered. This link http://queenofquince.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Quince-Karp-FG-2010.pdf suggests that Willowrose Bay, Inc. in Washington state grows the variety. Good luck to you all! Don"
Don Blume on Tuesday 26 April 2016
"Hi Don, this is hugely helpful of you - thanks so much for sharing!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 28 April 2016

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