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First sign of spring? It's often the chaotic quince.

First sign of spring? It's often the chaotic quince

Just when you're hungriest for spring to begin, the buds of flowering quince start to break open.

Many varieties of this deciduous shrub begin flowering this month. But they shouldn't be planted casually. Unlike their fruit-tree cousins, most have thorns and a growth habit that can be described only as chaotic. Many varieties grow to well over 6 feet tall--and as wide. However, if started young, flowering quinces submit to training on an espalier.

Choosing varieties

The best time to buy a flowering quince is when it's in bloom. While the earliest varieties start to flower now, most will bloom in March (a few flower later). Tell your nurseryman you're looking for flowering quince (Chaenomeles), not fruiting quince (Cydonia).

If you plan to plant near a path, or if you don't want another thorny plant in your garden, look for the tall, thornless "Falconet Charlot' with its double, salmonpink flowers. Almost-thornless quinces include the tall "Red Ruffles' and smaller "Stanford Red'. For decorative fruit, try "Crimson Beauty'.

For a long bloom season, try "Hollandia'. This tall red-flowered variety has major blooms in spring and fall, and sporadic flowering throughout the year.

A word about training

Left alone, flowering quinces grow into tall shrubs with long arching branches.

To espalier a quince, plant it at the base of a trellis, wall, or fence, and cut it back to all but a half-dozen leaders. Tie them loosely to tacks or nails in the supporting surface. Trim side growth as needed.

Prune right after spring bloom so you won't sacrifice next year's flowers, or trim just before flowering so you can bring the switches indoors and enjoy the blooms.

The quince shown at right grows at Ann and Daniel Streissguth's home; the quince with fruit is from Hopkins Nursery in Bothell, Washington.

Photo: In the fall, "Crimson Beauty' produces yellow, plum-size fruit

Photo: For arrangements, clip branches with buds, not blooms

Photo: Pruning out budded branches, she cuts switches from 17-year-old "Enchantress'; they'll flower in a vase while shrub blooms outside
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Date:Feb 1, 1988
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