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the ‘cameo’ quince and the snowplow: beauty (ouch!) meets the beast

Chaenomeles speciosa 'Cameo'I BOUGHT A QUINCE SHRUB last year, seduced in part by its peachy-colored flowers and also by the fact that even here in deer country, I see big old Chaenomeles specimens standing near the roadside, without protection, the apparent survivors of many years of possible browsing. I wanted something low-care and at least somewhat deer-resistant for a spot outside my giant fence. Little did I know that it would not be deer, but the snowplow, that would be this charming plant’s greatest obstacle to survival.

My choice was the Chaenomeles named ‘Cameo’ (above photo) as this double-flowered cultivar is called. It is variously identified as Chaenomeles x superba (a hybrid between the Japanese species C. japonica and the taller C. speciosa, a Chinese type, says the Missouri Botanical Garden) or simply C. speciosa (by woody plant expert Michael Dirr, author of the industry “bible” of woody plants). Dirr says it’s one of his favorite quinces, and “a long a prized plant in the Dirr garden.”

Of course nobody agrees on the habit or size of ‘Cameo,’ either, with wholesale nursery Monrovia calling it “good for a mounding groundcover or on a slope,” at a mature size of maybe 3 feet high and 5 wide, about what Missouri Botanical lists. Nonsense, Dirr apparently believes, writing that it’s twice that. Hardiness? The opinion poll says Zones 4 or 5 to 8 or 9.

As ever, with this kind of conflicting “expert” help, it’s a wonder that gardeners ever know where to place a plant or how much room to leave–which is why I never believe plant labels but go home and compare several sources at a minimum. But who cares with ‘Cameo’? This one had me at its extravagant flowers, which come early, before the foliage is fully open. Quinces also produce wildlife-friendly fruit of a couple of inches in length later in the season.

And, again, blessedly it’s not top-rated deer food: The Rutgers University tool I love for predicting deer resistance rates it “seldom severely damaged,” a “B” on a scale of “A” through “D,” where “A” is the best news from the gardener’s point of view.

As for pruning: Do it after bloom, if needed, remembering that these are informal, somewhat messy creatures so don’t expect otherwise. And don’t make your cuts with the blade of a snowplow, but some finer instrument, yes? I can testify that my accidental pruning was not the best technique, and also will share this:

If you plant a young shrub along the roadside in snow country, it’s probably best to mark its presence with a visible “pen” of mesh or at least a few tall stakes in the early going, to give the poor thing a fighting chance.

Do you have any flowering quince in your garden to recommend? Or perhaps any data to add to the debate on hardiness, size, or habit details?

Categoriestrees & shrubs
  1. Terryk says:

    Too bad the plow got that lovely thing. Such a pretty color, it would have looked nice outside the fence to welcome you in early spring when you traveled back and forth. Will you try again?

    1. margaret says:

      Nice of you all to commiserate about my little accident. The plant looks to be still there, bless its heart, but may be missing part of a branch. Oops. We shall see when the snow recedes. If it doesn’t survive, I’ll get another — but I bet it lives, if a little misshapen. Lovely thing, really.

      As for Zone 9, Carolyn, I can only report what the disagreeing “experts” all say since I have never tried it in a warm zone, of course. Amazing to hear how far into spring you already are looking out at my winter wonderland. :)

  2. Betsy says:

    The quince that is quite prolific throughout Schenectady, NY is a maroon red, which has taken to blooming twice a year more frequently as warm temps have come earlier. I have to net them to get any fruit, otherwise the squirrels carry them all away.

  3. Mary Anna says:

    Is it ripped out completely? If it was just ‘snowplow pruned’, you should be fine – I’ve chopped a quince totally to the ground, and it came back quite quickly. You’ll probably only miss this years flowers.

  4. Carolyn says:

    I would like to try this one and hope it is hardy to zone 9. Our zone is technically 8b, but I find things need to be cold hardy to 6 and heat tolerant to 9. We have space, so the size wouldn’t be an issue. Here the knock out roses, carolina jessamine, tea olive, and japanese magnolia are in bloom, and some azealas are starting. When we lived in Minnesota we had to maintain a ditch for the snow, but our mail box got taken down by the plow on a yearly basis.

  5. Betsy says:

    Two in my yard are a a slightly darker salmon color, one so near the driveway I routinely prune it with the tires…it bounces back. Can the fruit of a quince bush be used for jelly?

  6. Kaveh says:

    In one of my old gardens it was perfectly hardy to zone 6 but they really are unruly things. It’s thorny braches were a favorite nesting spot of bunnies and they mostly bloom on 2 or 3 year old wood rather than the normal new wood or year old wood that like most shrubs. This gives you an untidy mound with tons of flowers in the center and a leafy outer perimeter that I just couldn’t get used to. Mine got shovel pruned but maybe if my garden had been bigger it might have been nice to view from a distance.

  7. Kali says:

    I’ve had two of these beauties that are 8 years old. They grow underneath a large doublefile Viburnum ‘Shasta’. So although they are in full sun, they get quite a bit of shade when the shasta is fully leafed out. They stay quite small this way, about 2+ft tall by 3ft wide and need little pruning. The flowers are simply gorgeous and the rest of the season they make a nice underplanting.
    Oh the snowplow! Every year it batters my boxwoods no matter how many times I beg my guy for mercy. Hope your peachy quince survives!

  8. Emøke Bendixen says:

    My quince is single flowering, hardy (it has proven survival at -22 C) and came without any pedigree what so ever ( inherited from ground shoots in my aunts garden). If left on its own to bloom in may it will present maroon colored flowers, which is actually a true eye-sore in my blue and green may-garden. But I allow it to stay because I have found that it so happily allows forcing, even as early as January. Indoors (and even without acclimatization) it will produce the much softer shades of pink and peach colored flowers throughout the first and gloomy months of the year. I think that apart from Hamamelis this must be the easiest of all flowering shrubs to force indoors. So for me who banned the puke of spring (Forsythia) even before I learned that its officially ok to dislike this abused and screaming shrub, the quince is a true winter-essential.

  9. When I bought my old suburban house, in late winter, there was a large, vase-shaped bush in sort of an inconvenient place. I thought to myself “maybe that’s got to go.” But there was so much to do, and I was curious how it had grown so large where it was.

    In spring I got my answer — it exploded into orangey-pink flowers. Unfortunately there were a number of washed-out purple lilacs behind it — not the nicest combination. But I didn’t have the heart to get rid of this quince and miss it’s annual spring showing.

  10. Deborah B says:

    I have Cameo, and also Iwai Nishiki and Toyo-Nishiki. I got all 3 from Bluestone Perennials in 2010 as small $10 or $12 plants. They didn’t bloom last year but I’m hoping for a show this year. They’ve all been hardy here in z4/z5, but we’ve had pretty mild winters (not even down to -20) the past 4 or 5 years.

  11. Celia says:

    I have a white quince (why, when the colors are so lovely? Inherited, not purchased by me) that doesn’t set fruit, sadly. NOTHING smells better than quince fruit, and it makes a beautiful rosey preserve. At one point I dug up the white one as completely as I could to transplant – the “moved” part didn’t make it but there was a root remnant left in the soil that came up and now is allowed to flourish were it is. Still no fruit. but they are accident resisitant, clearly.

    c

    1. margaret says:

      Well, Celia, I’m glad to hear that a little torture never hurt a quince! :) I am optimistic that mine will forgive me if I treat it nicer from here on out.

  12. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I have a salmon specimen of Quince, becoming too shaded at the northwest corner of my home. It is languishing and may not return this year. We are in a windy spot that desiccates buds on many shrubs, but I used to see many more flowers years ago on the Quince. A lot of dead wood is evident within the shrub. I think it needs to be moved before it’s too late. I’ve had it about 20 years and can’t remember the source, but the bloom color was the draw at the time.

  13. Ro says:

    I planted two Cameos in full sun next to my driveway…the poor things have zero protection and I rarely get the hose out that far to give them extra water. I’m zone 5b and I’ve found the quinces to be rather hardy and drought tolerant after the first two years. I’ve had them for six years now and they are still only 3’h x 3.5’w with minimal yearly pruning.

    With all the snow I get in the winter, I find that the buds on the last five or six inches of the branches are frozen off…so I never get flowers all the way up the branches. But, the blossom color is so beautiful and unlike anything else…I cut this guy a lot of slack!

    I hope yours bounce back!

  14. robert a says:

    I love the flowering quinces… I have ‘O Yashima’, a smallish double white with green shading at the center of the flower, stunning underplanted with my darkest hellebores. Next I’m craving one of the new warm reds (seems there are lots of them available now) Love their twigginess, and so do nesting birds. And of course their early bloom makes them doubly welcome and useful. To answer Carolyn’s question, the salmon red single is commonly found around old farms and houses in Louisiana, where I grew up (zones 8-9) and always blooms lavishly in February, so that one, at least, doesn’t require a long chilling. The others are certainly worth a trial!

  15. Charlie says:

    Every spring my thoughts turn to planting a quince in my garden. Space is always the issue. The photo in your post is just gorgeous. I will again make my annual trek to the nurseries and look at the offerings. I really love the flowers they produce.

  16. KathieB says:

    There are two on my property… came with the place. The larger one is next to the driveway and I have to prune it severely at least once a year or it scratches my car. Two winters ago, the fellow who has plowed for me for years, decided it was exactly the spot to pile the snow and rammed the bush from two directions! His response to my request that he not do that EVER again was that he prunes his to the ground and it grows back! We came to the agreement that he could prune his all he wants and that there are plenty of other options for snow piles here! The bush is about 7-8 feet high and probably as wide, with one side that is pruned almost like a hedge! It has deep rosy/coral flowers and has produced quite a bit of fruit lately. I keep the smaller bush in check with a lot of pruning since it was planted about 8 inches from the foundation of the house! It, too, blooms profusely every year. I live in zone 5 and have never seen any damage from the cold, but it does not do as well after a very dry summer.

  17. Dahlink says:

    I have never grown quince, but I have witnessed some incredible regeneration. Many years ago houses were going up on property next to ours. (We had bought that particular house because of the lovely view of the fields and a little sledding hill for the kids–so much for that idea …) We planted two lovely star magnolias next to the turnaround that ended our street. The workers on the building site were dumping their coffee cups and donut wrappers in our yard. One morning as I was leaving for work I spoke to two guys I saw doing just that. When I came home my star magnolias were starting to blacken and shrivel. We think they sprayed them with a defoliant. Pretty soon they looked very dead, but gradually they started to recover. The last time I visited the old neighborhood those star magnolias must have been 30 feet tall! Don’t mess with Mother Nature!

  18. Irena says:

    The quince bushes are very common in the Northern Europe’s gardens (zone 4). These are old-fashioned bushes with orangey-red single flowers. For me however the biggest excitement are not their flowers but their fruit: so delicious in winter when made into quince “cheese” and also as syrup – very refreshing in summer drinks (who needs lemonade or juice when there is quince syrup and water:)?).

  19. Dana says:

    I have a 3 year old cameo on the south side of my zone 4b-5a house… no chance of plow damage there! It’s about 4 feet high but the delightful blooms are only low on the bush where they’re protected by snow-cover. It has never bloomed and I think it never will… only for show. My neighbor has a very tall (over 6 feet) single red bloomer that reliably fruits every year. Maybe this is the year I’ll ask for a cutting!

  20. Katie says:

    I’d never seen a quince tree ’til I read this post, after which I immediately dashed out and acquired a sweet dwarf variety, which now lives in a giant pot in my garden. I figure that if I keep it in a container, I’m less likely to run over it with my snowplow ;-)

  21. KGC says:

    Margaret,
    It is time to prune Flowering Quince here in California, but I try as I might I can’t find a clear answer or description of how to prune them. Do you cut all old branches to the ground? Leave stumps? Cut new growth? Can you help? I’ve checked online and various books, but without much detailed help. Thanks!!!

  22. Anne says:

    There was a large quince bush in our yard when we bought our house. It’s giant. It’s six or seven feet tall and at least that across. It gets amazing coral blossoms in spring to so I love it, but it’s a sprawler. It’s incredibly dense and hard to prune because of it. It’s also thorny. Some bittersweet has taken root in the middle of mine and reaching in to try to cut it is dangerous work.

    I’m never sure how much to prune off. Each spring my daughter and I don gloves and protective eyewear and try to cut off anything that looks deadish. So far we haven’t killed it. Just wish I knew how old it is!

  23. Kim says:

    There has been a flowering quince in the yard of my childhood home for years! That home is getting sold sometime soon. I do not want the whole bush, it is huge! Any suggestions on starting over with just a branch or small section of the bush?

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