Quince trees are a wonderful and unusual addition to the fruit orchard. Rarely if ever found at the supermarket, they have an amazing tropical flavor. There are varieties for both cooking and fresh eating, and all are usually tough and easily grown.
There are two main species of quince, which are quite different from each other. Cydonia oblonga is the common fruiting kind, growing to be a small tree to fifteen feet. Chaenomeles japonica is mostly grown as an ornamental shrub for its beautiful flowers in spring, although it does bear some fruit.
Cydonia oblonga is hardy in zones five through nine. As the trees mature they develop an interesting, slightly contorted form. Cydonia is even more tolerant of clay and damp soils than apples, but will fruit better in moist but well drained soil. Quinces in general are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow. In some places, a late frost can damage flower buds, but fruit production is usually so heavy losses are minimal. They need full sun to grow well. A disease called fireblight will occasionally affect the tree, but it is easily prevented. Use a fertilizer low in nitrogen. Not only will this keep fireblight at bay, it will increase fruit production as well. Large cracks in the fruit are an occasional problem. This is caused by drought and irregular watering. A steady supply of moisture will prevent the fruit from cracking during late summer. Some cydonia varieties produce fruit that is hard and completely inedible until it is cooked or subjected to a long ripening process indoors.The fruit does have a faint fuzzy coating, which tends to startle people but it is easily rubbed off. In early October, harvest the fruit and set on a counter or a windowsill so you can enjoy the fragrance as they ripen. When the fruit begins to soften, they are ready to eat fresh. Other cultivars have fruit that can be eaten right from the tree. Two different varieties should be grown for good pollination and fruit production. The fruit has a flavor out of the tropics, with hints of pineapple, orange and passionfruit.
‘Aromatnaya’ is one of the best for fresh eating. Even so, it must be ripened indoors until it begins to soften. While it ripens, it will perfume the room with its floral, pineapple like fragrance. It can also be cooked, and makes an unforgettable applesauce. This quince is also very disease resistant and cold tolerant.
‘Karp’s Sweet’ is better for hotter areas. It will not develop full sweetness and complexity of flavor in places with cool summers. It is slightly less hardy than other quinces, struggling in zone 5 but doing much better in warmer zones. The flavor makes it a standout, and it can be eaten off of the tree without an indoor ripening period.
‘Van Deman’ does do well in places with cool summers, and also in most of the United States.This quince is strictly for cooking, but the pineapple flavor with cinnamon undertones makes it worth trying. It is also a very heavy bearer.
‘Portugal’ has unusual red colored flesh. This is a quince for cooking, with great flavor and the color is outstanding. Mixed with apples, a pink pie or pink applesauce will be the result.
Chaenomeles japonica is commonly sold as a ‘quince,’ and does produce fruit, but the primary reason for growing it are the early spring flowers. The flowers can be white, bright red, or bi-color depending on the variety. These large shrubs do produce fruit, but it is hard and mostly inedible, except for a couple of varieties. The fruit is most often used by children as easily thrown projectiles.
‘Victory’ is a chaenomeles that does have edible fruit. Red flowers in spring are followed by yellow fruit that must be cooked. It makes a very tasty jelly and can be added to applesauce and apple pie to add a distinct pineapple flavor. It often blooms again in the fall.
Chaenomeles cathayensis (Cathay Quince) is a slightly different shrub. It grows to fifteen feet tall, and can be pruned as a tree instead of a shrub. The fruit is very large and outstanding in flavor, with a stronger orange flavor than most other quinces. They must be ripened indoors and cooked thoroughly. The Cathay quince will tolerate even heavy clay soil. This makes a good barrier tree or shrub because of the long thorns on the limbs.