PlantsWhy Permaculture?

The Quincessential Guide to Japanese Quince – Chaenomeles Speciosa

We have planted a fair bit of Japanese Quince – Chaenomeles speciosa in our gardens over the years, all of them grown successfully from seed. Initially I was disappointed by the rock hard, sour fruits that arrived in the fourth year after sowing, but have always had an appreciation for the profuse beautiful reddish pink flowers that appear in the early spring attracting bees and other pollinators. These days I’ve extended my appreciation to the fruits as well, and as a tribute I am dedicating a post to this special plant.

Japanese Quince from our forest garden
Japanese Quince from our forest garden

The fruits are generally extremely hard, however following a cold spell I found the Japanese Quince softened enough to squeeze like a lemon, and the juice being very acidic made them an excellent alternative to lemon juice. It has been reported that 100g of Chaenomeles juice contains 124-182 mg of vitamin C, while 100g of lemon contains rather less, typically within a range of 40-70 mg. The fruit juice also contains the elements potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, sodium, calcium, and is rich in fruit acids so I’ve been enjoying starting the day with a shot of freshly squeezed quince juice :)

Fruit in December.  Following a few weeks of sub zero night time temperatures the fruits become soft
Fruit in December. Following a few weeks of sub zero night time temperatures the fruits become soft

Another plus for this fruit is that the hard fruits picked in Sep/October have a delicious and somewhat addictive aroma that lingers around for a few days resembling that of pineapples, lemons and vanilla. I leave the fruits in the car or around a room to act as a natural air freshener.

So here’s some more details on these fascinating plants including how to grow them, different cultivars, using them in polycultures (for which they’re great!) and more.

Chaenomeles speciosa – Japanese Quince

Family – Rosaceae
Genus – Chaenomeles
Species – C. speciosa
Other Common Names – Flowering Quince, Chinese Quince, Zhou Pi Mugua
Synonyms – C. laganaria. Cydonia lagenaria. Cydonia speciosa. Pyrus japonica. non Thunb.

The first flowers and fruits arrived in fourth year (grown from seed)
The first flowers and fruits arrived in fourth year (grown from seed)


Description – A thorny deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub native to eastern Asia, usually growing to about 2 m tall and generally exhibiting a rounded outline, but is somewhat variable in form. The plants establish a very dense crown with a tangled jumble of branches which are either spiny or with spurs. The flowers come before the leaves and are usually red, but may be white or pink. The fruit is fragrant and looks similar to a small apple although some cultivars have much larger pearish shaped fruits. The leaves do not change colour in the autumn.

Hardiness – This species is hardy to about -25°c USDA zone 5

Biodiversity – The flowers are attractive to a wide range of pollen and nectar feeding invertebrates from March- April, sometimes in February. The shrubs form compact and virtually impenetrable hedges. They are perfect territory for sheltering bird nests and the homes of other small wildlife.

Pollination – The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees.

The Quincessential Guide to Japanese Quince 04

Propagation – Seed – These plants are easy to grow from seed. The seed can be sown inside late January – early February and should germinate within 30 days. We sow in trays with a 50% sieved compost 50% river sand mix. The seedlings should be pricked out and moved into deep pots or a seedling bed when large enough to handle. The largest plants can be planted out in their permanent positions in the summer. Smaller plants should spend their first winter under cover and can be planted out the following spring. When given water during dry periods and a little protection from encroaching weeds the plants establish very quickly (we have seed available for delivery see here).

Chaenomeles speciosa seed
Chaenomeles speciosa seed

Propagation – Hardwood cuttings – Cuttings of half-ripe wood can be taken in July/August and placed in a cold frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year’s growth can be taken in November and placed in a cold frame (I’ve not personally tried this method yet).

Propagation – Basal Cuttings – You can cut away pieces of stems from the base that have some root tissue and plant these in deep pots. The following year the pieces will have developed a reasonable root system and can be planted out in their permanent position. Layering also works well for this plant.

Where to Plant

Location – The plant tolerates full shade but requires a sunny position for best fruit production. Consider ease of access around the plants as the branches are thorny. They are not so easy to move if you plant them in the wrong place because the root system is very deep and when moving a plant, root pieces left in the ground will often grow back. The plants suckers from the base and spreads over time but they don’t appear to be competitive with surrounding plants making them ideal for polyculture planting (more on this below).

Soil – The plant is easily cultivated in any reasonably good soil and can grow well in heavy clay soils. Like most plants, they prefer a deep moist well-drained loam. In our experience they can tolerate waterlogged soils but probably not for entire seasons. Avoid high pH soil (alkaline) which will result in chlorosis.

Fertility, Irrigation and Care

Fertility – The plants do not need feeding, but if planting with other fruiting shrubs and under fruit trees a top dressing of compost applied in the early spring will be beneficial and likely to encourage better fruit production.

Irrigation – They are considerably drought tolerant, but if you would like high yields then irrigation during periods of drought is recommended.

Weeding – It’s important to keep the plants free from weeds while they establish as young trees. Mulching the plants for the first few years while they establish is recommended.

Trimming – Trimming the shrubs can keep them compact and encourage dense multi- stemmed growth. The trimmings can be used for mulch and for rabbit food.

Potential Problems

Suckering: When trimmed the plants tend to send up many new shoots from the base and can spread slowly outwards. This may be a problem if you are planting in a crowded bed.

Insect/Pest: Scale, mites and aphids can be problematic, but we have not experienced this personally.

Disease: Apple scab can cause significant defoliation by mid-summer. Susceptible to fungal leaf spot (particularly in years with heavy spring rainfall) which can cause considerable leaf defoliation. Fire blight and scab can be problems in some areas.

Chalky Soils – Chlorosis (yellowing of foliage) will occur in high pH soils.

Frosts – Flower buds are susceptible to significant damage from early spring frosts.

Japanese Quince Uses

Fruits – Fruit eaten raw or cooked. Fruit exposed to cold temperature softens and can be used in the place of lemons. Fruits contain high levels of pectin and are used for jam making. In Japan they mix quinces, sugar, and alcohol to make a liquor. While researching the plant for this post I also came across what looks likes a fabulous recipe. Place the quince in jars and fill with honey, boil the jars and you have quince infused honey/syrup.

The Quincessential Guide to Japanese Quince 06

Twigs and Leaves – Can be used as rabbit food. We also feed some of the less perfect fruits to the rabbits who seem to enjoy them.

Hedging – The plants take well to trimming and can be used to form a hedge. Annual trimming does not drastically reduce flowering or fruit formation.

Bee Plant – Flowering in early March, it provides a early source of nectar/pollen to bees. The flowering period can last up to 3 weeks.

Medicinal uses – Japanese quince has three primary medicinal uses. The first is as an anti-inflammatory in joint and muscle problems; the second is to treat and cure seasonal respiratory illness; the third is as a general tonic to stimulate health or recovery from illness. For more on the health benefits take a look here .

Other uses – It’s actually not a bad producer of biomass and can be trimmed up to 3 times a year once established. The thorns make it uncomfortable to handle but it’s okay for mulching perennial beds. It would be interesting to experiment with how hard the plant can be pruned and how fast it comes back.

Japanese Quince Yields

The plants we grew from seed are very variable in the size of the fruits and the quantity of fruit produced. I’d estimate that they are producing from 1-3 kg of fruit per shrub. They are not full size yet. A thorn less Chaenomeles spp. cultivar developed in Lativa called ‘Rasa’ is repotered to have produced a total 21.9 kg/bush in 5 years, i.e, 6 kg per year per bush.

Variable sizes of Chaenomeles spp. Photo from -
Variable sizes of Chaenomeles spp. Photo from –

Growing Japanese Quince in Polycultures

Growing well in partial shade, the plants can be grown in the under story of larger fruit trees. We have them planted on swales approximately 1m apart with blackcurrants and aronia placed in between. All these plants are growing beneath two cherry plum trees (thinned down from four originally). We have also planted chives and tree onions around these plants.

This plant features in many of our polycultures including our early pollenizer guild (coming soon), living fences, and support islands around the vegetables where we grow the plant with Ribes nigrum, Allium schoenoprasum, Rudbeckia laciniata and Primula vulgaris ground cover.

It's not a great photo but you can see the Rudbeckia sp. on the left, Allium sp, in the foreground with Ribes sp. and Chaenomeles sp. in the background with Primula vulgaris ground cover.
It’s not a great photo but you can see the Rudbeckia sp. on the left, Allium sp, in the foreground with Ribes sp. and Chaenomeles sp. in the background with Primula vulgaris ground cover.
Illustration of polyculture. Plants are more or less to scale
Illustration of polyculture. Plants are more or less to scale

All of these plants are available from our Bionursery and can be delivered to anywhere in Europe.


Many cultivars exist, some of which do not provide fruit and are used for ornamental purposes. Here is a list of a few:

‘Rasa’ – A Lativian cultivar registered in 2011 is the first cultivar of Chaenomeles registered in the world for fruit production.
Thornless, winter-hardy bush
Very productive (total 21.9 kg/bush in 5 years)
Average fruit weight 40-50 g containing 70 mg/% vitamin C, 350 mg% phenolic compounds in average. The fruits mature at the beginning of September.

‘Cameo’ – Double, apricot-pink flowers. A low growing selection (1 – 1.5m tall) with bright green foliage and few thorns. Plant has good clean foliage and appears disease resistant, thus many observers consider the plant superior to other cultivars.

‘Contorta’ – This form, with twisted stems and white flowers, is appearing more frequently in the trade. The contorted branches can be showy in the winter landscape.

‘Jet Trail’ – A low-growing form (to 1m tall) with pure white blossoms.

‘Nivalis’ – A vigorous, upright grower with spiny branches. White, single flowers in April.

‘Texas Scarlet’ – A low-growing plant (to 1m tall) with few thorns. Blooms are bright red, considered among the best. The apple-like fruit may also be used for culinary purposes.

‘Toyo-Nishiki’ – An unusual form with red, pink and white flowers in the same flower cluster. Upright, rounded habit with spiny branches (growing 2 – 3 m tall). While the flowering habit is unusual and the plant is very hardy, some reports indicate that it may be more prone to fireblight disease.

Balkan Ecology Project is a family run project – Paul, Sophie, their two boys Dylan and Archie. They moved to Bulgaria from the UK in 2005, before which Paul worked as an arborist, running a tree care business in the suburbs of South London and Sophie worked as a registered nurse. Inspired by the widespread practice locally grown food and the incredible biodiversity of Bulgaria they co-founded Permaship and started to develop productive ecological gardens and education programs.

In 2010 they founded the Balkan Ecology Project the goal being to reach a wider audience by providing tried and tested models of food production that yield quality produce, promote ecosystem heath, and can be replicated easily in terms of the skills required to run them and the financial investment needed to start up.

Connect with them:

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More articles from Paul Alfrey and the Balkan Ecology Project

Originally Published:

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.


  1. My parents had one of these in their garden in the 1970’s. We made the most delicious jam of the hard fruits!
    We cooked the whole fruits, then passed the cooked fruit purée through a ‘passevite’ (sorry, I don’t know how you call such a thing in English). Then cooked again with sugar. We used the same amount fruit purée and sugar, I don’t know if it’s possible with less sugar too.

    1. I looked it up. There are pictures of them on the internet. Passe vite is the French word for a Food Mill. Used for Mashed Potatoes, Purees, Sauces, Soups etc. It is a metal bowl with a handle in the centre that goes around to mash/pulp the contents. I saw one that had 3 foldable legs & 3 changeable hole plates at the bottom but none were fine. There are ones that are fine though. Some have a long handle & some short handles either side. Many have no legs.

  2. These are such hardy plants, surviving drought as well as cold. I have an inherited a hedge of them in central west NSW. I was familiar with them from other gardens I have lived in and wouldn’t have planted them but am now very glad of their presence. They provide good small bird habitat (albeit deciduous) and the flowers are fantastic for bees and great harbingers of the earnestness of spring being not too far away. Also very good at providing shelter to some hazelnuts I have high hopes for being not too competitive in root or leaf. I’ve never done anything with the fruit except use them as projectiles but the article has really heightened my interest in this aspect.

  3. There are two C. speciosa and C. japonica. Are you referring to the speciosa? I ask because the japonica seems to be very interesting because of the small size of the tree.

  4. My mother had one in our back garden in Moorabbin, Victoria, when I was a child. She used the fruit for ‘jam setta’, to set jams that didn’t have enough pectin in the fruit. I’ve got a Chinese Flowering Quince but it’s not as easy to find the Japanese Flowering Quince (Japonica) although they’re around. Very pretty and useful. Mostly flowers when leaves are gone. Looks like sticks with flowers. Fruit not great for eating straight from the bush like proper Quince.

  5. I have recently moved to a house with a front East facing garden. Here stands a maple tree so thre is shade and it’s prone to dryness. I would like to plant a hedge that is good for the bee’s and birds and deters my dogs from leaving. Not too high and thorns would be good.
    Please can you recommend.
    Jenny in the Netherlands

  6. I have recently moved to a house with a front East facing garden. Here stands a maple tree so thre is shade and it’s prone to dryness. I would like to plant a hedge that is good for the bee’s and birds and deters my dogs from leaving. Not too high and thorns would be good.
    Please can you recommend.
    Jenny in the Netherlands

  7. I made quince paste from our quince bush for several years, and recently got some quince from a friend who has a quince tree. I had read that the tree fruit was better, but in my experience, it is not. It smelled and taste funny. My recipe is similar to one above. I cook in as little water as possible whole fruit until skins split. Cool, squeeze out hard cores, and run softened fruit and skins thru a food mill. Get one large enough and up to the task. I used 3 cups sugar for what turned out to be 2 quarts of “purée.” I cook it on Low heat (with a diffuser) on the stove until it starts to blurp and get sticky (pot walls). Then I put it in shallow pan in the oven, low heat, for a long time, checking often till you know what to expect. You don’t want to pour it so thick that it won’t dry out / harden a bit. You can end up with jelly, or a paste, or even a leather. It will go from the color of apple flesh to a nice pink, even red color. Serve with plain crackers and Manchego cheese. Yummers!

  8. I have Chaenomeles japonica and speciosa. The first has smaller, initially more fragrant, but shorter-lived fruits, and a greater tendency to sucker.
    The latter I use to spice up apple dishes, in a variety of fruit flapjack (with rosemary for the high notes), and in savoury dishes instead of lemon.
    I chip the flesh off the core, cutting at an angle, between radial and tangential.

  9. I managed to get a couple of cuttings from a thornless one along with some fruit a couple of years ago.
    The original bush has been ripped up so I will have to wait for my own fruit now.
    The best cutting now has a few flowers on it however I do not hold much hope for fruit as we have quite a bit more frost to go here in UK.
    The fruit is good for jam and topping for pork and chicken or turkey.
    I have done some seedlings and one of them turned bronze for a couple of weeks before the leaves fell. I have moved it to a nice south facing location and may do cuttings from it in future years.

  10. My thornless one did indeed drop all the fruits at about the size of garden peas.
    It did grow a few inches on each branch and on the lead shoot produced two branches that are horizontal and just above waist height. These will be trained out along the fence behind. It was meant to be a fan but my plant has gone for horizontal.
    More interestingly a sucker has come up from below ground level and grown to six feet and has remained flat against the fence.
    It was treated ti a generous shovel full of horse stable manure that has been rotted for several years. I think it got carried away with the extra fertilizer.

  11. I have started a few Japanese Flowering Quince from seed successfully earlier this year. I am curious about their growth habit however. When the seedlings initially reached about 20cm I cut them back to 10 cm expecting the plants to fork. They didn’t… They’re now 50cm tall & I’m staking them.
    Should I be pruning or shaping them? If so, in what manner? Should I keep staking them? Again if so, until what height? I can’t find any information online. I hope you can help.

    1. I am fairly new to growing plants too.
      The biggest of my three cuttings grew steadily for the first full year and then had to be moved due to excavation work and was moved with a very large root ball to avoid disturbance.
      It has as I said before suckered up to 6 feet and still growing without branches.
      The branches appear to grow in random directions.
      I have also done some seed and have let them grow single stems.
      Trimming is not going to do a great deal until flowering size has been reached and the suckering activity has been determined as this will differ from one plant to the next.
      I will only trim mine if it is difficult to stop it blocking the path until it has produced fruit then I will look at trimming.

      1. The 6 foot sucker is producing side shoots and the two year old growth is producing plenty of flowers so I am hoping for fruit at the end of the year.
        Neither of the other cuttings have flowered as they were both moved one at the same time as the big one and the other to a rented plot I have just taken on.
        I have four seedlings that are producing side shoots. One of the seedlings looks slightly different to all the others. I will watch it with interest.

  12. Hello, Really enjoyed your site. I am looking for knowledge/answers. I live in Wisconsin, growing zone 4, USA. My parents had a Japanese Quince. It bloomed with red-orange flowers, yellow stamen. It produced fruit which we used for cooking. I planted a quince, same look as my parents, hoping for the same result, but it only produced fruit one or twice. It is on the southeast side, about 4 feet from the house. It produces plenty of flowers enjoyed by bees and humming birds, but no fruit. I do prune it before it blooms in spring to keep it inbound, but only the longest, outside branches. Any suggestions please?

    1. They fruit on 2 year old wood or at least mine does..
      Some fruit is forming on mine. A lot of fruit has dropped due to drought in early spring.
      It put up a 6 foot sucker last year that is now producing next years flower buds.
      I am growing it as a fan on a south facing fence.

  13. Came across this in a search for quince propagation. About 20 years ago, I moved to Massachusetts (Northeastern U.S.), Zone 5. There is a 3-season porch on the SW corner of the house; the porch is about 18″ off the ground, and that clearance is fenced with lattice to hide the space under the porch. The first year we were here, I noticed a woody shrub growing through the lattice under the porch; ruthlessly cut it back then and for several more years. Missed a year, and noticed that the few branches that protruded had lovely blossoms and learned that it was a Japanese quince. The blossoms were so lovely, I decided to dig the plant out and transplant it. Ha! One does not dig out an established quince shrub with a hand trowel while lying on one’s belly with barely room to raise one’s head!
    What amazed me is that there is nothing but dust/construction sand under the porch. This plant has been growing for decades in an utterly barren space that receives no water whatsoever and virtually no light. It’s the only one on the property or anywhere near so, presumably, a critter buried a fruit under the porch, and this doughty little fellow has not only survived but thrived in an extremely hostile environment. Since I’ve let it go, it’s thrust branches through the latticework, and it appears to be perfectly robust–blooms lustily every year and produced several fruits this year.
    So those of you considering planting flowering quince, consider offering it a challenging environment! : )

  14. I agree that Japanese quince might like a challenging environment. I have a Japanese quince that was planted by the original owner of my house sometime back in 1908 or it might even have been planted much earlier by the mother of the original owner who lived right next door to where the quince was planted and had gorgeous garden beds. It is sharing space with winged euonymous, barberry, joe pye weed, and privet. I have cut out all the ailanthus that was growing in there so it does have a little more room and light. It blossoms beautifully each spring but doesn’t often produce fruit.
    Five years ago I found a fallen quince underneath the shrub which had been hidden by deep snow. Of the five seeds, I got three to sprout but only one continued to grow. That little seedling was planted out by my front door and did very well only to be nibbled to the ground by bunnies in late autumn. The following spring it sprouted new shoots and grew happily until early summer when the bunnies got it again. It sprouted new shoots pretty quickly and got a bunny proof fence as well. I worried that it might not make it through the winter because of all the resprouting it had to do but it came through with flying colors and lots of new sprouts. It’s outgrowing the rabbit fence but has not yet flowered though it is old enough. Probably being nibbled back to a nub so often has delayed that. It looks like Japanese quince can be severely cut back and still recover nicely.

  15. I have got several seedlings that have not flowered yet that were taken from fruit.
    The cutting I took at the same time has flowered as I said earlier however it has dropped most if mot all of the fruit.
    The plant I got the fruit and cutting from has been ripped out now. It was growing in red brick making clay that occurs naturally in my area.
    Perhaps I should have whipped the top soil off before planting it to get fruit?

  16. I discovered a Japanese quince at my parents house when we removed a huge Leylandii hedge. The quince had been trapped between the Leylandii and a high wooden fence.It cannot have had any light at all for years, and hardly any water. Absolutely amazing that it was not only alive, but flowering and even had a few fruit! It did even better when the Leylandii were removed of course. The toughest plant ever!

  17. The large(r) green fruits in the pictures are not Cheanomeles Japonica nor Chaenomeles Speciosa (or a hybrid between these) but Chaenomeles Cathayensis (= originating in China). Cathayensis is white flowering more upright growing, taller and armed with numerous thorns. Excellent bush to fence off property. Medicinal and culinairy use is identical to its relatives.

  18. My plant with the tall sucker got pruned to just below fence top level by children when new tenents moved in next door.
    A cutting I have planted in the front garden has produced thorns and is now flowering in November. It is never going to produce any fruit while flowering through named storms while they are chucking hail stones at it.
    It is the slower growing branches that get chopped off during pruning that actually have fruit on them.
    This year it was very dry and hot early due to lack of aircraft trails in the sky and almost all of the fruit dropped off. Then what was left struggled and fell due to cold and damp weather when all that bush fire smoke came over ruining the ripening season for many crops.
    It was not a good growing year.

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