Large, yellow and aromatic, the fruit of the quince tree can be turned into delicious jellies and jams. Ideal in a sunny spot, quince trees are easy to look after and not prone to many of the more common fruit problems. Theyare attractive and well as productive, producing pretty blossom in late spring. There are options for all sizes of garden, and quinces can even be grown in large containers if space is limited.
Jobs to do now
- Protect the flowers with sheets of horticultural fleece if a late frost is forecast
- Plant quinces in a sunny spot, in moist, well-drained soil
- Add organic matter to light or shallow chalky soils before planting and mulch well afterwards
- Hang pheromone traps in the branches of trees to lure and trap male codling moths
Month by month
Feeding, watering and mulching
Water regularly throughout the growing season keeping the soil moist particularly during hot dry summers. Containers dry out much more quickly so will need extra attention . Over winter, raise up the container on pot feet to allow excessive moisture to drain away.
In early spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 – scatter one handful per square metre/yard around trees growing in bare soil, and one-and-a-half handfuls around those in grass. You can also apply sulphate of ammonia, at 35g (12oz) per square metre/yard. Then spread a mulch of garden compost or well-rotted manure around the tree, in a layer about 7.5cm (3in) deep. Leave a gap around the base of the trunk.
Feed quinces growing in containers fortnightly. In late winter feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser. See our guide to feeding and mulching fruit trees.
Protecting flowers from frost
Quinces flower very early in the year, so if frost is forecast, protect the blossom on smaller trees with horticultural fleece, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.
There are several methods of propagating quince, including budding (chip and T-budding), grafting, hardwood cuttings and by removing suckers.
Quinces fruit mostly on the tips of the shoots made the previous year. They don’t form many fruiting spurs. Prune quinces in winter while dormant. Remove dead, diseased or damaged stems, and thin out any congested or unproductive stems. Aim to maintain a system of well-spaced branches on a clear stem, removing wayward stems as they’re produced. Once established, only light pruning is necessary, apart from the occasional removal of crowding or low branches.The branch framework is developed along the same lines as for apples.
Pruning established quinces
For good cropping, prune every winter, thinned out to improve light penetration and air circulation. Remove no more than a quarter of the oldest branches, by cutting back to the point of origin or to a shoot that is one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed. Prune out crowded branches, very vigorous shoots and branches showing little growth. Remove any suckers around the base, and clean off unwanted shoots on the main stem
Choosing a quince
Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga) come in many shapes and sizes, to suit all gardens. You can choose from large spreading trees that would make an attractive specimen in a lawn, to half standards that are suitable for smaller gardens or even in pots.
Free-standing trees reach a height and spread of 3.75–5m (12–16ft), depending on the rootstock, position and soil type. Quince trees can be bought as grafted plants, either on a ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) or ‘Quince C’ (dwarfing) rootstock, or sometimes on their own roots, and are best bought as two-year-old tree with the first branches already formed.
They are self-fertile and usually start cropping when five or six years old. The variety ‘Serbian Gold’ has an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows it performed well in trials, so would be an excellent choice.
Quinces are often confused with the shrub Chaenomeles (Japanese quince), the fruit of which is also edible.
Where to plant quinces
Quinces tolerate a range of soils, but grow best in a deep, fertile, moisture-retentive soil. They grow particularly well when planted near a pond or stream, but dislike waterlogging in winter. In light or shallow chalky soils, add plenty of organic matter before planting and mulch well afterwards. Although they are hardy, quinces need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, as the flowers open early so are susceptible to frost, and sun is needed for the fruit to ripen. Avoid planting in frost-prone positions. In southern England or in mild coastal or urban sites they can be grown in the open. But further north or in colder or exposed sites, they are best planted in a sheltered spot, for example against a south- or south-west-facing wall.
As alternative to growing in the ground, compact forms are happy in large containers filled with soil-based compost. A 45cm (18in) container is the smallest feasible, and 60cm (2ft) would be ideal.
How to plant quinces
Plant new quince trees between November and March, while they are dormant.
If planting more than one, bush trees should be spaced about 3.5m (12ft) apart, and half-standards about 4.5m (15ft) apart. Stake trees for the first three or four years. See our step-by-step guides for full planting details:
Quince fruits are ready to harvest in October or November, when they have turned from a light yellow to a golden colour and are extremely aromatic. Leave them on the tree as long as possible to develop their flavour, provided there is no danger of frost.
Quinces should be stored for at least six weeks before use. Only pick and store undamaged fruits, placing them in a cool, dark place in shallow trays – ensure the fruits don’t touch, and don’t wrap them. Quinces are strongly aromatic so avoid storing with other fruits. Allow the quinces to ‘mellow’ for six and eight weeks before cooking. They will keep for two or three months.
More information of storing fruit
Quince leaf blight is usually the only disease that can be troublesome, but others may occur, such as powdery mildew, brown rot and fireblight.
Quince leaf blight
A fungal disease that is a problem in wet seasons, causing severe leaf spotting and premature leaf fall, whilst fruit may also be spotted and distorted.
Prevent the disease overwintering by raking up and disposing of affected leaves as they fall and by pruning out any dead shoots in winter. Feed and water plants well to ensure they grow more foliage.
Brown rot is a fungal disease causing a brown, spreading rot in fruit, sometimes with white pustules of fungi on the surface. It is usually worse in wet summers.
Remove all rotten fruit as soon as you see it and destroy, this will prevent the spread of the rot.
The caterpillar of the codling moth can burrow into quince in summer, resulting in fruit that is ridden with tunnels and excrement.
Traps containing pheromone can be hung in the branches of trees in May to lure and trap male moths, reducing the females’ success of mating. A biological control can be sprayed on quinces and soil around trees in the autumn to kill caterpillars leaving the fruit.
If you have an abundance of quinces and apples, this quince and apple chutney is very flavourful. You can substitute other ingredients such rhubarb, apple, plums and pears according to the season.
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