Q: My neighbor has a shrub growing in the corner of the front yard that is just now putting out flowers. She doesn’t know what it is, but we’re both curious. The flowers are a coral-pink color, simple flower. Five petals with yellow feathery stuff in the center. The flowers remind me of apple blooms, but I’ve never seen an “apple bush”! Any idea what this shrub might be? – Mc.K. N., Albuquerque
A: From the description of the bloom alone I am confident that the shrub you’re admiring is a flowering quince. These cheery shrubs are one of the first bloomers in these parts, flowering early along with the yellow blooms of the winter jasmine you can see around town now. The quince usually beats the forsythia and the lilac in the race to bloom first in the springtime.
You’re correct that the blossoms look rather like apple flowers, and that’s because they are in the same family botanically. I’m not sure why, but they aren’t planted a lot in these parts. It might be because they are thorny, so you should be cautious when you’re working around a flowering quince. But if you are looking for an easy-to-grow “barrier” type of plant, this quince could be just the ticket.
I have seen quinces that look, pardon me, “crappy,” but that’s because they are usually pruned incorrectly. If you want to control a quince, you should cut out a couple, up to four, of the older trunks internal to the bush, annually, creating better air circulation. Just “hedging” or keeping the shrub blunted will make it grow “wonky,” keeping the internal trunks and stems bare and making all of the leaf pop out only on the outer edges.
Now remember the quince is usually very thorny, so when you aim to prune, dress like you’re going to battle. Long sleeves, stout leather gloves, and perhaps safety glasses are the dress of the day.
Get down at ground level and visually inspect the bush, home in on the stem/trunks you want to eliminate, then lop them off cleanly as close to the ground or base of the shrub as you can without maiming or scarring the other stem/trunks in the area. Your goal with this style of pruning is to “open up” the shrub so it gets better air circulation and sunlight penetration. Then once you have the internal pruning done and if you feel the need, you can shorten the remaining stems to keep the quince more contained if need be.
Just remember to do this pruning after the blooming cycle is complete. So, by late April you’d be able to do a rejuvenation pruning for the quince. This style of pruning, eliminating some of the older, more internal growth annually, is recommended for Spanish broom plants, too, but be sure to wait until it’s finished flowering for the season.
Sorry, I wandered a bit and didn’t say why I like the flowering quince. They are remarkably sturdy shrubs and once established they can survive on a once every 10-day deep water easily. Again, being thorny, they can create a barrier along perimeters that very few would want to crawl through. If thorny isn’t your cup of tea, on the market there are newer hybrids that are supposed to be less thorny, too.
The 1-inch to 1½-inch-long oblong shaped leaves pop out just after the bloom is done, wearing a bright, coppery-green color initially, then maturing to a cheery green. If kept pruned properly the quince is a very pretty shrub. The leaves drop cleanly with the change of weather, making cleanup easy.
Watering once to twice a month during the dormant period, like everything else in the landscaping, should keep the quince resting comfortably. They are very easy to grow and offering their delightful flowers to herald spring … they are a win-win! Happy Diggin’ In!
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or to email@example.com.