Sunday, April 24, 2011

Deer Country: Flowering Quince, a Resistant Shrub

Flowering quince flowers

Gardeners in Deer Country know that deer love to browse leaves of roses, but there is one member of the rose family they avoid, the common flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciose).

This shrub caught our attention with its stunning flowers while we were driving along Triadelphia Mill Road near our home. Four flowering quince shrubs bordered the roadside just across from Pigtail Landing, a part of Patuxent River State Park that serves as the inter-county connector highway system for local deer.

I wanted to confirm that flowering quince really is deer resistant, so I queried Howard County Master Gardeners. Here are their replies:

Pat G.: “Deer do not browse my landscape; they level it! However, they have never touched my flowering quince. The shrub is in full bloom this week and it is amazing.”

Donna W.: “Before my yard was shaded with mature trees, I grew the Japanese flowering quince with no deer damage. Its stems have thorns and I thought that was protective to the plant as the flowers are mostly right on the stems.”

Kent P.: “I have a double orange and deer haven’t touched it.”

Callie P.: “Our farm had many flowering quince on it. Due to its prickles, deer and cows stayed away. Any human who has been stuck will avoid it too.”

Leslie J.: “No problems with the quince here! Mine is about 5 years old and has never been on the deer menu.” Betty R., Fran S., and Jeanine S. (Harford County) also said this shrub has been deer resistant in their gardens.

University of Maryland Extension’s Fact Sheet 655, “Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage,” however, lists Chaenomeles speciosa as “Occasionally Damaged” and Chaenomeles japonica as “Frequently Damaged.”

For additional information about flowering quince, I consulted Michael A. Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th ed.). Here are some of Dirr’s many points, and a few of my comments:

Size: Six to 10 feet, both height and width. If you want a smaller plant, consider a Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica), which tops out at three feet, but note its listing as “Frequently Damaged” in Fact Sheet 655.

'Rounded shape' of flowering quince
Habit: Rounded shape with tangled mass of more or less spiny branches. The quince spines are specialized leaves, not true thorns. The quinces I looked at had so few spines I had to concentrate to find two or three, so if you are concerned about this plant’s under-armor, check the spines on available varieties before you buy. Dirr notes that the plant is “often used for hedge (makes a good barrier).”

Flower colors: “Range of flower colors is tremendous, … from orange, reddish orange, scarlet, carmine, turkey red and white.” “Best flowering in sun.” In central Maryland, flowering quince blooms just after forsythia.

Fruit: Yellowish-green, bitter-sour fruit ripens in October and can be cooked into jellies and preserves.

Diseases and pests: How many plant sellers inform you about a plant’s possible disease/pest problems? Dirr says an overly wet growing season can result in leaf spot and defoliation up to 75%. He mentions other pest problems but concludes “none [are] of an epidemic nature.”


  1. I have fruiting quince bushes and they have a terrible problem with fruitworm. It doesn't affect their flowering, but it does affect me being able to use to the fruit. I'd love to know how to control/get rid of the fruitworm.

  2. I have a new orange-flowering quince and the deer seem to be enjoying it. But our deer enjoy many plants in my yard that they aren't supposed to like. Guess it just depends on what else they have to choose from.