Quinces are large pear-shaped, highly fragrant fruits, usually golden yellow in colour. They aren’t edible raw, but can be cooked to make aromatic quince jelly or a quince paste called membrillo, for serving with rich meats or cheese. You can also use quinces to make various sweet desserts. As these unusual fruits are rarely available in shops, the best way to enjoy their deliciously aromatic flavour is to grow your own.
Free-standing quince trees reach a height and spread of 4–5m (13–16ft), depending on the root stock, position and soil type. Trees will usually start cropping when five or six years old.
Quince trees are self-fertile, so you will get a good crop with just one tree, without any need for a
The Cydonia quince is sometimes confused with the Japanese quince or Chaenomeles, a thorny shrub grown for its spring blossom. Japanese quinces also produce aromatic fruits, but these are small and rounded, and although edible, are not worth eating.
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There are several varieties of quince to choose from, offering different ripening times, fruit sizes, shapes and flavours.
Quince trees can be bought as grafted plants, on roots that will limit their eventual size – usually ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) and ‘Quince C’ + ‘Quince Eline’ (dwarfing), which make them suitable for smaller gardens and even containers. Ungrafted plants may also be available. So when choosing a quince tree, select a root stock as well as a variety, to suit the space you have available.
When choosing any fruit trees, look for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably.
You can also see many productive fruit trees, including quinces, in the fruit and veg areas of all the RHS gardens, so do visit to see how they are grown, compare the varieties and pick up useful tips.
What and where to buy
Quince trees may be available in larger garden centres, but for the widest choice of varieties, visit specialist fruit nurseries and online fruit tree suppliers.
Quinces are best bought as two-year-old trees with the first branches already formed. They are sold ready for planting in two forms:
- Bare-root trees – only available while dormant, from late autumn to early spring, for immediate planting, and generally cheaper than trees in pots.
- Containerised trees –available all year round for planting at any time, but winter is preferable.
When buying a tree in person, check the roots and avoid pot-bound plants, as tightly packed roots may be stunted and not grow well once in the ground. See our guide to buying healthy trees and our guide to buying plants online.
Before buying any tree, see our guide to trees and the law and our guide to trees near buildings.
Although quinces are hardy, they need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, as the flowers open early so are susceptible to frost damage and sun is needed for the fruit to ripen. Avoid planting in a site prone to late frosts. In southern England or in mild urban or coastal locations they can be grown as free-standing trees in open ground. 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.
Prepare your tree for planting by giving it a thorough watering if it’s in a pot or by standing it in a bucket of water for half an hour if it’s a bare-root tree.
Quince trees are easy to plant and should settle in quickly – you’ll find lots of advice in our easy planting guides:
Aftercare is very important for new trees, to ensure they establish well. Stake quince trees for the first three or four years until well rooted in.
Planting in containers
Compact forms of quince, on dwarfing rootstocks (see above), can be grown in large containers filled with soil-based compost. A 45cm (18in) container is the smallest feasible, and 60cm (2ft) would be ideal.
Once established, quince trees need very little maintenance – simply protect the blossom from late frost if necessary, make sure they don’t go short of water, and consider feeding to boost fruiting.
Quinces prefer relatively moist soil and even established trees will benefit from extra water during hot, dry spells, especially when the fruits are swelling.
Water newly planted quince trees particularly well throughout the first growing season.
Trees in containers dry out much more quickly than those in the ground, so need generous watering from spring through to autumn – aim to keep the compost moist but not waterlogged. Over winter, raise the container on pot feet to keep the drainage holes clear, so excessive moisture can drain away.
After feeding in early spring (see below), spread a mulch of garden compost or well-rotted manure around the tree, in a layer about 7.5cm (3in) deep, to keep the roots cool and moist. Leave a gap around the base of the trunk.
To boost fruiting, feed quinces in early spring 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, every few years, especially on light, sandy soil.
Feed quinces growing in containers fortnightly in spring and summer with a high potassium liquid fertiliser.
Protecting flowers from frost
Quinces flower very early in the year, so if frost is forecast, protect the blossom on smaller trees with fleece, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.
There are several methods to grow new quince plants from an existing tree, including:
You can also grow quinces from the fruits’ seeds, but they can be slow to germinate and grow. Named varieties won’t come true from seed, so the resulting trees may have lower quality fruit than the parent plant.
Pruning and Training
Once established, quinces only need light pruning, which should be done in winter, while dormant, if necessary. This usually just consists of removing any dead, damaged or diseased wood, and thinning out any congested, unproductive or wayward stems. Aim to maintain a framework of well-spaced branches on a clear trunk. Quinces are tip-bearers, meaning the fruits mainly form on the tips of shoots formed the previous year, so take care not to remove these.
With overgrown or congested quinces, you can remove up to a quarter of the oldest branches if necessary, to open up the centre and create a balanced shape.
As quince trees are usually grafted, remove any suckers that sprout around the base.
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 slatted wooden or cardboard 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, so have the benefit of a long season of use.
Quinces should be cooked rather than eaten raw. They can be made into aromatic quince jelly (see below) or the traditional Spanish quince paste membrillo, to eat with rich meats and cheese. Quinces can also be used to make delicious sweet desserts, including fruit pies and tarts.
Many of the insects that attack apples or pears, including codling moth and winter moth, can also affect quinces, but are seldom significant problems.
Quince leaf blight is usually the only disease that can be troublesome, but others may occur, such as powdery mildew, brown rot and fireblight.
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