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a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


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Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Harvesting Stems of Red-flowered Quince



January is high time to prune the flowering quince.  Not least, to bring heavily-budded branches indoors to force them.  When I first proposed such a harvest back in December, it all seemed so simple: Clip 'em, vase 'em, enjoy 'em.


Today, I see that the plot has thickened. The twig on the right, above? Budded as usual. The one of the left? Not a bud on it. With the lingering snow as a handily contrasting backdrop, the profusion of barren branches is startling. 




Some of these branches are over three feet long, whereas the twigs that bear the buds are six inches at best. The budded twigs are miniature in every sense. Their thorns are half the length of those on unbudded stems, and the length of stem between thorns is only a third as much. 




Short, stubby, and full of buds? That sounds just like the stems of wisteria that bear the flowers. They are mere stubs compared to the foot-after-foot twining stems known as whips. Wisteria whips don't flower, whereas their "spurs" do. Flowering quince doesn't grow whips per se, but its non-flowering stems are also impressively longer than the flowering: Six to eight times longer. 


Shrubs that flower in Winter and early Spring start forming their buds the Fall before. They can only flower, then, on wood that was growing the previous season—and then experienced the chill of impending Fall and Winter. 


You can't mess with the shrub's timing very much. You couldn't delay flowering until, say, August, by cutting all stems down to the ground in early Spring. Even if Spring began in February where you gardened, the new stems still wouldn't flower despite having all possible time to grow, to "get ready." The buds still won't begin to form on those new stems until Fall temperatures are at hand. And that means after the current growing season is winding down.


You can't cheat the length of that first-year growing season much, either. Buds aren't likely to form on new growth that emerged after pruning in, say, August. While there's no maximum to the length of growing season, there's a minimum. Fresh, green growth isn't mature enough to form buds even if it is hardy enough to survive until the following Spring. 


To form buds, stems must have been growing long enough to mature, to be able to respond to their Fall chill and form buds. How long? Branches of flowering quince will bud best this Fall year when allowed to grow this year's entire season: Spring to hard frost. Conveniently, the shrub flowers in earliest Spring. If you need to prune, do so no later than right after flowering. Spring will have just begun, and new growth will have the rest of Spring and all of Summer to mature and, once Fall arrives, form buds.


Even so, those stems still don't form buds right to their tips. That's the newest growth, formed too late in last year's season to be mature enough to form buds. This, in turn, is why flowering quince bushes flower throughout the interior of the shrub, but never right at the surface. Only the interior wood is old enough to form buds. It's also old enough to grow the short secondary branches, like the one in the picture above, that will form buds right to their tips. 


But what about the long bud-free branches? They weren't there in the Spring, and yet, like stems that did form buds, they had all Summer to grow before Fall arrived. That cool weather caused bud formation on old wood as well as the new twigs it grows. But even a long first growing season isn't long enough for the stems that grew from the base of the shrub. They need a second growing season—and a second Fall—to have matured into their "budding" years. Their first flowering isn't until their third Spring.


Now that I think of it, other shrubs that flower in Spring have a similar habit. Lilac, weigela, deutzia, and kolkwitzia all produce basal shoots each Spring, and they don't begin to flower until their third Spring, either.


Espaliered flowering quinces soon have the main branches they need to fill out their allotted vertical area. My espalier of Chaenomeles x superba 'Hollandia' does, too, and so my first "harvest" of branches will be all the new basal stems. That harvest will be only for the brush pile, although it will make access to the rest of the espalier all the easier. Then I can begin harvesting branches that have buds. Those I'll bring into the house. Their vase awaits them.


Here's how to grow espaliered quinces. Here are the glorious flowers of Chaenomeles x superba 'Hollandia', in bloom in early Spring.

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