Plant of the week: Smyrna Quince - East Valley Tribune: At Home

Plant of the week: Smyrna Quince

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Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2008 2:30 am | Updated: 10:02 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

This splendid tree of antiquity has the looks and personality of a peach or apple tree. While Europeans appreciate the quince, its popularity in the United States is only slight.

The plant: This splendid tree of antiquity has the looks and personality of a peach or apple tree. While Europeans appreciate the quince, its popularity in the United States is only slight. Among the available varieties of this highly prized fruit from the ancient civilizations of Turkey, Greece and Italy, the Smyrna quince has a reliable track record in the low desert. This native of Turkey produces large fruit with light-yellow flesh and bright-yellow skin. Quince can be found throughout the ancient world in paintings, mosaics, and other art from the ruins of Pompeii to the prose of Shakespeare. So old are its roots that scholars believe Eve took a bite out of a quince, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden. In Greek and Roman mythology, quince is a sacred fruit symbolizing happiness and fertility. Unlike most fruit, it is almost never eaten raw. Quince's high pectin content makes it perfect for jams and preserves - in fact, the original marmalade was made from quince.

Growing guide: Full sun to partial shade

Culture: Select a sunny spot, or one in partial shade. Smyrna quince is a slow-growing, deciduous fruit tree spreading 15 feet to 20 feet tall and wide, and a low-chill tree (300 hours) that is self-fruitful. In the low desert, March and April are the best months for planting quince. Pick a spot with good drainage. Dig a hole two to three times the width of your young tree's container. Rough up the sides of the hole to encourage root growth. Set the top of the root ball 1 to 2 inches above ground level, making sure the bud union remains above the ground. Combine backfill soil with about one-fifth compost: no other amendments are recommended at planting time. Fill in around the root ball, and water the soil mixture so it settles. Create an inner berm around the trunk about 6 inches to 12 inches from the base of the tree to keep standing water from touching the bark during irrigation. Then form an outer water basin by making a 2-inch rim of soil surrounding the inner berm, and water again. You should widen the irrigation basin about once a year for six to eight years to ensure that the outermost roots of the tree are being irrigated. These roots usually extend to at least 1 to 2 feet beyond the tree's drip line. Showy red/pink blooms appear in spring. Long, hot summers ripen the fruit for fall harvest.

Maintenance: Fruit is borne on new growth. Prune occasionally to maintain size and shape. Also, regularly prune off suckers growing from the base of the tree. Regular applications of quality compost on the soil surface will help to improve poor soil. Before the new growing season in early spring, apply a moderate amount of an organic fertilizer such as fish meal or blood meal to the soil surface, and water it in. Water generously during the summer and growing/fruiting months, then once or twice a month during the dormant period after harvest. Another light application of fertilizer in late June is desirable if growth is not vigorous, but avoid fertilizing late in the season since that could delay dormancy.

Barn Goddess tips: The fruit has a heady fragrance, making quince a popular "bowl fruit" to place throughout the house. In aromatherapy, the essential oil of quince is characterized by soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. The essential oil also regulates the natural moisture content of the skin, making it a popular ingredient in facial creams. Find Smyrna quince specimens at Tropica Mango Rare Fruit Nursery in Phoenix, or shop online.

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