Capparis spinosa- What are Capers and How Do Capers Grow?

Capparis spinosa, caper bush, is a deciduous perennial shrub that produces edible buds known as capers. Find answers to What are capers and How do capers grow? You will also find facts and information, and learn how to grow and care for this great shrub.

"Capparis spinosa"

Capparis spinosa can grow in dry, rocky, poor soils

Capparis spinosa Facts: What are Capers Anyway? The unique caper bush is a native Mediterranean shrub. It has fragrant blooms, but the immature buds are definitely a delicacy. Buds should be collected by hand when they are swollen but not yet open. The caper berries add to other Mediterranean flavors such as, artichokes, olives, and anchovies. You will find culinary capers used in many types of appetizing, culinary dishes.

The Caper shrub grows in Zones (8) 9-11, and reaches heights of 3-5’ by 5’-10’ wide. It grows rather slowly and is often used as an ornamental plant, or as an espalier.

The caper bush thrives in dry, rocky, poor soils and along sandy shorelines where temperatures do not fall below 20 degrees. Choose a location where you can water transplants easily.

"Culinary Capers"

Culinary capers are packed in glass jars

Growing Capers

The spiny shrub, produces immature flower buds known as capers or caper berries. The flowers are fragrant and attractive, resembling cleomes. Space the plants 10’ apart and mulch them heavily to conserve soil moisture. When the plants are well rooted, you can take away the mulch.

Keep the transplants moist until they become established shrubs. Cover them with clear plastic and provide shade from direct sun so they will not wilt as easily. Use a balanced water soluble plant food the first 3 years. You should avoid pruning the plants until after the third year, then cut them to the ground late in the year.

"What are Capers"

Collect capers when they are swollen but not open

Propagation: the caper bush is slow to germinate from presoaked seed. It is best established from stem cuttings taken in late winter or early spring.

Harvesting the Capers

The caper bush buds in the fourth year in U.S. coastal zones and will live for 20-30 years. Pick the flower buds early in the morning just before they are about to flower. They should be about 1/8 to 1/4” in diameter. Soak the buds in a brine solution for 30 days, then pickle them in salted vinegar and store in glass jars for up to 6 months. Pickling brings out their peppery flavor, which comes from a type of mustard oil contained in the plant tissues. The most desirable capers are the smallest buds.

"Culinary Capers"

Caper bush with blooms and buds

Pests and Diseases: Viruses may be introduced when cuttings are taken or plants are grafted. Clean cultural practices help to avoid such probems. Pick off weevils and cabbage worms by hand or treat serious infestations with Bt or labeled insecticide. Water the plants from underneath to avoid mold and botrytis.

Recommended Cultivars

‘Josephine’ and ’Nocellana’ are bred to be spineless. Spineless types may be more pest-resistant and a little better all around.


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