How to Grow and Use Capers
Capers are somewhat of a delicacy. They are the flower buds of the plant Capparis spinosa or caper bush. It is a perennial plant that produces not only the tasty little caper, but also caper berries. Caper berries are oval off green fruits about the size of an olive and used in much the same fashion. The leaves are also edible and commonly pickled. Parts of the caper bush are used in health and beauty products, cosmetics and medicine.
At maturity the caper bush is 2 to 3 feet tall with a spread slightly larger, generally about 1 third wider than it is high. American gardeners will find its growth habits similar to raspberry brambles. Capers thrive in dry rocky coastal areas in full sun and high heat.
Bloom Color: Red
Bloom Time: Spring
Soil pH: 7.5 to 8 Optimal. 6.0 to 8.5 Tolerable
Water only moderately
Hardiness Zones 8 to 10
Some varieties survive temperatures as low 18 to 20 degrees F. but cool temperatures such as that are not advisable. If you grow them in northern latitudes it is best to bring them indoors once temps drop to mid 30s F. They are healthiest and produce best in dry arid weather and tolerate summer heat over 100 F.
Starting Caper from Seeds
Capers are not an easy plant to grow and the trials and tribulations begin with seed germination. There is a low success ratio for germinating these stubborn little seeds. For optimal results it is advisable that you soak them for a day in luke warm water to soften the seed coat prior to cold stratification / storage for about 1 to 2 months.
Cold stratification is completed by sealing the seeds in a suitable container or even a zip lock bag and storing in the refrigerator, not freezer, but just the fridge for 2 months or slightly less. Some people like to wrap them in moist paper towels , this is helpful but not necessary.
When you take the seeds out soak them a second time in luke warm water for another day prior to planting in a potting mix. Unless your reside in zones 8 - 10 it is best to start them indoors in pots. Plant twice as many seeds as you anticipate you'll need as about 1/2, sometimes a tad more will never germinate.
Capers, in their natural habitat grow in sandy soil so the potting mix used for them should be similar. A blend of 3/4 Soil with perlite and 1/4 sand works best.
Germination takes up to a month sometimes a little sooner. If you've had a good germination rate, seeing that you heeded our advice and planted more than you will need, you might find it necessary to thin out some of the weeker sprouts to allow room for the best of the bunch. Once outdoor temperatures are suitable [ late spring or early summer ] and the plants have reached around 4" tall, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors. Hardening off or acclimating them for a day or two first would be a good idea. See: Hardening Off Seedlings
French nonpareils are considered by the culinary snobs to be the most desirable but are not always easy to locate there are multiple varieties and even counterfiet capers. Poor mans capers as they are sometimes called are not true capers, they are buds harvested from the Nasturtium plant and pickled in the same fashion as capers. They are, although 'counterfeit capers' very tasty and work well in most caper recipes.