You may be familiar with capers, used for culinary purposes around the world, without realizing that they actually come from a popular (and quite beautiful) bush. Native to the Mediterranean, the caper bush is most often grown for its unripened flower buds, which are picked, dried, and brined, then used to add a burst of tangy, intense flavor to a variety of dishes.
Even if you're not a fan of capers, these plants can make a wonderful addition to your garden. Best planted in the spring, caper bushes produce fragrant and ornamental white flowers with beautiful violet stamens. The flowers only last for a day, but if you let the bush spread freely, you're likely to see flowers all through the summer.
These plants grow slowly, reaching maturity in about two years and hitting optimal bud production the following year. They're well-suited to gravelly soil, so they can make a good addition to a courtyard or rock garden that gets plenty of sunlight. Traditional caper bushes have sharp thorns on their vines, but many commercial varieties have been developed to be spineless.
|Botanical Name||Capparis spinosa|
|Common Name||Caper bush|
|Plant Type||Evergreen shrub|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 3–6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Dry, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, early fall|
|Hardiness Zones||8–10 (USDA)|
Caper Bush Care
Under the right conditions, caper bushes will grow prolifically and won't require a lot of maintenance. They don't need much water and can handle even rocky, nutrient-poor soil, so even novice gardeners (and those with less-than-desirable landscapes) will likely find success with them. Additionally, caper bushes have no serious issues with pests or diseases.
Caper bushes need plenty of direct sunlight to thrive. Plant them somewhere where they can get at least six to eight hours of light a day. If partial shade is the only option in your landscape, aim for a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, which will shield them from the hottest part of the day.
Caper bushes are pretty easy-going when it comes to their soil. They do well in blends of all types, including soil that is low in nutrients, sandy, or especially gravelly. The same goes for the pH level of their soil—acidic, neutral, and alkaline are all fine options. The only necessity caper bushes have is a planting location that is well-draining. The bush hates "wet feet" and will fail to thrive if its soil does not dry out quickly.
Caper bushes have a deep root system and foliage that finds and retain moisture easily. When you first plant them, they will need more frequent watering in order to establish themselves in your landscape. After this, only minimal watering will be necessary and the plant will become drought-tolerant.
Temperature and Humidity
Just like in their native environment, caper bushes will thrive in locations where they can experience dry heat. In very hot regions, the plant can remain evergreen, but it will lose its leaves if temperatures drop significantly in winter. If you experience hot summers but chillier winters, you can consider keeping your bush in a suitably sized container and bring it indoors when the temperatures drop. Caper bushes are only hardy down to around 18 degrees Fahrenheit and will die if exposed to temperatures lower than this.
An established caper bush can thrive in highly infertile soil and won't need additional feeding. However, for the first couple of years, while the plant is still young, feeding with a slow-release fertilizer solution a few times in the spring and summer can be beneficial.
Pruning Caper Bush
Hard pruning your caper bush each winter will encourage healthy new blooms the following year and help the shrub maintain a tidy shape. For newer young plants, wait several years to prune them as they get established—they should be producing buds for at least two years before you start pruning.
Propagating Caper Bush
Patience, perseverance, and care are required if you plan on trying to grow caper bushes from stem cuttings. Select spring basal cuttings that have a decent number of buds on them—ideally, they should be around 4 inches long. Dip the base of the cutting in a rooting hormone to up the chances of establishment, then plant in soil and keep warm and moist for at least two weeks.
How to Grow Caper Bush From Seed
Many gardeners opt to buy a young caper bush from a nursery, as the dormant seeds from the plant are known for being tricky to germinate. If you want to give it a try, begin by soaking the seeds for 24 hours. If the seeds aren't fresh, they will also need a period of cold stratification—the seeds should be kept moist, sealed, and refrigerated for at least a couple of months.
After the stratification process is complete, make sure that you give the seeds an additional 24 hours soaking in warm water before sowing them. The medium you choose to sow the seeds in should be loose, well-draining, and moist. Although germination can start around a month after sowing, it can also take up to three months.
Great care should be taken when transplanting delicate seedlings—they don't take kindly to having their roots disturbed. Overly hot or cold temperatures are also problematic, and seedings should be kept out of direct sunlight or housed indoors during colder temperatures until they're well-established.
Once your bush is producing well, you'll be able to start harvesting buds during the summer. Make sure any buds you pick are dark green, tight, and at least 1/4-inch wide. Pick them in the morning—they may start to open as the day gets hotter. The buds will then need to be sun-dried before they're brined, salted, or pickled.