How to Grow Capers in Your Home Garden
Growing capers in your home garden can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to successfully grow these unique plants.
Selecting and Preparing a Planting Site
When choosing where to grow your capers, opt for a spot that receives full sun and has well-drained soil. Capers prefer sandy, slightly alkaline soils. Before planting, work some compost into the soil to enrich it. Capers grown in containers will also need a soil mix that drains easily.
Ideally, pick a sheltered location that avoids harsh winds. Consider using a sunny windowsill or greenhouse if you live in a cooler climate. Capers are native to the Mediterranean region and prefer warm conditions.
Acquiring Caper Plants or Seeds
You can obtain caper bushes in a few ways:
- Purchase young nursery plants suited to your growing zone. Choose healthy, vigorous seedlings.
- Take cuttings from existing bushes to propagate new plants. Use 5-6 inch tip cuttings in spring.
- Sow seeds directly in the ground once temperatures are reliably warm. Scarify seeds before planting.
When growing from seed, I start the plants indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. I gently scarify the seeds by rubbing them with sandpaper before soaking them overnight. This helps speed germination.
Planting Your Capers
Caper bushes grow best when planted 3-4 feet apart. Dig holes large enough to accommodate the root ball and backfill with your enriched soil mix. Water the plants thoroughly after planting and apply a layer of mulch around each bush to retain moisture.
If sowing seeds, plant them 1/4 inch deep in rows 18 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 12 inches between plants.
Caring for Your Capers
Capers require very little care as they grow:
- Water frequently, especially during dry periods. Established plants are drought tolerant but produce better with regular irrigation.
- Most caper bushes are mostly self-pollinating, so no special pollination techniques are needed.
- Prune off any diseased or dead growth as needed to maintain vigor.
- Apply a balanced fertilizer or compost in early spring.
- Capers have relatively few pest or disease problems, especially when grown in dry conditions. Check regularly for aphids or signs of fungal issues.
Harvesting Caper Buds
- Begin harvesting caper buds when the bushes are about 2 years old.
- Pick the unopened flower buds by hand in the morning. Use scissors or pruners to snip off the stems.
- Harvest every 2-3 days during the growing season for continual production.
- Leave some buds on each stem to develop into flowers and seed pods. This helps sustain the plant’s health.
- The optimal size for caper buds is about the size of a corn kernel.
Using Your Homegrown Capers
The signature sharp, piquant flavor of capers is perfect for:
- Mediterranean salads like niçoise
- Pizza or pasta dishes
- Seafood recipes and sauces
- Sandwiches and veggie wraps
- Herb compound butters
Try experimenting with capers in vinaigrettes, tapenades, and other creative recipes. Their briny flavor profile adds a burst of flavor.
Storing fresh caper buds in vinegar or salt will help preserve their unique taste and texture. For long term storage, pickle harvested buds in salt brine or vinegar.
Growing your own capers allows you to enjoy their zesty flavor fresh from the garden. With some patience and care, you can successfully cultivate these gourmet plants at home.