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Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care

Discover the joys of growing your own capers! This guide provides easy-to-follow steps for cultivating these flavorful flower buds. From planting and care tips to harvesting and storage, learn all you need for a bountiful capers.

Capers are the unripened flower buds of the Capparis spinosa plant, a perennial bush native to the Mediterranean region. These flavorful buds add a delightful burst of flavor to many dishes and are highly prized in cuisines around the world. While commonly imported, capers can also be grown in warm climates like those found in parts of the United States. With some care and patience, you can have a steady supply of fresh capers right from your own garden.

Getting Started

 Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care

Here’s a short information chart about Caper Plants:

Botanical NameCapparis spinosa
Common NameCaper
Plant TypePerennial shrub
ZonesUSDA Zones 9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-drained, sandy or rocky soil
WateringLow to moderate
Growth HabitUpright spreading
Height/Spread3-6 feet tall, 3-5 feet wide
Special FeaturesEdible flower buds, salt tolerance

Capers thrive in hot, dry climates with mild winters. They do best in USDA hardiness zones 8-11. In cooler regions, they can be grown in containers and brought indoors during winter. Capers need full sun exposure, at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. They also require very well-draining soil as they don’t tolerate excessive moisture.

Planting Caper

Planting-Caper Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care

Caper seeds can be difficult to find, but offer an inexpensive way to start plants. The seeds need stratification by exposing them to cool, moist conditions for 2-3 months before planting. Sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep and 12 inches apart in spring once temperatures are reliably warm.

From Cuttings

An easier method is to start from 6-8 inch stem cuttings taken from an established caper plant in spring or summer. Allow the cuttings to callous over for several weeks before planting in well-draining soil.

From Transplants

For fastest results, purchase small transplants from a nursery supplier. Plant spacing should be 3-4 feet apart for bushes to have good air flow.

Once planted, capers are very drought tolerant but benefit from regular irrigation their first year until the long taproot is established. Mature plants need supplemental water only occasionally in extended dry periods.

Caring for Caper Plants

Caring-for-Caper-Plants-1 Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care


Capers demand excellently draining soil or they will rot. Avoid amending with compost or manure. Add coarse sand, gravel or crushed rocks to improve drainage in heavy soils.


Feed established plants in early spring with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or compost tea at half strength. Too much nitrogen will promote leafy growth rather than buds.


Prune sparingly the first couple years to allow the plant’s structure to develop. Once established, thin out excessive growth in early spring to increase air circulation.

Pests & Diseases

Capers have very few problems when grown in hot, dry climates. Potential issues include root rot from over-watering, verticillium wilt, and fungi if conditions are too humid. Rotate plantings periodically.

Winter Protection

In zones 8 and below, protect plants by mulching heavily over the roots and covering the plant with a cloche or burlap wrapped frame during hard freezes.

Harvesting Capers

 Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care

The caper harvest is made up of the immature flower buds picked just before they begin to open. This can begin about 2 years after planting.For the classic small pickling capers, harvest the buds when no larger than 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide using scissors to snip them off. Larger buds up to 1 inch across are called caper berries and have a milder flavor.

Harvesting is done early in the morning every 1-2 weeks during the warmer months when flowers are abundant. Be gentle to avoid damaging the plant’s growing tips.After harvesting, quickly transfer the capers to salt water or vinegar brine they will be pickled in. This prevents the buds from developing an off-flavor or browning. Fresh unharvested buds will continue opening into delicate white flowers.

With attentive care your caper plants can be very productive for 8-10 years before becoming woody and unproductive. At that stage, start new plants from cuttings to replace them.

Storing Capers

Storing-Capers Secrets of Capers: A Comprehensive Guide to Growth and Care

For short-term storage, pickled capers will keep for up to a year refrigerated. For longer storage, drain the brine and freeze the capers. Frozen capers will keep for up to 2 years.

You can also salt-cure capers for longer keeping. Soak the buds in salt water for 10-15 days, changing the water daily. Then pack the salt-cured capers tightly into jars, topping with more salt and olive oil to fully cover them. These will keep for several years when stored in a cool, dark place.

So with some patience and the right climate, you can successfully grow your own supply of this beloved ingredient! Fresh homegrown capers have unbeatable flavor compared to store-bought. Growing them is also quite rewarding as the flowering caper plants have ornamental value too. Get planting and enjoy the fruits of your labor in all your favorite Mediterranean dishes.

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