Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Caper Update

I've been trying to do a caper post for the last couple of weeks so that I can document what the plants look like at this time of year but I continue to be distracted by the hiking trails in the park across the valley. These days I've been joking that it's my new boyfriend "Garland". But we've got a late taste of winter weather today and Garland's head is in the cold damp clouds so I'm putting off today's hike for a couple of hours in hopes of drier or at least less cold weather.

I'll start with some shots of my most productive plants.

A look down from the top of the wall to a plant growing on the level below. I planted the plants right up against the inside of the outer wall.

These two plants are particularly happy to be facing almost due south. In the winter the ivy that covers the wall behind them drops all its leaves and the wall reflects back whatever warmth it can collect from the low winter sun. These caper plants don't go quite fully dormant, their tops lose leaves but the lower branches and the crowns retain some greenery through the winter.

The same two plants from a slightly different angle.

The second plant seen from above.

In this shot you can see the variability that I've been getting from the same strain of seed grown plants planted in the same location. At the very bottom is a small plant that hasn't grown any bigger than when it was in a 4-inch pot. Next to that is one of my star performers, it'll spread out and across as the summer progresses and nearly cover up the runt. Beyond the star is an up and comer, it has slowly been getting established and last year it finally started to produce a few buds.

After a good hard pruning this winter it is putting out some pretty good new growth. Capers bloom on new shoots so you need to prune the bushes back quite hard to encourage them to put out lots of new growth. On my post about pruning capers you can see what my two star performers and a couple of my pot grown plants looked like back in February of this year. Wouldn't you know it, after I pruned these plants we had a late freeze and all that nice new green growth that can be seen on that post got frozen. The plants this year are actually a little behind where they were at this time last year.

Next to that plant is another runt shown below on the left and yet one more plant that is starting to size up a bit this year and may perhaps start producing buds later this summer (I hope). It's a mystery to me why two plants are growing like crazy in this location and the rest are just plodding along.

One of the star performers from yet another angle.

Buds, buds, buds!

The harvest is about to begin...

My pink flowering bush a couple of weeks ago.

And now it is starting to bloom.

I've got more plants growing in large pots in an area of the garden that is less protected in the winter. These plants don't get any reflected heat from walls so they go fully dormant in the winter and take a little longer to put out new growth in the spring. This plant is from the same seed source as the pink flowering plant but has the typical white petals and purple stamens of the rest of my plants.

I've got an experiment going outside the vegetable garden where I'm trying to get some plants established in the ground. It's a little difficult to see in this photo but the large rocks on the right have created a raised area where I've planted a few bushes. It is necessary to protected the young plants from the deer that wander through this area and trample everything.

This plant has been in the ground for about 18 months. It might be a little bigger if the deer hadn't nearly crushed it to death. It did well enough last year to prompt me to put in some more plants in the same area.

This plant has been here since last fall. I'm experimenting with a rock mulch for these plants since they don't have the benefit of a nice warming wall.

Once I figured out how to grow capers from seed I went a bit overboard. Here's part of my collection of plants, 24 plants in one-gallon pots. These are of mixed heritage, some from a Tuscan seed source, some from a Croatian source, and some from seeds that I collected from my first two plants that I purchased from Richter's Herbs. I have another dozen or so plants in one-gallon pots in another part of the garden and another 40 or so plants still in 4-inch pots... Plenty of material to experiment with to see if I can get more plants established in the ground in other areas of the garden!

And just because I think he's such a handsome fellow, the prince of the vegetable garden, a resident lizard (a Western Fence lizard?). This guy has made the vegetable garden his territory. I see him almost every time I'm in the garden. Here he's busy showing off doing push-ups to impress his girlfriends.


  1. Thanks for this post - it's great to see the mature caper plants and have an idea what mine will be like (I hope) soon. I've been meaning to photograph my surviving two plants for the blog because they've put out so many new leaves and are looking really healthy. I also have three more plants from another sowing last autumn of seeds left over from the ones you sent me the year before.

  2. Wow! You certainly do have a lot of caper plants. What is your average caper harvest in a season?

  3. chaiselongue, I'm glad you've had such success growing some caper plants, I can't wait to see some photos of your babies!


    Nartaya, I've only been harvesting an appreciable amount of capers for a couple of years. In 2009 I got 1 lb., 4.75 oz and last year I got 3lb., 10.25 oz. The bulk of the harvest came from the 2 large plants that are growing along the wall, the rest came from the plants in the large pots. The little plants in the one-gallon plants rarely bloom.

  4. Our caper plant is doing great! Glad we pruned it as I didn't know about the new wood requirement for blooms. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Michelle.

  5. Thanks for the caper update.
    My 4" pot plants are growing new leaves, I'm debating when to transplant them to a 1 gal size pot, or maybe I should wait until they go dormant in the winter.

  6. Bracey, You're very welcome! Please send me a photo of your plant sometime, I would love to see how it's coming along.


    Mac, I'm sure your plants would appreciate being potted up some time this summer, the more room they have for their roots the faster they will grow. I've potted up plants at all times of the year, I just try to make sure that they have a good firm rootball so that the soil doesn't fall away when they are removed from the pots.

  7. You have quite a collection and they are really starting to fill out. Cool lizard, do they ever come inside?

  8. Dan, Well, the lizards come in occasionally but not necessarily willingly - it's usually because one cat or another drags one in... :(

  9. I don't think capers will really grow very well in my area - but I sure enjoy reading and learning more about them. Such an interesting plant and I love how it works so well as both a food producer and an attractive landscaping plant. The lizard is quite a handsome fellow! I imagine he helps keep the bug population down.

  10. kitsapFG, I think you're right about the capers not being happy in your climate, but they might be happy if they were grown in a greenhouse. Mr. Lizard is a fat and happy looking dude, I think (hope) that he is feasting on the bugs in the garden!

  11. Hi Michelle
    Thanks for your blog - have been growing capers for a couple of years in Devon UK - tried first with wild cuttings from Majorca - they sulked for months and died. Now have several var inermis from seed and followed your advice to prune them in the winter. They are now growing well but we are a lot cooler than you - long way behind yours.
    Do you have any interest in Artemisias - are there any growing near you or are any of your correspondents interested? I have the UK National Collection with several hundred different ones over here, and would be interested in seeds of any local plants in America

  12. Mine never germinated -- I'm impressed with your fabulous plants. They look great.


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