Garden, Plant, Cook!

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Great Caper Caper Mystery - Solved!!

Dear Folks,

Note:  Suzanne has these special plants for sale until her inventory is gone for now.  See her contact info near the end is you are interested in plants.

This picture shows the mother plant in different stages of flower bud (this is the caper your purchase in the condiment aisle) through flower, baby berry to ready to pick and brine berry (the berries are showing up a lot more in restaurants).
The Caper Caper Mystery –  How To Get Caper Seeds to Germinate And How To Grow Capers in The Phoenix Metro Area.

I have know Suzanne Vilardi of Vilardi Gardens now for several years, and we wound up with a quest – how to get Caper (Capparis spinosa) to grow successfully here.

In September 2011, I purchased some caper seeds from a reliable source and proceeded to try and germinate them in my usual fashion - pre-soaked for a couple of days and seeded into jiffy pellets and placed in trays.  None ever germinated.   I chalked it up to the wrong time of year and planned to try again.  

Fast forward to October 2012, and I met up with Suzanne at The Urban Farm Nursery and she offered me 2 caper plants she had been growing, and thought I might have good luck with them.

On October 27, 2012 those 2 mother plants went in the ground at my home.  One has always done better than the other and is currently in excess of 4 feet across - I have not pruned her, wanting to see what she would do.

In Early 2013 Suzanne and I had a discussion about the difficult of germinating caper seeds, notoriously difficult to break the “super-dormancy” they go into once dried.

The 2 plants were doing okay, having come through their first winter here, however we knew it would be a while before we had any flower etc result from the plants

Suzanne offered to get a fresh packet of seeds and Gibberellic Acid (GA), which is used to assist germination of seeds, and asked if I could trial this process.  I agreed.

On March 1, 2013, I prepared the seeds with 2 solutions of GA 500 and 1000 (which were recommended in the accompanying literature).

I also decided to run a comprehensive evaluation and choose multiple other methods of breaking the dormancy through extreme solutions, and one trial of just pre-soaking overnight.

I made solutions using Limequat juice, Pink Grapefruit juice, Beer, Hot Water, Boiling Water (then chilled in the refrigerator) and freezing. – in all 8 different methods were tried.

There were 6 seeds in each method.

The results were more than disappointing.  Of all of the batches 1 seed each came up from the Limequat solution and the boiling water/chill.  However neither seedling survived more than a couple of weeks.

I was traveling in late 2013 and early 2014 and pictures in May 2014 show the one primary Mother plant doing very well.  While assisting a relative with health problems I was back and forth and did not see the flower, but we discovered the first Fruit on August 8, 2014 – SUCCESS!!

The fruit split (the ripened-ready-to-harvest-seed stage) in early October and I mailed the seeds off to Suzanne.

Suzanne: “The fresh seeds were planted in propagation trays mid-October, 2014, with a few emerging about 45 days later and the rest over 90 days, with near 100% germination.“
Suzanne transplanted into 4 inch pots in March, 2015.

In early June I picked up 9 plants to trial for optimal location.

The happiest of the surviving plants (4 did not make it) are in full sun in amended well draining soil given deep watering.

Catherine recommends the following growing conditions and has made these observations:

1) Well draining amended soil.

2) Full or most day sun.

3) Deep watering, then allow to dry out some before watering again.

4) The plants may frost back or go dormant in the winter depending on amount of hard freeze.

5) Flowering begins in late April or early May and continues into late July or early August.

6) Container growing is possible. A large (20-24") container is recommended for optimal growth possibility.  The original Mother Plant is now approximately 4 feet across.

The picture is one of the transplants taken July 30, 2015 from a 4” pot transplanted on June 9, 2015.

We believe the Caper plant will do well here in the Phoenix Desert region, and can produce flowers and fruit when the above conditions are followed.

For questions contact

Suzanne Vilardi of Vilardi Gardens –


Catherine, The Herb Lady –

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady