Arizona Capers - Any adventurous gardeners?

AZZenny

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For the past few years I've been trying to grow caper bushes here, to see how they'd do as a Zone 9 ornamental. They are being grown as a crop in Texas and California, so why not?

I've collected caper seeds from all over, with one or two more varieties to go, and have been nurturing 4 or 5 plants that are unknown commercial varieties from Italy, Australia, Bosnia and Turkey. They are doing amazingly well -- the first 2 years are touchy, and I doubt they'd transplant well once mature, but they LOVE the heat, need very little water, and are attractive plants with pretty blossoms.

I meet the Caper Lady

also...Blue and very rare Capers

Now that I have several 3-4 year old plants, I'm picking lots of caper buds and salt-curing them, so we'll see how that works. I also have more fresh caper seeds than I have any idea what to do with, since my remaining garden space is going to go to other, wild varieties.

Anybody want some caper seeds to try growing them? Just plant them in a full-sun area that you can water maybe 1 x week in summer, let them overwinter, and some should sprout in spring. You'll need to protect the seeds and sprouts from birds with a wire mesh or net the first year, but after they get a few inches tall in year 2, they are peppery enough that birds leave them alone. I have some growing through the fence and rabbits and javelina have left them alone, too.
 
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Linderbee

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I would be interested, but not until my designated "Garden Area" is actually a garden, lol. Someday....
 
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AZZenny

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Well, actually you can start them in good-sized (deep) pots and grow them that way for a year or two. I have had great luck getting them going that way. I keep them in very bright shade or morning sun, like the edge of a patio or under a tall tree, while they're in the pots (so the roots don't totally bake) and they do require more water in summertime when in pots - maybe twice a week. Then in a year or two, transplant in the winter when they are semi-dormant.

Plus, they don't really think of themselves as 'garden' plants - more as edge of garden/edge of civilization. Think the rocky, sunny hills of Sicily, Spain, the Golan.

Once they get established, they prefer fairly tough soil and sun conditions. No nice loamy garden, no fertilizer -- they love a rocky soil that drains pretty well, at least 6 hrs direct sun, maybe just a handful of compost every spring, and a deep soak maybe once every 7-10 days in really hot weather. They really can't stand wet soil, is about all.

No takers? Tsk.
 

Linderbee

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I may take you up on it, then. Sounds like they're Linda-proof, lol. My parents also have a LOT of gardening going on in their yard; I'll ask them as well.
 
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AZZenny

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Linda-proof:

Capparis Spinosa / var. Inermis (without spines):
The caper bush requires a semiarid or arid climate. It can withstand temperatures over 105 degrees in summer, but it is sensitive to frost during its vegetative period. On the other hand, it's able to survive freezing temperatures with seasonal die-back to a ground-level crown or stump. The main commercial areas are in harsh environments: Morocco, SE Spain, Turkey, and the Italian islands near Sicily. Inermis is the only spineless variety, developed for cultivation purposes.

C. spinosa tolerates silty clay and sandy, rocky or gravelly soils with less than 1% organic matter. It grows in cracks on bare rocks and on steep cliffs, sand dunes, disturbed gravelly roadsides, in salty coastal areas, and hangs from crevices in ancient limestone walls in Spain, Israel, and Italy. It prefers alkaline soils and full sun, but can grow in light or partial shade. They reach blossoming/fruiting age at about the 3rd or 4th year, and some commerical plants are still productive after 25 or more years.

It's a very drought-tolerant perennial and is also used decoratively for landscaping and for reducing hillside erosion. In Sicily and Israel it can easily go 3-4 months in summer without any rainfall or irrigation once fully mature, but normal summer temps there are probably closer to 95 and the Mediterranean air is somewhat more humid than AZ. Mine like monsoon rains and otherwise a slow watering every week or two in the heat of summer, but they don't like much more than that.

It's a shrubby, semi-woody plant with many branches, with thick, shiny, round to oval leaves. C. Spinosa Inermis has a low profile and a bushy, recumbent form (~15" high, 3-4 feet wide). They drape over walls beautifully.

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The roots grow long and deep, and are sensitive to disturbance; it's hard if not impossible to move them successfully once mature. The 1-1.5 inch flowers are slightly fragrant and really showy, with white or ivory petals, and many long violet-colored stamens. They last one day, and are very attractive to bees.
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The very young shoots, buds, and semi-mature fruit are all considered edible, although some way of curing or taming the peppery, mustard-oil component is often involved. The flowers are edible raw, without extra preparation.

The caper has been used medicinally for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory (and aphrodisiac) among other things. It is extremely high in a number of flavanoids and also in the mineral selenium, and is being studied for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
 

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Once they get established, they prefer fairly tough soil and sun conditions. No nice loamy garden, no fertilizer -- they love a rocky soil that drains pretty well, at least 6 hrs direct sun, maybe just a handful of compost every spring, and a deep soak maybe once every 7-10 days in really hot weather. They really can't stand wet soil, is about all.
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Sounds perfect for my back patio!
 
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AZZenny

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PM me an address, JerseyGirl, Linda, or anyone else, and I'll send you some seeds.
 

puckhead

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It's on! Who can sprout first?

The Great ASFN Caper Caper!!

(PM Sent)
 
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AZZenny

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To my amazement, a seed I planted last Fall just put out its first blossoms! They opened in the evening, which some of them seem to do, so they're already a little 'blown' this morning.

My other ones took about 3 years to flower, but then again, this is the first caper plant I started in the ground, not in a pot, and it's completely uncrowded. It was the 'companion pony' for one of my two surviving Argan trees.

I will warn that of 7-8 seeds planted, only 3 sprouted, and only this guy survived, which is pretty typical -- but it's a very happy camper. Until it had it's third set of real leaves, I watered it 2-3 times a week (OK, and spoke to it almost daily), after that it was watered deeply once a week. I gave it just a little light shade from midday sun in late June and July since the leaves and stems still seemed pretty tender -- now they're thicker and tougher. It stayed fairly small until the monsoon (pic 2 is from June), when it really exploded with growth.
 

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Jersey Girl

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Sure did!! Was so excited to get my package! Thank you! Am planning on planting my capers on Sunday.

Thanks so much, Zenny! Will keep you posted!
 

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Got my package as well! Thank you!! I'm still playing catch-up from vacation & work trip to New Orleans, but I'm going to be digging in soon! (pun intended :) )
 

puckhead

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Received mine too! And what a package it is! (cue peanut gallery) Thank you very much!!!

The Mrs and I are very excited.

We're trying to decide where the forever home should be.

Will keep thread posted on progress.
 
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AZZenny

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OK, I've started keeping an eye on my thus-far inactive pots and plots -- it's a good month earlier than normal, but with the higher recent temps, my mature capers have started showing hints of growth way ahead of schedule, so... I'm making sure the seeds get a good drink when the surface soil looks pretty dry, and have a screen or net over them so the birds don't rip out any tiny sprouts whenever they do show up. Fingers crossed!
 

Jersey Girl

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I had to start mine in pots because I hope to be moving before the end of the year. I have nothing to report yet, but I admit I did not plant until a short time ago. I did save some seeds and material for the new homestead. :)
 
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AZZenny

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I suggest you stick the pots in the coldest part of your fridge for 2-3 weeks, then. I'm almost certain they need to have a period of cold to germinate, because mine don't ever seem to germinate 'fresh from the pod', but many of them come up after overwintering. I'll give you some fresh seed when you move - I'll probably have lots of surplus.
 
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AZZenny

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OK, some of the little guys are popping up. Not my wild purple ones, but here and there, the AZ domestic ones are.

I just untangled and transplanted about 40 tiny (1" long) seedlings -- I had dropped a dried-up seed pod in a pot of dirt and left it out in my garden all winter, thinking maybe a few seeds would sprout -- but looks like they all did! I felt like I was doing neurosurgery.

I replanted three per pot, hoping maybe one per pot will survive, so if your seeds don't show up (remember, give them until late May) I may have some clean little sprouts to give out in a month or so, knock on wood.
 
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AZZenny

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OK, guys - 1) I have about half a dozen well-established (4-8") spineless caper plants for anyone who wants one - you can get one or two at any time now, just PM me. Now with the higher humidity isn't a bad time to move them as long as you initially provide some shade, though they'll also handle transplanting well come Sept-Oct when it's just a bit cooler. They should be transplanted directly to their permanent spot. They will begin bearing buds lightly next year and then heavily in subsequent years.

I will also have lots of fresh seed again this year, beginning in about 3-4 weeks, if anyone wants to try. I discovered some seed pods germinated better than 50% and some the standard 10%, and I think I know which plant is the good one.

2) I have been salt-curing batches of capers with about 50% success so far, using the Italian method but adjusted to compensate for our lower humidity and higher heat. The Italians actually prefer larger caper buds, like a day or two before it would blossom, not smaller, and it ferments much better. They also use lower-sodium sea salt (from areas of the mediterranean with about 30% lower sodium than our common salt). That lets them pickle in their own brine w/o becoming intolerably salty.

The batches that have worked are really excellent - several friends (some skeptical) have said by far the best capers they've ever tasted! Hee hee! I haven't quite figured out why some batches stay bitter and others mellow so well - whether I drain their self-made brine too soon, or not soon enough.

3. Oh, and I do have about a dozen little wild Israeli capers now pretty well-established, in all their spiny purpleness.
 
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mathy6

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cappers plants or seeds

I would like to buy some capper seeds ou plants. Do you have any available? I do live in phoenix. Thanks.
 

Jersey Girl

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Bump!

Was thinking about AZZenny today and remembered this thread.

My capers never took off, but I really didn't have a good place for them. Now that I have a house with a good yard, I would be willing to try again. :)
 

puckhead

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Bump!

Was thinking about AZZenny today and remembered this thread.

My capers never took off, but I really didn't have a good place for them. Now that I have a house with a good yard, I would be willing to try again. :)

Mine either. My brown thumb strikes again. :mad:
 
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