Caper Bushes: Extraordinary Drought Tolerance

caper flower and foliage (Capparis spinosa)

The sizzling heat we have just experienced may leave you wondering if there is anything, except for cactus, bougainvillea, and certain native plants, that can survive such weather without serious pampering.  Curiously, there is an infrequently encountered, yet edible garden beauty, a long-flowering, leafy perennial that stands bristling heat just fine.  It’s none other than the caper bush (Capparis spinosa).

The unopened, pickled flower buds of this plant are what people think of when they hear the word  caper. Yet, the fruits of the caper, which are formed in the wake of glorious flowers, are equally as tasty as the flower buds, if not more so. These berries, which are about the size of olives (without the pits), may be used, after brining, in salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.  They can be stored for several years without compromising their taste.

 

The caper bush does not simply tolerate harsh growing conditions.  It thrives on them.  I have seen capers growing out of crevices in the Western Wall, built at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem , and atop the Masada fortress in the Judean Desert , facing the Dead Sea .  Capers demand nothing more than perfect drainage for their roots, so don’t compromise their health by planting them in heavy soil.

The caper bush has smooth, round, blue green leaves and, during the summer, opens new flowers every day. These flowers have white petals that are adorned with clusters of long purple anthers. In the Judean Desert , where temperatures regularly exceed 120 degrees, caper flowering continues without interruption throughout the summer. You can find caper bushes locally at the Papaya Tree Nursery in Granada Hills.  Call (818) 363-3680 for more information.

I heard that you should avoid using redwood shavings as a ground cover around roses.  If this is true, what should I apply for groundcover?

Frank Williams, Glendale

 

Several years ago, I received the following e-mail from Ruth Stern of Shadow Hills:
“After moving to a home with over 50 rose bushes (none of which were doing great), I discovered after some research that one should NEVER use redwood mulch on roses. I removed the redwood mulch and my roses have rewarded me ever since. There is some chemical in redwood mulch that doesn’t agree with roses.”

I would first put a thin layer of  home made compost,  Nitrohumus, Amend, or some other bagged soil amendment on the ground around your roses. Compost, or composted amendment, will provide a measure of fertilization as it decomposes.  You could also put a layer of cedar mulch, for water conservation, on top of the compost.  I have found cedar mulch to be compatible with the growth of annuals, perennials, and woody plants of all types, including roses.

 

 

“What do you suppose is eating the leaves of my 40 plus year old Meyer lemon? Squirrels, rats? By this time of year it should have new growth and many blossoms. I recently fed it and have deep watered but no signs of new growth. Should the leafless branches be cut off and fruit removed?  Background: the Meyer lemon was already there when we bought our house in Burbank in 1971 and it has bloomed consistently for all these years.”

Natalie Abrahamian, Burbank

 

You may have citrus leafminers, which are tiny moth larvae that actually live inside leaves and make tunnels in them as they feed.  Meyer lemon is one of citrus leafminer’s favorite host plants. You would want to spray Spinosad (organic product), especially on succulent new growth.  Spraying must be done every 7 to 14 days to be effective but not more than six times during the growing season.  If you do not have leafminers, your problem could simply be the age of your trees.  40 years is considered old for nearly every sort of fruit tree and the productive life of a Meyer lemon seldom exceeds 50 years.

 

 

When my mom passed away in 2007, I had my teenage son dig up 6 of her favorite rose plants from her backyard, bring them to my house and plant them in large pots for my patio.  She had loved these roses since 1957.  The roses did well in these pots in my Calabasas backyard for the past five years but this summer looks like it might be their last.  The leaves and blooms are misshapen, the leaves are brown and stems are spindly.  The plants have powdery mildew and spider webs.  I’ve sprayed them with every kind of product, then sprayed them weekly with dish soap, and then decided to just leave them alone.   For a while they were looking better, but this week, they have really gone downhill.

Gail Aspinwall, Calabasas

 

I would try to propagate them.  Get some root hormone at a nursery.  Detach four to six inch shoots (cut at 45 degree angle) just beneath a node (where leaf meets stem), remove bottom two leaves, dip in root hormone, and insert into half perlite, half peat moss soil mix.  Make holes in soil mix with a pencil so root hormone does not rub off on sides of holes. Tent cuttings with thin plastic wrap supported by popsicle sticks. You might be able to at least create clones of your roses if the mother plants should die.  Be very careful about watering your roses in their present condition since excessive soil moisture leas to root disease in highly stressed plants.

 

Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica  ‘Halliana’) is an outstanding ground cover for slopes. Considered by some to be a weed, this is a plant that, nevertheless, is a good choice for planting along a chain link fence or on a slope for erosion control. Make sure that no other ground covers or, for that matter, shrubs are in the vicinity since Hall’s honeysuckle will easily strangle everything in its path. Flowers change color from yellow orange to white and bloom from spring until fall. Cold tolerance extends as far north as the Santa Clarita Valley where, even so, it will get burnt on freezing nights.  You can cut it back severely every two years, which will merely serve to stimulate new growth. Be careful, though, as snakes have been known to lurk in overgrown honeysuckle plantings.

 

Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) is an indoor plant does best on a shower window sill since it appreciates humidity. You can grow it outdoors, during the summer, in a shady and mulched location where it will benefit from steady soil moisture. At the end of October, move it under a patio cover or back indoors since, unless very well protected, it would die in freezing weather.

 

Tip of the Week:  Million bells (Callibrachoa hybrid) is probably the best flowering plant for containers that receive half a day’s worth of Valley sun. It is available in many pastel colors and blooms throughout the warm season. For best results, mix slow release fertilizer into your potting soil or purchase potting soil with fertilizer already mixed in. Don’t be afraid to cut back plants that have grown into each other or look piqued and need the re-invigoration that pruning provides.  If you are good at growing petunias, you should have success with million bells, which are petunia cousins.

 

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