We follow the growth of islands with different shapes by monitoring the strain relaxation by reflection high energy electron diffraction (RHEED). Comparing a bimodal ensemble of pyramids and domes with a monomodal distribution of C-induced domes, we observe different relaxation pathways and a growth mode change from Stranski-Krastanow to Volmer-Weber. We also study the changes induced by the capping process with Si. Small strains in thin cap layers are revealed by spectroscopic ellipsometry. Raman spectroscopy is employed to probe the built-in strain and silicon intermixing in different types of islands, evidencing that smaller islands are enriched in Si and effectively recompressed, whereas bigger relaxed dots remain substantially unaffected. © IOP Publishing Ltd.