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Need help with getting comfrey going

 
Posts: 144
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I've ordered lots of comfrey roots twice already, and all of them died. I was going with Bocking 14 or Bocking 4, but I'm wondering if I wouldn't do better with the reseeding common comfrey. I'm in Zone 8a, and we have had either extremely wet conditions OR extremely dry conditions. I'm in a "rural neighborhood" zoned area. I've got diseased pine trees I'm taking down as I can, acidic soil, lots of poison ivy I'm still working to eradicate, and areas I've mulched thickly with sheet mulch trying to smother out the PI.

I've planted the roots (and a few crowns) I ordered according to instructions, and all of them still died. I do know that I've been digging up garbage all over the place here, because apparently when this house was built they just tilled in construction debris and such. Could that be the problem? I want to get plenty of comfrey going on my ~1/2-acre back yard that I'm working to turn into a forest garden (one picture to give you an idea below). What would you advise? I cannot afford to keep buying roots that die on me.

Thanks in advance for any advice. If you think seed is my best bet, please recommend a source.



20190318_160421.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190318_160421.jpg]
Typical area in my back yard that I'm trying to clear/plant with cover crops, comfrey, etc.
 
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Diane,

I had your problem about two years ago.  I will give you some suggestions based on my experience.  Prior to buying comfrey everything I read suggested that if I merely put the little root piece into the ground I should stand out of the way or I would be impaled by the rapidly growing comfrey plant.  Reality was a little different.

My first attempt at growing comfrey failed due to really excessive rain.  My suggestion to you is to get some 4” peat pots, fill them with a good potting mix and then plant initially into the peat pots.  Keep these peat pots in a sunny place near a water source and keep moist.  Initially, if possible I would keep the pots above ground.  If I were doing this again I would keep these pots on my driveway for about two weeks or so and I would water daily so as to prevent drying out, overwatering, and keep the roots from accidentally rooting where I don’t want them.

After they start growing and look healthy, take the pots and simply place the pots, plant and all into their permanent spot.  I would keep some wood chips, straw, or just grass clippings and cover the ground around the little plants.  After a couple of weeks they should be pretty bulletproof.

I hope this helps and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
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Looks to me like you are trying to garden in dense established forest. The shade and pine needles will suppress growth of pretty much everything.

I would probably be looking at a substantial thinning to make glades with better light as a first step. This will benefit most of your plants.

In my one garden comfrey does well with moist soil and direct sunlight. The plants in shade do less well, and the ones in drier spots do likewise.
 
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My first comfrey plant was purchased and I split it up after a year, potting the roots.  I let them start and then planted them.  A few years later I split my plants again and just planted the rootstock.  I didn't have a single one come up, so I think Eric's right, pot them up first and then transplant.

I would hesitate to get the seeding variety as I'm not sure I'd want, or know how to handle, self-seeding comfrey.  
 
Michael Cox
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Also, comfrey can do well in a large pot. If you establish it in a large plastic pot and cut some oversized holes in the bottom it can send roots down into the soil. When you move the pot in a year (cut the roots with a spade) the roots left in the soil will form a new plant.

You can also divide the plant from the. Pot to make your own root cuttings.

But will say again, it looks like a shading problem rather than a comfrey problems if you take a walk through the area generally (not just your own property) do you see plants growing on the forest floor, or just a litter of pine needles? At the edges of woods and clearing do you a different pattern? What plants do well and what don’t?
 
Diane Kistner
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Eric Hanson wrote:Diane,

I had your problem about two years ago.  I will give you some suggestions based on my experience.  Prior to buying comfrey everything I read suggested that if I merely put the little root piece into the ground I should stand out of the way or I would be impaled by the rapidly growing comfrey plant.  Reality was a little different.



LOL, Eric! Yeah, that was kind of my experience as well. I like your suggestion of potting up the roots instead and then planting them once established. And I really like Michael's thought of cutting a big hole in the bottom of the pot, letting it establish, then cutting it up and moving it, leaving the root in place.

So I guess I'll try yet again. I've got chickens. Which of the Bockings should I get?

 
Eric Hanson
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Diane,

I have had really good luck with Bocking 14 and I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  For being such an aggressive plant, comfrey can be surprisingly tender when starting out.

If it helps at all, after I got mine started it took off like a rocket.  Now it is a reliable producer of abundant biomass.

I think the pot method is the best way to go, but the other approach is to place the pot in a fertile hole, though my experience was that I needed a fertile mound to keep the comfrey roots from rotting in the ground from too much water during the plants infancy.

One other issue with comfrey (or other similar dynamic accumulator) is the need for nitrogen.  I started off by giving my comfrey manure (bagged) along with bat guano.  I initially planted 4 plants in fertile holes using this method.  I later added 2 more plants using barely any manure and no guano.  The guano-fed plants still outperform the non-guano plants.  I also give them a good dose of urine from time to time and I get a bountiful harvest that I can cut several times per season.

You have a lot of information here and I hope you can put this to good use.  Please let us know how things work out.

Eric
 
Timothy Markus
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Eric Hanson wrote:I also give them a good dose of urine from time to time and I get a bountiful harvest that I can cut several times per season.
Eric



I hope you only use ethically sourced urine...
 
Eric Hanson
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Timothy,

All of my urine is completely ethically sourced.  No one applies urine unless they have an actual interest.  Actually the only one to donate urine is me.  I occasionally keep a plastic cat litter container in the bathroom.  It has a wide mouth, a cap and holds 2.5 gallons.  I will pee in it for 1-2 days which gives me a little under a gallon.  I then fill the rest with water and pour.

Part of my gardening plan is to get my garden eventually completely independent of any fertility that I have to pay for or originates off of my land.  Since urine is a good, effective, totally free fertilizer, I do make judicious use of it.  I expect my garden to be independent of outside fertilizer by next year.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Prior to buying comfrey everything I read suggested that if I merely put the little root piece into the ground I should stand out of the way or I would be impaled by the rapidly growing comfrey plant.  

Eric



Eric, that  really made me laugh. Comfrey here really does grow almost like that.  I have killed a couple roots when I first got them. I watered them way too much, and as you said, that can kill them. Beyond that, they grow like crazy here. Mine that are growing near enough to trees to have support grow 6 or 8 feet tall. If they don't have support, they fall over before then. Either way, within a couple years mine will be more than a foot across at the base.
 
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I have comfrey growing very well in an area that receives 3 to 4 hours of sun. I started them from root cuttings no smaller than my thumb. I suspect that once your new cuttings are growing well in your pots, when you transplant them they will be fine. I do recommend that you keep several plants in a place with at least 6 hours of sun, using these to make your own cuttings next year.
 
Diane Kistner
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Timothy Markus wrote:I hope you only use ethically sourced urine...



LOL!!!
 
Timothy Markus
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Eric Hanson wrote:Timothy,

All of my urine is completely ethically sourced.  No one applies urine unless they have an actual interest.  Actually the only one to donate urine is me.  I occasionally keep a plastic cat litter container in the bathroom.  It has a wide mouth, a cap and holds 2.5 gallons.  I will pee in it for 1-2 days which gives me a little under a gallon.  I then fill the rest with water and pour.

Part of my gardening plan is to get my garden eventually completely independent of any fertility that I have to pay for or originates off of my land.  Since urine is a good, effective, totally free fertilizer, I do make judicious use of it.  I expect my garden to be independent of outside fertilizer by next year.

Eric



Hey Eric, I'm worried that you felt my flippant remark was critical.  It wasn't meant to be and I also use my urine on my plants.  I think your explanation of why you use it is great and I hope it makes people who don't use urine for plants consider it after reading that.  

I would love to hear about your journey to be independent of outside fertilizer by next year.  I don't want to derail this thread, but I would appreciate it if you could start a thread about it, when you have time.  I'd like to know how big your garden is, how long you've been working towards fertility independence, what that actually means to you, and how you've done it.  

Sorry if I pissed you off at all.
 
Eric Hanson
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Timothy,

Not to worry at all.  I will try to keep this response short so as to not derail.  I have a habit when writing of being overly verbose.  I start writing and I cannot stop.  I started to write a short response, but Before I knew it I was explaining my gardening independence plan.  Actually I am sorry if I may have sounded defensive.  It wasn’t intended as such.  As far as I am concerned, we are all good.

Eric
 
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I picked up my first comfrey root cuttings from http://www.nantahala-farm.com/comfrey-order-easy-s.shtml a few weeks ago. I ordered 6 and further split a couple large ones in half. I put these into peat pots (like Eric suggests) until they had leaves which was pretty quick. Oh - I cut the bottoms out of my peat pots (in case that matters). I think each pot had leaves within a week; and a few within a couple of days. We have heavy clay in most of our yard, and we get a lot of rain here (this spring was especially wet). Three are growing a little slower than I expected (one got hit by bunnicula early on, and may be struggling to push new leaves through the wood chips, another is shaded from 9am on). The ones doing best were planted into an overgrown part of my lawn where I cut the grass on the sod chunk, then flipped it, planted the peat-pot comfrey in the middle, then mulched lightly using the cut grass.
 
Michael Cox
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Michael Cox wrote:
But will say again, it looks like a shading problem rather than a comfrey problems if you take a walk through the area generally (not just your own property) do you see plants growing on the forest floor, or just a litter of pine needles? At the edges of woods and clearing do you a different pattern? What plants do well and what don’t?



Bumping this up again, as I feel it is likely the actual source of your problems. And it will impact your ability to grow pretty much anything else as well.
 
Diane Kistner
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Eric Hanson wrote:I have a habit when writing of being overly verbose.Eric



I coined a great word for this (for I am, too, sometimes): overbose. Overbosity has its merits!
 
Eric Hanson
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Diane,

I think I like “overbose.”

Add me to the list that thinks that you need some more sunlight.  Start in pots and add more light and I think you will be off to a great start.

Eric
 
Trace Oswald
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Diane, if you send me a PM with an address, I'll send you some more comfrey plants.
 
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Believe it or not I actually started mine from seed without knowing any better! Out of 30+ seeds I managed to get 4 to sprout, but of those 4 they all went wild and now I have gorgeous comfrey plants.
 
Diane Kistner
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Trace Oswald wrote:Diane, if you send me a PM with an address, I'll send you some more comfrey plants.



Bless you!
 
Diane Kistner
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Eric Hanson wrote:Diane,

I think I like “overbose.”

Add me to the list that thinks that you need some more sunlight.  Start in pots and add more light and I think you will be off to a great start.

Eric



I'm working on it. Heavens, it's so expensive to have trees taken down. I've done 20 of the smaller ones myself, but those whopper pines are beyond my pay grade. Slowly but surely, though, I'm getting more sun onto the property. Learning how to observe....
 
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