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Comfrey and its proximity to fruit trees -- how close?

 
Robert Marr
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Hi,

Lots of threads about comfrey, but I'm not having much luck on how close I should be planting this to my fruit trees.

This link the person thinks the comfrey is robbing his trees of nutrients. I have 5 trees and 26 live roots of comfrey that I'm wanting to plant. I've mulched in a 5 foot diameter around all of the trees. Trees will have a 12 - 15' diameter when full grown... help me plant the correct number of comfrey plants and space them appropriately!
 
Jordan Lowery
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Id put three per tree 1ft apart from each other. 5-7 ft from the trunk on a side that will get half sun half shade when the tree is mature. Preferably morning sun. The rest I would have patches of comfrey in key spots places where nutrients might leech like below a chicken run for example.
 
Brenda Groth
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my comfrey is a foot or two or less away from most of my fruit trees, it makes a wonderful mulch and the roots go to china..so they bring up a lot of nutrients that in those dying leaves in the fall that feed your tree..the tree gets its sunlight through its leaves not its roots, so as long as the soil is moist and fed with the good mulches ..what could it be robbing?? I may be wrong but I love to have my comfrey as close as possible but allowing for mature trunk size.

Look at the bottom of these pear trees, there is comfrey behind and in front of them and they are growing like wildfire..they are only 4 or 5 years old.
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Alison Thomas
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Brenda, thank goodness you posted... I was reading Jordan's post and thinking "uhoh, mine are too close to the trees" (only about 0.5m/2ft from the base of the trees) but then you posted and I felt OK again
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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I have a young mulberry that I very roughly yanked up in Georgia and replanted here with a comfrey plant right at the base of the mulberry. Both are doing amazingly well.
 
John Polk
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Be forewarned though that comfrey is a voracious feeder. It can consume all of the nitrogen in its path.

 
Shawn Harper
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John Polk wrote:Be forewarned though that comfrey is a voracious feeder. It can consume all of the nitrogen in its path.



Easily fixed with some clover seeds.
 
Kris Minto
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I love the idea of putting comfrey in my garden but I am a little worry about it taking over. Because of this I have used Lupin and Clover.

 
James Colbert
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Perhaps a strategic chop and drop would help with comfrey and nitrogen fixers around trees. In the spring when plants are growing chop and drop to give them a boost. When fruit or flowers begin to form another chop and drop. Basically give the plant nutrients when it needs them. Thoughts?
 
Alison Thomas
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I see where you're coming from James though I thought that it was as the leaves rotted that they released their nutrients so you'd need to chop n drop a bit before the plants/trees needed the goodness. I guess it depends on where you live but a twice annually cut (as you're suggesting anyway) should free up lots of nutrients. I just hack mine when the leaves are so big they flop over the path, or when the clovers spread a little too far so I can no longer see the path.
 
James Colbert
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Your right Alison. It would probably depend on how much soil life you had. For example if you had a bunch of earthworms already in the soil you could probably chop and drop a week or two before you actually wanted the tree to receive the nutrients. If your soil is more or less dead more time would be needed. On the other hand nitrogen fixers would would probably start releasing their goodness into the soil after a relatively short period of time (hours to days) because the nitrogen nodules are already in the soil.
 
Brenda Groth
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mine are in Michigan, so nature chops it itself in the fall..and it rots under the snow in the winiter..also a lot of beneficial bugs will nest in the overwintering comfrey..I generally will chop it down a couple of times in the summer and use it elsewhere as mulch too, it will grow back in a week or two..

read on another forum of a guy who put comfrey leaf on his dogs wounds and it began to draw out the drainage immediately and the wound healed much faster than with regular bandages..an interesting note
 
Judith Browning
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Brenda, what variety of comfrey do you plant around your fruit trees? I have what I was told was a russian comfrey...it spreads easily and has a really vivid blue flower. I used to have another kind that stayed more in a clump and I think I remember pink flowers. I am moving some of the russian c. to my peaches now along with some walking onions.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote:I see where you're coming from James though I thought that it was as the leaves rotted that they released their nutrients so you'd need to chop n drop a bit before the plants/trees needed the goodness.


I wonder if there is not also a good portion of the minerals that is released from the roots that are dropped by the plant when you do the chop and drop.

Kris Minto wrote:I love the idea of putting comfrey in my garden but I am a little worry about it taking over. Because of this I have used Lupin and Clover.


I think that in gaia's garden, Toby Hemenway says that as long as the roots are not disturbed and that chop and drop is done, you're fine.
 
David Miller
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On a similar note has anyone planted alfalfa under their fruit trees? I'm experiencing negative results so far, the trees are not doing well at all and I'm starting to blame the alfalfa.
 
Paula Edwards
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I wonder too what Brenda's variety is. I have planted comfrey as close to the fruit trees as in her picture, but my comfrey is at least double the height and thrice the spread. It was sold to me as the official form but I have my doubts. I plan to solve the problem the easy way: get some fence posts and some chicken wire and I will put in the small chicken or bigger chicken for some time.
 
Richard Nurac
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A factor to consider is the size of the tree when you plant the comfrey. If the tree is a sapling - say height is less than a foot, the comfrey root planted may grow too vigorously and outcompete the tree, depending of course on the growth rate of the tree. I made this mistake. Of interest is even though I have been cutting back the comfrey leaves, the trunk of the tree is growing away from the comfrey.

I decided today to unearth the comfrey so I could propagate it via root cuttings in other growing areas. Despite soft soil from recent extensive rains and care, two of its taproots broke off and will no doubt produce new plants next year. Of the remaining roots it was interesting to see a couple with a horizontal habit. All of which makes me conclude to space them a good distance from the tree trunk.

I am a comfrey fan but should note that in “Russian Comfrey – A Hundred Tons an Acre of Stock Feed or Compost For Farm, Garden or Smallholding” by Lawrence D. Hills published in London in 1953, the author does say that comfrey should not be planted under fruit trees because it will compete with the tree for nitrogen and potash. You can see my blog dd 3/16/2012 on this topic at my website.
 
Paula Edwards
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Any piece of root left in the ground will grow into a new plant. Unearthing is a difficult task. You might need a cardboard mulch??
 
Richard Nurac
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Good thought. I will see how the tree prospers next year. The logic of having the comfrey with its long tap roots mine the deep down nutrients and then make them available to shorter rooted trees through decomposition of its leaves, which I have cut, is so appealing. Observing and understanding these interactions is what makes the concept of an edible food forest attractive to me.
 
John Polk
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Lawrence D. Hills, (author of Russian Comfrey) was probably the world's leading authority on comfrey.
He was the developer of all of the Bocking varieties (1-21).

His quote:
The Comfrey is unsuitable for planting under fruit, not only because of the
difficulty of cutting the crop, and of picking and attending to the fruit,
but because of the need for nitrogen-rich manuring, and the risk of a
potash-grabbing contest between the fodder and the trees.


He insists that comfrey needs to be manured (high N).
This is detrimental to fruit production.

For good fruit production, potash (K) is needed by the fruit tree.
Comfrey can easily rob enough K from the tree to cause a deficiency.

His 3 simple rules for abundant comfrey growth:
Keep it clean, keep it cut, and keep it fed.

Keeping it clean means no weeds near it, cutting he recommends 6-8 times between May-November, and by fed, he means liberal use of animal manure (not green manure).


 
Leila Rich
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The Comfrey is unsuitable for planting under fruit, not only because of the
difficulty of cutting the crop, and of picking and attending to the fruit,
but because of the need for nitrogen-rich manuring, and the risk of a
potash-grabbing contest between the fodder and the trees.

This will be interesting. I have comfrey very close to my trees and I generally avoid manures because I have extremely high p levels for some unknown reason.
Looks like I'm back on the seaweed scrounge :D
 
K Nelfson
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I read (on this forum) that young trees do not compete well with anything that is inside the drip line.
 
David Miller
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A great deal of the difference here is that most of us planting comfrey under our fruit trees are practicing chop and drop while Mr Hills was researching comfrey as a fodder crop like we think of with hay. Sure comfrey would rob a fruit tree blind of all nutrients if we haul the veg matter it produces off site, but if we use it to mulch the fruit tree we get both its mined minerals and its weed blocking mulch property.
 
Alison Thomas
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David Miller wrote:A great deal of the difference here is that most of us planting comfrey under our fruit trees are practicing chop and drop while Mr Hills was researching comfrey as a fodder crop like we think of with hay. Sure comfrey would rob a fruit tree blind of all nutrients if we haul the veg matter it produces off site, but if we use it to mulch the fruit tree we get both its mined minerals and its weed blocking mulch property.


David, thank you for posting.... When I read John's post I immediately thought "Oh no, now I'll have to dig the comfrey up" but happily you posted and now maybe I can leave them. I do however think I'll need to change my management of them - I intended to chop n drop but the bees so loved the flowers that I've left them to maturity - whoops. I'll dig up some and put them elsewhere for the bees, then chop n drop the ones I leave under the trees.
 
David Miller
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Glad to help, when I read the first post it jumped out at me that there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the intended application. Do you have sterile comfrey or are the seeds you've allowed to set viable? If so I was going to suggest you simply spread them instead of dividing the existing root structures, less work and comfrey is very reliable reseeder (to a fault). Additionally you might want to add borage to your fruit tree guild for additional pollinator attraction. I've had great success with it winter killing so that I don't even have to chop and drop. Fukuoko style I also like french sorrel for this purpose, it overwinters well here in VA for reliable greens and has a layer of leaves that die down every year revealing new growth in the crown.
 
John Polk
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I do believe that comfrey can be grown, as a weed, under fruit trees, as a chop-drop nutrient.
However, comfrey grown this way will only produce perhaps 10% of their potential.

If you wish to grow larger quantities, so as to produce large biomass & comfrey teas, it would serve you well to have a dedicated "comfrey plot" elsewhere. With the management practices that Hill prescribes, it is realistic to anticipate over 10,000 pounds of biomass out of a 1,000 square foot patch. Forty to fifty pounds per plant is not uncommon in British trials (USDA zone equivalents of 8-9).

One of comfrey's claims is that "It will grow where nothing else will."


 
David Miller
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John, couldn't agree more with the full sun=full productivity for comfrey. That notwithstanding, the point remains that its a quality chop and drop for mulch that doesn't require transport or out-compete the fruit trees because of the chop/drop maintenance.

On the fodder crop avenue I'm thinking about it as a soil building instrument for some rock ridden land. I'm plotting it as a rocky land hay that I can crop mob with a dairy cow. Planning so far on hazelnut, comfrey, borage, rye, timothy, buckwheat, sweet potato, burdock, wheat, fig, and blackberry to name a few. I'm hoping that I can establish the 1/2 acre paddocks with living fences consisting primarily of hazlenut, fig, mulberry and of course 50% osage orange. Fit originally with electric fence to allow the living portion of the fence time to establish while crop mobbing the paddocks for soil building, and dairy of course!
 
Cj Sloane
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My goal has been to surround my fruit trees with comfrey. I've trained the cows to eat it too. Sometimes that works against me:
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