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Comfrey

 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 333
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Comfrey sounds like a great plant. Planting it under fruit trees has been mentioned. The comfrey roots sound so vigorous that it seems like it would be too much competition. Does it do more good than harm? How close to the tree can you plant it?

I have a row of hazel trees with either seaberry or autum olive in between each hazel. The hazels are 15', so there's a tree about every 7.5 feet. The trees are all young 6"-2' tall. Should I plant comphrey in between?
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 246
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I don't know the answer but I'm very curious as well. I'm wondering if comfrey will play nice with apples, pears, cherries and plums.
 
Charli Wilson
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Location: Derbyshire, UK
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Comfrey has really deep roots- so it doesn't really compete with the more shallow and spreading feeder roots of most fruit trees. Those deep roots are dragging up minerals and things from the deep subsoil, and when you chop the leaves and use them for mulch- you're putting that nutrition where the fruit tree can reach it.

I plant my comfrey right next to the tree- probably only 10 inches inches from the trunk, then chop and drop everytime I consider the comfrey plants 'big enough' to make a mulch around the fruit trees.
 
Alex Apfelbaum
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Location: Northeastern Spain (Mediterranean, zone 9b)
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My comfrey is extremely vigorous and when it gets too big I put a spade right down through the middle and dig out a big chunk of roots (better done at the beginning of the season, when there's very little leaves). This is then used for propagation for more comfrey or cleaned, peeled cut up and dried for infusions. I'd say 7.5 feet space between trees is enough to put some comfrey.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 572
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I have it planted all around my fruit trees and several other trees, as close as a foot from the trunk. I haven't seen any ill effects, it attracts bees if you let it flower and it's great fertilizer if you just chop and drop it. My favorite plant, it is going to be all over on my property.
 
Marco Banks
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I've got comfrey (Bocking 14) planted all over, and some of those plants are within 18 inches of fruit trees. I've got it growing near apples, plums, pluots, apriums, apricots, peaches, oranges, mandarines, lemons, figs and avocados. It does well everywhere, and all those trees are doing just fine.

I don't plant it on all sides of a tree --- just here and there in 3 to 5 plant "drifts". That allows me to plant other stuff within the guild in the root zone of the tree.

A couple of observations. First, comfrey plants can get really big. Some of my plants easily grow to 3 feet across or more, so it's important that you give them enough space. For this reason, I wouldn't plant them closer than 2 feet from a tree trunk.

Second, they like a lot of mulch (well duh, what plant doesn't like mulch?). I mulch heavily with wood chips around my fruit trees and comfrey plants, and they really do well with that. No weeds or grass comes up, and as the mulch breaks down, the soil under the comfrey is absolutely beautiful.

Third, when you stick a spade under a mature comfrey plant (particularly if it's growing in the aforementioned heavy wood chip mulch), you'll be shocked how big the earthworms are around it. Comfrey seems to be a worm magnet. HUGE worms. I would assume that the worms are feeding on the surface of the soil, eating the fallen comfrey leaves that pile up under the new growth.

Finally, in the winter and spring, I find a lot of spiders over-wintering under the plants in the leaves that stack up and dry there. So I don't cut my comfrey back after August or so. I let it get big and leafy, and let those dried brown comfrey leaves and stalks pile up a bit. Then in late March and April, I start going around the garden with a small hand sickle, reaching under that big mass of dead leaves, and with one swipe, I cut through the whole mass of leaves, both dead and living. I'll pile the mass of leaves around here and there (chop and drop) and that should give the little spiders time to scamper out and find a new home.

In some areas where I plant winter cover crops, those plants can outcompete the comfrey. It's hard to kill a comfrey plant, but it seems that if it gets smothered by a heavy winter cover crop, it will do just that -- die. So during the cool season when the comfrey goes a bit dormant, I try to keep my winter crops from crowding it too closely. Since I broadcast my winter seed, I've got to be careful.
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 246
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Looks like I'll be chasing down some comfrey this year Thanks for the info everyone!
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 333
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Thanks everybody! I just ordered 50 root cuttings from Coes Comphrey. Should I plant them in good garden soil for a year then plant them where I want them next year or just plant them by the trees now? They sound pretty small.
 
Marco Banks
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Ken,

Maybe a bit of both. I often start new comfrey plants in a 1 gal. pot. I've got 20 or so going right now (all from 1 parent plant). You may wish to start a bit of a comfrey nursery if your plant is to multiply those 50 cuttings to a couple of hundred next year.

After one year in the ground, one comfrey plant will give you enough root mass to plant a bunch more. Well . . . at least here, where it grows year round. I don't now if you get a hard winter freeze in Nevada, so you may not see as much growth, but with 50 cuttings, even if only half of them grow for you, you'll have more than enough parent material to start a bunch of new plants next year. When I want to start new plants, I'll stick a spade right through the center of the plant and pull half the root mass out of the ground, but still leave a big chunk there to continue to grow. Then, from that chunk I pull out, I can start 20 new plants.

It's actually a nice ornamental plant. You cut it down to the ground, and within 2 - 3 weeks, you've got all sorts of nice new green growth and little purple flowers.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 572
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I had the best luck planting mine directly in the ground. The only ones I lost were in containers, and I think I may have watered those too much. Some of the ones I planted in the ground took a very time to come up. I had a couple that I planted pretty late in the year last year and they never came up. I thought I killed them until they appeared this spring If you have a place for them, I would put them straight in the ground and forget about them. As Marco said though, you have plenty to try some each way.

Marco, Yours flower shortly after cutting them? I have never had that happen here, mine only flower after they get quite big. I get that fresh green growth you are talking about right away, but I have to leave mine alone for them to flower. I started just cutting every other one or so, and letting some go until they flower. The bumble bees love the flowers.
 
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