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Help Growing Comfrey

 
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Mike,

I am not surprised that your comfrey plants are doing well.  It seems that once the plant gets itself established that nothing can stop it.  My plants are still slowly putting out new growth, even in the middle of winter.  

Eric
 
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Since several of you comfroisseurs are still watching this thread, I'm going to bring up a slightly different topic.  Please delete this and/or let me know where to move it if it's too off topic.

Question:  Can living comfrey (root) be deep frozen?  If so, how cold?
I read another website where someone asked about keeping potted comfrey outside.  He was advised that in a pot the roots would freeze and it would die, but if in the ground they wouldn't.

However, it seems like comfreys just below the surface have lived, and they start off from the same root top in the Spring, and I'm in 5a-5b, so it does get below 0 here almost all Winters, with a daily high below 0 most or at least some Winters. I believe here the minimum water line depth is about 4', so a lot of companies install at 5' to be sure of no lines freezing, but maybe that's for a completely different reason.  I kind of want to take one of my little potted comfreys and freeze it and see what happens, but wanted to ask first.

Also, I once read that the comfrey root dies at the actual temperature of around -20F.  Or was it leaves dying at 20F and roots at around -10F or -15F?
Can anyone confirm/deny this?  Have sources or anything?

Any help would be appreciated, and again if this is thread clutter it can be moved.
Thank you!
 
Eric Hanson
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Patrick,

I wish I had direct knowledge of your specifics.  I too have heard somewhere that comfrey roots should not be allowed to freeze in not in soil. but this does not exactly make sense.  Certainly comfrey survives just fine in soil and I don't know what it is about soil contact that would prevent it from being killed (say in deep, frozen ground).  That is a good question though and perhaps someone wiser than me will have an answer better than mine.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Steve,

If I never mentioned it before, I certainly appreciate having had all your input into getting these plants up and growing.  And your gracious help has turned into some very nice plants.  Thanks!  And thanks for continuing to comment on this old, but still continuing thread.  I do have plans to expand my comfrey plants by digging up root cuttings from my healthiest plant and planting them in a new area.  Further, I have mentioned in other threads that I am planning on doing some serious rejuvenating of my orchard and one of my plans was to plant some comfrey guilds around the trees, in addition to getting them some nice wood chips inoculated with wine cap mushrooms, but that is for a different thread.

Thanks again Steve for your continuing thoughtful observation and commentary,

Eric

youre very welcome! keep spreading the root cuttings and the word!
 
steve bossie
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Patrick Owen wrote:

steve bossie wrote:good to see fresh posts on this thread! i too have planted nettle amongst a patch of comfrey and i now use both for fertilizer around my plants. nettle doesn't produce as much biomass but adds different nutrients than comfrey. i grow a less stinging nettle i bought from Oikios. i also put some cut nettle around the comfrey and comfrey around the nettle. they are both flourishing in a partly sunny spot under my red pines.



Steve:  I hope this doesn't put enmity between us, but my nettles were not exactly "introduced".  It's more like they showed up at a party started by comfrey.  To each his own, and I'm glad the nettle/comfrey is working for you.  That almost makes me wonder if I could try to introduce a smaller, less stingy nettle to replace the other.  Then it would be easier to control?  It's worth pondering.

Eric: I am glad that now, all this time later, your comfreys are doing well (or will be again come Spring!).  This thread can be a lesson for folks wanting to start comfrey but having rain in the extended forecast, and maybe save them some time.  This thread has a lot of stuff most of us have already heard, but also has a lot of different stories where I feel that I really added to my understanding of the properties of this plant, and the pictures posted by all have been helpful also.  That's what prompted me to share my unique situation; maybe others can take my little morsel of experience and add it to their general understandings.

I did have to comment in response to Todd though.  His comedic post was witty, but the fact that it applies to me so much is what made it so great.  I shared it with someone close to me, someone with whom I have frequent conversations, conversations which have been frequently injected with comfrey related topics.

no worries! nettle doesn't grow naturally here but i planted the roots from Oikios because of the medicinal properties and as a amendment. if cut and left to wither you can handle it bare handed with no issues. i also have borage , a cousin of comfery,  in the same patch. before planting here the soil was very poor and acidic. now 4 yrs later its a nice fertile loam and getting better every year.
 
steve bossie
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Patrick Owen wrote:Since several of you comfroisseurs are still watching this thread, I'm going to bring up a slightly different topic.  Please delete this and/or let me know where to move it if it's too off topic.

Question:  Can living comfrey (root) be deep frozen?  If so, how cold?
I read another website where someone asked about keeping potted comfrey outside.  He was advised that in a pot the roots would freeze and it would die, but if in the ground they wouldn't.

However, it seems like comfreys just below the surface have lived, and they start off from the same root top in the Spring, and I'm in 5a-5b, so it does get below 0 here almost all Winters, with a daily high below 0 most or at least some Winters. I believe here the minimum water line depth is about 4', so a lot of companies install at 5' to be sure of no lines freezing, but maybe that's for a completely different reason.  I kind of want to take one of my little potted comfreys and freeze it and see what happens, but wanted to ask first.

Also, I once read that the comfrey root dies at the actual temperature of around -20F.  Or was it leaves dying at 20F and roots at around -10F or -15F?
Can anyone confirm/deny this?  Have sources or anything?

Any help would be appreciated, and again if this is thread clutter it can be moved.
Thank you!

3  yrs ago we had very little snow and it got down to -40f a half doz. times . i had 0 losses to the roots of the 20+ comfrey on my property with no mulching.  and all of them grew just like the warmer years. I'm sure this stuff could be grown all the way to the arctic and still grow! not sure how they would fare above ground. from what I've read comfrey doesn't do well in pots because of its long taproot.
 
Eric Hanson
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Patrick, others,

I experimented last spring (spring 2018) with giving my comfrey a companion plant.  I naively thought that Dutch White Clover would make a good friend for the comfrey on the grounds that the DWC would fix nitrogen, make a nice low-growing companion and that the two plants would compliment and not compete against each other.  My DWC experiment ended with the comfrey seemingly not caring if it had a companion plant or not.  I still really like the idea of fertilizing plants through plant associations and more specifically, microbiological action in the soil--thus making potentially ANY traditional fertilization (meaning anything from 10-10-10 to fresh manure) irrelevant.  I do occasionally give my comfrey a dose of diluted urine (I pee into a 2.5 gallon jug of cat litter for about 2 days obtain a gallon of my own urine which I then dilute about 50:50 with tap water) and one dose seems to be good for about a year.  However, the more I learn about microbial actions in the soil (thanks largely to Gabe Brown and Permies soil expert Redhawk) the more I am realizing that the addition of fresh nitrogen even in natural forms, such as from manure or urine, break down the chemical messaging that plants in the wild use to acquire all the nitrogen they need through microbial networks.  At this point I am torn--getting diluted urine is dirt cheap, easy and highly effective, but I really like the idea of fostering all of the appropriate soil microbiology to do the job they were meant to do.  In the end, I will probably continue to use the once-per-year diluted urine application while I look for a nitrogen fixer that will establish well, play nice and itself become a useful chop & drop fertilizer plant.

My new goal for my comfrey plants is to make them assist my wood chip beds.  As I have stated numerous times on other threads, I am in the middle of a multi-year long project to compost heaps of wood chips into a very fertile mushroom compost to fill up my raised beds.  At present, I have wine cap mushrooms doing a fine job breaking down the wood chips with much decomposition taking place just in the last month.  I am certain that right now my wood chip "soil" is extremely heavily tilted towards the fungal dominated side which is perfectly fine for the decomposition phase.  However, for the planting phase, I would like to inject some bacteria back in.  One of my thoughts (and I have been given many very helpful suggestions on how to do this.  If you are one of those who gave me bacterial advice, I thank you very much) was to scrape off the chip layer/decomposed leaf combination within about 25-18 inches of the center of the comfrey plants, collect them and then sprinkle that mixture over the top of the chip bed.  I would think that the area under that comfrey, what with all the foliage falling and decaying in place, would be teeming with all sorts of bacterial that I could use to seed my new chip beds and even out the fungi to bacteria ratio.

I also have numerous other plans for comfrey as the I have been thoroughly infected with the comfrey bug and while I can cope with the symptoms, there is no cure and I will always relapse--fall off the wagon again dreaming up ways of using comfrey to spread garden goodness all across my land.

Eric
 
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Comfressuires! Love it!

Eric, in regards to the nitrogen and comfrey and the concerns about messing with the rhyzobia fixing nitrogen- you are thinking too much. Urine is a very normal soil addition. It is the very basis of Alan Savory's model which the rest of us are just implementing. Don't drown them in piss like bad art but don't be afraid of it. If you have an Oktoberfest party and 20 of your buddies come over- then you might think about putting down some chips to soak up the nitrogen and time-release it. Comfrey in particular seems to do the same thing, soak up what it can get and then you can have that in the leaves for wherever you want. I would put comfrey in the same call with figs, it can really scavenge nitrogen. For that reason I put it around plants that are getting aphids since that is a sign they are getting too much nitrogen! As I mentioned before the clover growing naturally around the comfrey here is red clover. Bees going crazy on there!

Todd, someday I have to meet you you are like my intellectual brother. You are doing the same thing I am doing. I can't propagate this stuff fast enough to use as a rhyzome barrier. It goes everywhere that I want to keep the bermuda out! When I am establishing a new bed, it gets ringed with a double staggered row exactly like you are describing. Yes that is a lot of comfrey, but it grows here most of the winter and is a great forage for the chickens and whatever else. I am experimenting with peonies for the same function, they don't grow as fast but will flower at a different time of year. I made about 40 new peonies this fall and will double them again in two years. You have any other ideas for similar border plants? Shade areas maybe hosta?

In terms of propagating this stuff, the way I do it is to take cuttings, put them in a giant tub of degraded wood chips, jumble them in there so they are mostly covered, pee in the tub, and get the mix damp, like to the point that there's probably some water collecting on the bottom. Then I cover the whole top in saran wrap and put it in the garage where it gets a little light but not much. This makes it a little greenhouse, the condensation drips back down. I remember its out there maybe three weeks later and the whole thing will be going crazy with roots. Then I plant them with no special care at all. Like none, little shovel dig, plant goes in, stomp. I am totally beating these plants up, I split them sometimes twice a year. They don't care at all. Granted I am more interested in geometrically expanding them at this point, I rarely let them flower. They produce the most fantastic soil very quickly and I have the same clay soil Eric is contending with.
 
Eric Hanson
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TJ,

No doubt I am overthinking my plans--it is what I do, especially in winter!!  As it stands now, My comfrey plants are surrounded by a nice, thick layer of wood chips so I think that even the Oktoberfest party would not give them too much urine.  And I still use about 1 gallon of urine to fertilize all 6 plants, and that is all they seem to need for about a year.  My obsessing about the microbia is just that--my obsessing.  I assume you likely think that the once-per-year urine addition is about right for comfrey plants?  

Thanks for the input and tamping down my flames of over enthusiasm--I just get that way sometimes, especially with comfrey,

Eric
 
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i keep a 3in. layer of chips around  my berry bushes and trees. i ferlilize 2x a summer with pure urine around my plants with no ill effect. i pour maybe a cup or so in a ring around them. the chips absorb and distribute it so there is no burning. other than comfrey , its the only other fertilizer i use. the comfrey loves it too.
 
Eric Hanson
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Steve,

You are spot on about the comfrey loving urine for fertilizer.  Despite my obsession with all things microbial,  mine get their nitrogen boost via urine soaking through a thick layer of wood chips.  When the weather dries a bit I want to scrape back some chips just to see if the plants rooted into the chips as well as the clay soil beneath.

Eric
 
Patrick Owen
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Tj Jefferson wrote:In terms of propagating this stuff, the way I do it is to take cuttings, put them in a giant tub of degraded wood chips, jumble them in there so they are mostly covered, pee in the tub, and get the mix damp, like to the point that there's probably some water collecting on the bottom. Then I cover the whole top in saran wrap and put it in the garage where it gets a little light but not much. This makes it a little greenhouse, the condensation drips back down. I remember its out there maybe three weeks later and the whole thing will be going crazy with roots. Then I plant them with no special care at all. Like none, little shovel dig, plant goes in, stomp. I am totally beating these plants up, I split them sometimes twice a year. They don't care at all. Granted I am more interested in geometrically expanding them at this point, I rarely let them flower. They produce the most fantastic soil very quickly and I have the same clay soil Eric is contending with.


I'm guessing pretty much all of those come up?  The typical comfroisseur answer is "of course", but I like to verify.  Measure twice, cut once (or with comfrey cut fifty times).

What I was thinking was digging up half of one my larger plants, diving the root into 50-200 1-2" cuttings, and then just doing what it sounds like you do after yours start growing.  
To be clear, you basically stick a shovel in the ground, wiggle it so the slice is at least the root width (.2-.5"), remove shovel, (I'd optionally splash water in crevice if dry), use finger to poke root chunk just under the surface, press crevice closed with foot.  I feel that would work, but wanted to see if you've done that.  I think I saw a video where someone did something similar and it worked.  I could put them in some sort of humid medium first, to start growing, but then I feel I'd have to be more careful putting them in the ground, and they'd have a higher chance of breaking off the leaves.  It almost just seems simpler to plant them directly.  While some of our soil is good, some is more just clay, but I still feel like as long as it's adequately moist, they'll mostly grow and do well even in the clay.  (Again, at NE/IA border FYI)

Edit: I was just reading the Bocking number descriptions in Comfrey:Past, Present, and Future, and it seems like most of the flowers are purple/lilac, and a lot of what I see of of Russian Comfrey, which I assume usually means Bocking 4 or 14, is usually purple, pink, or something.  I'm looking up pictures now, and they all seem light pink to purple.  My main comfrey flock has white flowers.  I talked to a family member who also would remember the color, should I be going crazy, and the white flower was verified.  Now I'm wondering if I have some "different" comfrey.
 
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To be clear, you basically stick a shovel in the ground, wiggle it so the slice is at least the root width (.2-.5"), remove shovel, (I'd optionally splash water in crevice if dry), use finger to poke root chunk just under the surface, press crevice closed with foot.



That's all it takes. another good comfrey thread
 
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Mike Barkley wrote:
That's all it takes. another good comfrey thread


Thanks!  That's a good link, and I read the whole thing.

I did find this guy doing pretty much just that:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a3rmspuUng
The only thing was that he was planting much longer (4"-6") pieces.  I figure why not 1", or 2" to be safe.  It would take more comfrey plants, but a similar amount of work.  I'm thinking instead of a shovel I could just stab a knife into the ground, twist it a bit, and that would be more than enough to push a root down in there.  That seems like less work.
 
Mike Barkley
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The lady who owns & runs this place told me that one inch of root is all it takes. Her outdoor herb gardens are amazing.

It would probably grow if you just dropped it on the ground & covered with some compost or soil. Comfrey seedballs? hmmm that just might be useful here!

 
Eric Hanson
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Steve,

I believe we need to designate you as the Grand Master of all things comfrey here at Permies.  You certainly helped me become a competent comfrey gardener and now Patrick is benefiting from your keen tutelage.  I think I can speak for Patrick when I say thanks for all the sound advice.

This is not to say that I did not benefit from others keen insight—I certainly did.  But you have been a highly visible fountain of knowledge for me and now for Patrick.

Thanks for all your contributions and thanks for helping to keep this thread relevant long after I became sufficiently competent to use comfrey without outside help.  Mostly, thanks for helping new generations of novice comfrey gardeners.

For other neophytes out there, I found this video:



Eric
 
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I am new to Comfrey; just received my first two small plants in the mail and am looking forward to putting them in the ground later this Spring.

A couple questions already come to mind:

1) What kind of fertilizer does Comfrey like? (N-P-K values) I am willing to give it some plant food. Or is plain old cow manure fine? I want happy Comfrey plants.

2) Thinking ahead to the upcoming Autumn and Winter, does Comfrey like some kind of ground covering like sawdust or cedar bark mulch? I know blueberries do NOT like cedar bark mulch, and do not want to put something on Comfrey that it doesn't like. Is there anything that should NOT be put on Comfrey?

Thanks for any advice and suggestions.
 
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David Binner wrote:I am new to Comfrey; just received my first two small plants in the mail and am looking forward to putting them in the ground later this Spring.

A couple questions already come to mind:

1) What kind of fertilizer does Comfrey like? (N-P-K values) I am willing to give it some plant food. Or is plain old cow manure fine? I want happy Comfrey plants.

2) Thinking ahead to the upcoming Autumn and Winter, does Comfrey like some kind of ground covering like sawdust or cedar bark mulch? I know blueberries do NOT like cedar bark mulch, and do not want to put something on Comfrey that it doesn't like. Is there anything that should NOT be put on Comfrey?

Thanks for any advice and suggestions.



1) cow manure is fine. They will grow like crazy in it

2) comfrey doesn't care what you do to it. If it grows all summer, it will be well established by fall. You couldn't hurt it with a bulldozer at that point
 
Eric Hanson
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David,

Trace is absolutely correct on this one.  I think any type of manure would work.  If you want a really cheap comfrey fertilizer, plain old urine works great.  For some it sounds a little gross, but I would use a typical cat litter container (2.5 gallons) and pee into it for a couple days.  The container has a wide mouth and a lid which makes it easy to fill and then store w/o odor.  2 days usually makes for the container 1/2 full, after which I dilute with water and pour on the plants.

The comfrey loves the extra nitrogen.

Eric
 
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Comfrey is one of my all time favourite plants. I have both common comfrey and the larger Russian comfrey. I find the best way to grow it for me has been I dig up a clump, cut the roots up into 1-2" lengths and bury the root segments next to things like my tomatoes when i plant them in spring. They get the right amount of water, shade and protection. Just stick them in and forget. Once the end of the season has passed and It's time to pull our the veggies the Comfrey is well established.
 
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I figured I'd share the results of an accidental comfrey growing experiment I did this last year. When moving from our rental I dug up some bits of comfrey to take along with me. 4 of these ended up in 1 gallon pots and eventually loved the whole rest of the year (from June until January) in these pots under my reign of benign neglect. In January I realized we needed some comfrey root to make poultices for a bone injury so I popped these plants out of their pots, cleaned the roots, sliced them up, and dehydrated them. I got an average of 85 grams of dried root from each pot.
This got me thinking that, if one were desiring to produce comfrey root for sale, you could expand the number of pots and have a contained and easy to harvest plot of comfrey. By my conservative math, a single 4x8 space could produce 20 to 25 lbs of dried comfrey root and could likely do it in a matter of 3 or 4 months.
 
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How lovely to see this thread die back periodically, only to emerge once again, sprouting new leaves and growing rapidly!

I bought root cuttings (Bocking 14) last year because I have a steep hillside that was almost clearcut years ago, and all the soil flowed down to the bottom. Down at the bottom we have lush grass, wildflowers, and milkweed. On the steep slope there are dozens of beech seedlings and nearly bare soil that supports lichen, some wild strawberries, and sheep sorrel.

I gathered many Christmas trees after the ‘18 holiday, and laid them across the hillside, a crude terracing. I started this project before I read any permaculture material. Adding rotting logs and branches, sticks, chicken bedding, and hay, last summer I began planting with some soil and compost here and there. There are 5 or 6 comfrey on the hill, as well as some native phlox, centaurea montana, and daylilies, and a lupine that grew from seed!  The chickens have been tearing up the hill with their scratching and dust bathing, but providing nitrogen in return.

I can’t wait to see how the comfrey and the others look this year!  I planted some of the others here and there, at the edges of gardens, unsure where to put them. I left a few over the winter in pots; looks like a couple of those may have drowned. After reading Eric’s flood adventures, it seems maybe they aren’t goners!

It’s great to have this thread to find fellow sufferers of this compelling disorder!  Maybe I will have to tell you about my wood chips!
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Front garden last August
Front garden last August
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The hill in winter. Sideways, sorry!
The hill in winter. Sideways, sorry!
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Front garden
Front garden
 
Anne Pratt
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Oops!  Mustn’t edit, I was told. So an addendum:

I hope with the help of comfrey, chickens, compost, and rotten wood to turn this hillside around and have lush growth, like my front gardens!

It doesn’t look that bad in the winter sunrise photo, but it is pretty bad. The piles of rotten wood, Christmas trees, and animal bedding aren’t all that pretty, either. Wish me luck this spring.
 
Nic Gardener
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Comfrey is my all time favorite plant. I live in southern Australia and had common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) for years as it was all that was available.
I finally have Russian comfrey aka bocking 14 (Symphytum Uplandica) and now i have Russian comfrey all through my backyard. I love it. I heard that if you put a comfrey leaf under each potato you plant it will do better because comfrey provides lots of phosphorus and potassium.
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I just ordered this as a poster
I just ordered this as a poster
 
Anne Pratt
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I hope I have some bigger leaves before I plant the potatoes!

All of my comfrey is up and growing except a few plants that over-wintered in pots. They appeared to have drowned and frozen in the Vermont winter, but after reading Eric’s story I planted them anyway and will wait impatiently.

I now realize where I want this plant (in addition to on the funky terraces on the steep hill), and I’m tempted to buy more. It seems a little silly given that I will have plenty to propagate from in good time, but the temptation is real.
 
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I’ve read most of the posts here. I was wondering if anyone has experience growing comfrey in zone 9a? Is it too late for me to order some online and plant it? We’re closing in on the long 100 degree summers very soon.
 
Eric Hanson
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Bryan,

I think that as long as you don’t try to plant your comfrey on top of flat rock, or underwater, you should be able to plant comfrey.  Even if the weather turns out to be a scorcher, just keep the soil around the comfrey plants moist (not wet) and you should be ok.  Maybe you could dig a little fertile hole and backfill with high quality topsoil (this was my approach), but this is probably not necessary.  

I, too, was all full of angst, but comfrey really does seem to grow itself.

Good Luck,

Eric
 
David Binner
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A follow-up to my previous post about growing Comfrey.

Earlier this Spring I got two small cutting from the same source.

When the weather warmed up, I put them in the ground outside: one on the south side of the creek; one on the north side of the creek.
The south side is drier and receives more hours of sunshine.
The north side is wetter and is shaded by trees for part of the the day.

The one on the south side is growing like gangbusters: big, healthy looking leaves. It is between an Asian Pear tree and a lilac bush so it receives partial shade.

The one on the north side has grown significantly since being put in the ground, but not as much. And lately, its leaves are turning brown and curling up. I am wondering if this is caused by too much water (the hill on this side of the creek is always wet, one of the reasons for putting the plant there was erosion control.)

Here are photos of the two plants (Comfrey_South and Comfrey_North):

Any ideas why the plant on the north side isn't doing so well? Not enough light? Crowding by other plants? Soil? Too wet?

Comfrey_South.JPG
Comfrey on South Side
Comfrey on South Side
Comfrey_North.JPG
Comfrey on North Side
Comfrey on North Side
 
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