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You should never need to buy comfrey twice...

 
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I think if you ever have to buy comfrey more than once, something went wrong somewhere.  Maybe you had to leave town quickly because the sheriff only gave you until midnight and you forgot to dig a few roots before you left, or some weird alien abduction thing happened...  

Yesterday I put in 50 False Indigo bushes.  I put some in next to an apple tree guild I built.  There is a ring of comfrey I put in around the apple tree that 40 or so comfrey plants.  The comfrey was all planted from a single plant I took roots from last year, so these were only in one growing season.  The Indigo bush went in 2 and a half or 3 feet from the comfrey, and I hit the comfrey roots in the picture.  I pulled them out and made 25 new comfrey plantings from those 3 roots.  I could have easily doubled that, but I didn't need 50 more so I broke them into pretty big pieces, much larger than needed to start a new plant.  If you planted 10 comfrey plants right now, you could easily plant 500 next year without harming your original plants at all.  Anyway, the first picture just shows the distance from the comfrey to the Indigo I planted, and the next shows the three roots I pulled out.  The longest is about 3 feet. The plant those roots came from certainly has at least 20 roots as large as that, these all came from the hole I dug for the Indigo.

distance.jpeg
Distance from comfrey to indigo
Distance from comfrey to indigo
roots.jpeg
roots
roots
 
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Thanks Trace, I love hearing about this! Our very first comfrey plants are sitting in pots on the kitchen counter right now. We started them from seed a little over a month ago. Out of the packet of 50 we got ten plants that will get planted out in our raised beds. I was a little disappointed at first to only get 10 plants but your post gives me hope that we will have comfrey abundance as the years go by!

Thanks =)
 
pollinator
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Similarly, I started with one comfrey plant and divided it. I have about 20 around the property and could easily divide those to make many hundreds if  I chose.

 
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Ugh. I misunderstood exactly what I was doing with my comfrey root cuttings. Someone told me, "just pry out a hole in the ground and bury them wherever". Which I did a couple months back and so far not a one has come up. It's not hopeless yet by any means but now I am hearing that I should have maybe put more than 0.1% effort into the whole thing. Good news is, it only takes one! Hahaha. Thanks for the inspirational post, Trace.

Is there a soil temp that needs to be reached before comfrey roots pop out new plants? It's bocking 4, I believe. JUst trying to get a feeling when I can give up hope and BUY TWICE ahhahahaha.
 
Trace Oswald
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I think I started with 10 plants or so about 10 years ago.  I have literally hundreds now, and I could easily have ten thousand if I wanted that many.  Comfrey is just an amazing plant.

Dan, I wouldn't give up hope yet.  The only way I ever lost one is by keeping it far too wet for too long.  My comfrey has only been up  about 3 weeks here because it stays cold so long in WI.  Your climate is different so I'm not sure about there.  I use the 0.1% effort method and it works great here...

When I plant roots, I usually have plants by 2-4 weeks but I have seen them take longer.  If you end up needing more, I know where you can get some :)
 
Michael Cox
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Dan - I did just that for a bunch of my transplants. Literally made a slit with a spade, pushed the spade to open the slit and dropped a piece of root in directly. Some were into bare soil, but a few were into thick grass.

I think I had about 50% success rate on these, and they had no further care at all. No water etc...

The ones planted through grass that survived have grown very slowly, but after a few years are doing ok. They aren’t growing thickly enough to shade out the grass yet.
 
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I think it depends on where you live. Comfrey wants more water than we get here, so I can only plant in areas that get irrigation, and everything (wildlife) eats it. So mine didn't last long. I will try again, but they are definitely not drought tolerant.
 
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Comfrey is from another cosmos.  I purchased a small pack of roots 2 or 3 years ago and I just keep digging roots.  I've lost count of how many comfrey plants I have but it's in the 100's.

I've been using edible acres method of planting comfrey between the grass and garden-bed boarders.  It works really well to set the line.  I did another border in a very simple and sloppy manner about 2 weeks ago and comfrey leaves are already popping.






Follow up video
 
pollinator
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I have accidental patches everywhere. I generally root the cuttings in large pots or plastic window boxes and 9 out of 10 times, the roots grow out of the pot before I get around to transplanting and voila, more new plants!
 
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Jim Parker Jr wrote:Thanks Trace, I love hearing about this! Our very first comfrey plants are sitting in pots on the kitchen counter right now. We started them from seed a little over a month ago. Out of the packet of 50 we got ten plants that will get planted out in our raised beds. I was a little disappointed at first to only get 10 plants but your post gives me hope that we will have comfrey abundance as the years go by!

Thanks =)



This is interesting or perhaps even alarming.
Most people only plant the kind that will not propagate from seeds.
If you are growing the kind that self seeds,  be prepared for it to take over.
 
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I expressed a temptation to buy more comfrey yesterday.  I have about 10 plants started from root cuttings last year, and they are coming up now (about 4" high).  Expanding my raised beds, berry bushes, and fruit tree plantings considerably this year, I long for more comfrey!  I'm not sure if I should dig one of my plants for root cuttings or not.  They grew well last year, but not big, and didn't flower.  I'm in USDA zone 5, in Vermont.
 
Anne Pratt
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Scott, thanks for those videos!  (Now I want MORE!)
 
Trace Oswald
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Anne Pratt wrote:I expressed a temptation to buy more comfrey yesterday.  I have about 10 plants started from root cuttings last year, and they are coming up now (about 4" high).  Expanding my raised beds, berry bushes, and fruit tree plantings considerably this year, I long for more comfrey!  I'm not sure if I should dig one of my plants for root cuttings or not.  They grew well last year, but not big, and didn't flower.  I'm in USDA zone 5, in Vermont.



I usually give mine a couple years to get established before I take roots from them.  I did these after a year only because I dug them up accidentally.  If you need more roots, I sell them, I've seen others offer them for sale, or if you know someone that has some, they will normally let you dig some roots from their plant.  If you only want to plant a few more, you could take roots from your own if yours have a good strong root system.  I would go out away from the plant about a foot, only on one side, and dig out a bit.  If you pull a couple roots from each plant, you won't do them any harm.  Once they have been in a couple years, you can chop right down through the middle of them and yank 3/4 of the plant out, roots, crown and all without hurting them.
 
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William Bronson wrote:Most people only plant the kind that will not propagate from seeds.
If you are growing the kind that self seeds,  be prepared for it to take over.



I've had comfrey officanale (the kind with seeds)  spreading in my orchard and garden areas for about five years now.  To me, this warning sounds like telling a rancher "Be prepared for tall sweet grass to take over your fields."  I'm like, "Oooh, hurt me more!"

Comfrey is a valuable resource.  Everything eats it, bees love it, and you can use it with very little effort as mulch, filler in the bottom of large planting containers, or several kinds of fertilizer.  It's so easy to cut down in places where the plant is physically in the way of things that it just doesn't strike me as a problem or risk.  Sure, it will grow back once you stop maintaining that space -- but that to me is a feature, not a problem.

Literally the biggest problem I have with comfrey is that when I lean in to twist off a bunch of stalks with my bare hands to use as green mulch, all the placid and gentle bumblebees among the flower sprays can grow agitated.  They've never stung me yet (my bumble bees are polite garden frens) but I worry that they might one day.  

The only thing I can't easily do with my comfrey is command any given bunch of it to "Never grow here again."  That's a bargain I'm fine with.
 
Dan Boone
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I gave my sister about a dozen comfrey starts eighteen months ago.  Basically I just chopped six shovel-sized chunks out of established comfrey patches, and then chopped each of those chunks in half, delivering the clumps dirt and all (each about the size of two fists, mostly roots, some dirt, a bit of busted-up above-ground parts still attached) to my sister in a large plastic shopping bag.  She put them in the ground just before winter (two winters have passed since) in some terrible places: along a dry fence line and on a parched mown-grass slope near one of her flower beds and along her driveway.  The places were terrible because exposed to full sun, very little moisture, in "soil" that was little more than an inch or two of dust sitting on baked stony clay.  I told her "just shove them in the ground and they will be fine."  She was highly skeptical.

She has, I assume, watered some of them with a hose a few times.  But we just took an inventory.  Ten of the twelve are well-established, though not large except for two, and all ten are currently in flower.  The other two didn't make it; she says they got repeated mowed over by accident while trying to get established.

This stuff is really easy to propagate by roots.  Seeds, on the other hand, are tricky; I got mine started after multiple attempts from seed, but (a) germination is random and unreliable and (b) new seedlings I found to be very fragile for the first year, and easy to kill with neglect.  On the other hand, I have several times since started new patches by just dumping an armload of comfrey "hay" on grass, if the "hay" had spent flower sprays with seeds inside.
 
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I had to move in with my parents on short notice due to their health and I completely forgot my comfrey.  Now I can't find anyone in Canada to buy it from.
 
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Ah, Trace! That reminds me...you sent me some comfrey roots maybe a year or two ago, and the first year they didn't do very well. It's very, very wet here, and I've had nothing but comfrey failures. But this morning I was out and about in the garden and saw your comfrey coming up in four or five places! I think I'm going to let these get very well established before I try to get more roots from them, but I get a very nice feeling of closeness to you when I see the plants. So thank you again!



 
Trace Oswald
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Diane Kistner wrote:Ah, Trace! That reminds me...you sent me some comfrey roots maybe a year or two ago, and the first year they didn't do very well. It's very, very wet here, and I've had nothing but comfrey failures. But this morning I was out and about in the garden and saw your comfrey coming up in four or five places! I think I'm going to let these get very well established before I try to get more roots from them, but I get a very nice feeling of closeness to you when I see the plants. So thank you again!





You're welcome Diane.  I'm glad they are doing well and making you happy :)

I looked in my PM's and those were sent August 2019, so I would give them until next spring before you take too many roots.  You would be fine with taking a root or two from each now.  One root can be cut up into a lot of pieces.  When I mail them to people, I usually send roots 3 or 4 inches long if they are smaller diameter because people think they won't grow if they are small, but you can plant inch long pieces and they will grow very well.
 
William Bronson
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Dan,  your experience is reassuring.
I live in a city of green hillsides where the green is mostly  Japanese honeysuckle, so I probably am primed to panic over "invasives".

I love my comfrey,  and even places that it grows by "mistake" I haven't had much trouble keeping it in check.
I just twist it off at ground level and throw it to the chooks.
I've been taking only the flowers on my two biggest plants,  with the idea to prompt more vegetative growth.
I have even considered planting dwarf running comfrey to end the scourge of grass in my yarden.
Not ready to do that yet,   but I am lining the fences with regular comfrey.
In your system, does anything fill in the spaces left when comfrey dies back in the winter?
The lack of winter coverage is the main reason I don't have a comfrey lawn!

I have read you can propagate it by the stalks as well as by root.
It'd be more work,  but given the way comfrey grows stalks,  you could get even more plants per plant.
 
Dan Boone
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William Bronson wrote:
In your system, does anything fill in the spaces left when comfrey dies back in the winter?
The lack of winter coverage is the main reason I don't have a comfrey lawn!



No, in our mild winters here it's only "dead" for a few months, and it's generally just a dark/black space around the footprint of the clumps and clusters.  I think with the right timing a handful of dwarf clover seed could fill in before hard freeze in my climate, but that's still gonna be dead-grass-brown during the month or two of maximum cold here.
 
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About 10 years ago, I had a bunch of 5-gal pots (from a schwack of fruit trees I'd bought). Those big black plastic pots— 15 or so.  I filled the pots with compost and planted a chunk of comfrey crown in most of them, but the last few I just put a piece of root in in the soil.  I set the pots a few inches from each other between a couple of apple trees.

All sprouted within a week or two -- the root cuttings took a bit longer, and within a few months the plants were about 12" tall and flopping over the sides of the pots.

Then I got busy and forgot about them.  They got watered regularly, but I didn't bother to do anything with them.  Soon you couldn't even see the pots because the plants were so lush and overgrown (growing in straight compost tends to do that).  Things here in So. Cal. tend to grow 12 months a year -- comfrey doesn't take a season off—it just slows down in winter.

When I finally got around to moving them 8 months later, I found that the roots had grown through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and were firmly rooted in the soil.  DEEPLY rooted -- I tried digging them out and the roots were clearly over a foot deep already.  Those pots have 4 holes on the base, and many of the comfrey plants had a thumb-thick root coming out of all four of the drainage holes.  Opps.  So I took a machete and ran it under the pots, cutting the pots loose from the soil, leaving all those roots in place in the soil.  I transplanted those pots elsewhere in the orchard and threw a thick layer of wood chips over that spot.

Within a few months, all those roots had sprouted new plants.  Today, that whole area is a solid patch of comfrey -- from those 15 pots came about 50 or so plants, thickly bunched, lush, outcompeting anything else in that area.  In the summer, they get 3 feet tall, up to the base branches of the apple trees.  I'll hack it all back and throw it into a compost pile, put they come back like gangbusters.

Once rooted, comfrey is a rock star plant.  I just keeps coming back, even in rotten soil or difficult locations.
 
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I am lining the edge of the garden with comfrey. This edge spends early spring and fall wet and muddy. Root cuttings do not survive here. However, this can be overcome. I start my plants in a better location. When the rosette exceeds 9 inches, I transplant them in the "dry" season. Once established, they do better than tolerate the conditions.
 
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William Bronson wrote:
I have read you can propagate it by the stalks as well as by root.
It'd be more work,  but given the way comfrey grows stalks,  you could get even more plants per plant.



I've been trying stem cuttings this year since most of my plants around the my new home site were just planted last fall & are still establishing root systems.
Based on my observations & results, they will definitely root, but it takes a while. They also seem to be more successful when I put them in small containers and keep them in a propagation tote to get more humidity (none of the ones I tried to root outside survived, but 99% of the ones in the tote have made it). So it may be a little more work to root stems than divide roots, but it's a good option for someone with plants that are still getting established.
 
Anne Pratt
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Thank you, KC Simmons!  My plants are still to small to consider this method (they have leaves, but not yet much in the way of stems.  Plus big snow today).  But if I try the above method to find if the roots are long and available, I will try some stem cuttings when the plants are bigger.
 
Kc Simmons
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Anne Pratt wrote:Thank you, KC Simmons!  My plants are still to small to consider this method (they have leaves, but not yet much in the way of stems.  Plus big snow today).  But if I try the above method to find if the roots are long and available, I will try some stem cuttings when the plants are bigger.



I find the best to root are the stems that shoot up when the plant is getting ready to bloom, but before it has a chance to start the bud formation. These stems just seem to be a bit more sturdy. If cut at the right time, it also appears that the built up energy that was meant to make flowers instead is used to develop roots.
I usually do the "typical" method for cuttings, which is a stem with 4-5 nodes or more if possible. Then I stick it in soil, with at least 2 nodes under the soil. I also trim off all leaves except for one or two at the top, a will snip off the tip of the cutting if the buds have already started to form (otherwise it will continue to bud out to flower and not have the energy to root). I also like to use clear plastic cups with holes cut in the bottom, as that allows me to see when the roots have started getting established.

In the photo, the cutting on the left has rooted and is now growing new leaves and a stem. It started out looking like the one on the right, which was just recently stuck.
Since I do a lot of cuttings for the market sale, I use clear plastic totes to keep all of the cuttings in since things like roses & hydrangeas need high humidity. I haven't tried the comfrey outside of the totes (because it's just easier to have all the cuttings in the same place), but it should work as long as it doesn't dry out or get too much sun.
Good luck with your cuttings, and let us know how they do!

ETA- you can see where I snipped the top of the cuttings to remove the flower buds. This usually causes one or more of the nodes above the soil to produce new stems instead of just new leaves. For that reason, they tend to grow a bit "bushy" after first transplanting, but I've noticed they soon just push new crowns from the soil and put their energy into that growth instead of the original cut stem, so they quickly revert back to the "usual" growth habit.
IMG_20200510_030321558_MP.jpg
Comfrey stem cuttings
Comfrey stem cuttings
 
Anne Pratt
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Thanks, KC - this looks quite helpful.  I'm watching them grow; even with snow for the last two days, they are getting bigger every day.
 
Timothy Markus
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I didn't even know you could root cuttings.  Great info.
 
Anne Pratt
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Timothy - I saw a couple of places to buy comfrey root cuttings in Canada:

http://nantahala-farm.com/comfrey.shtml

https://squareup.com/store/prairietough

Good luck!



 
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The comfrey roots I got from Trace arrived today. I was actually surprised how fast I got them.  The roots where still damp, but not soft or moldy.  I couldn't wait so I planted them as soon as they were out of the box.  Mother Nature was so happy she watered them for me.  In N. California that's really something especially this year.  
I noticed in some of the other posts they were struggling to keep them growing strong in hot dry climates.  Once they are out of the ground if I mulch them heave, do you think one deep water a week will do, or should I do two deep waters a week until it is established?
Thank you so much Trace!  I can't thank you enough.  I will post pictures when they pop through the ground.  People like you make the world a better place!  Happy gardening.
 
Trace Oswald
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:I planted my comfrey roots today.  Mother Nature was so happy she watered them for me.  In N. California that's really something especially this year.  Thank you so much Trace I will post pictures when they pop through the ground.



I'm glad they made it.  And looking forward to the pictures :)
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:The comfrey roots I got from Trace arrived today. I was actually surprised how fast I got them.  The roots where still damp, but not soft or moldy.  I couldn't wait so I planted them as soon as they were out of the box.  Mother Nature was so happy she watered them for me.  In N. California that's really something especially this year.  
I noticed in some of the other posts they were struggling to keep them growing strong in hot dry climates.  Once they are out of the ground if I mulch them heave, do you think one deep water a week will do, or should I do two deep waters a week until it is established?
Thank you so much Trace!  I can't thank you enough.  I will post pictures when they pop through the ground.  People like you make the world a better place!  Happy gardening.



If you mulch them, once a week watering should be plenty unless it's very hot there.  Just check the soil and as long as it is at all damp, they will be fine.  I wouldn't let them dry out completely until they get established.

I'm glad they arrived in good shape after the number of delays.  For people that are curious, I shipped these from WI, and three times in a row they were sent to St Paul MN, and then mis-routed back to WI.  It took 9 days to get to Jen.  They generally arrive 2 or 3 days after mailing.
 
Dan Fish
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Hi there. A little late but I just wanted to say thanks for directly answering my questions.

So far still no luck but we just got a little rain. I'll have to walk around and see if any has come up yet. They've been planted for at least 7 weeks...
 
Jen Fulkerson
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When I thought my comfrey experience was a total bust, I make a happy discovery.  A few times when watering my echinacea I thought it looked like what I thought comfrey would look like, but I know I planted echinacea there, and didn't remember putting a comfrey root there.  I must have, because now that both plants are mature I can see both plants.
I was hopping if we received some rain this fall maybe a plant or two would turn up.  I will still keep my eyes open just in case, but now I know I can care for this comfrey, and in a couple of years I can divide it up and maybe share with others like Trace shared with me.  Thank you so much Trace 😊. We did it, happy gardening.
Survived-comfrey-plant.jpg
Survived comfrey plant
Survived comfrey plant
Comfrey-planted-from-root.jpg
Comfrey planted from root
Comfrey planted from root
 
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