Comfrey is a soil builder. To make it simple, we could practice planting comfrey root or crown cuttings right in the dirt and, with a bit of water, the comfrey plant will grow. But, we don’t want simple; we want want gargantuan, humongous, prodigious (that’s a fun word) comfrey. We don’t want small and simple; we want big and “not-too-complicated.”
Comfrey will grow like a weed. I’ve had friends warn me against planting comfrey because, “It’ll take over!” We grow Russian Comfrey, Bocking 14 Cultivar. This variety of comfrey is sterile and will not spread by seed. Blocking 14 comfrey is a hybrid between Russian Comfrey (a hybrid) and Common Comfrey (the heirloom variety). Read more about Heirloom, Hybrid and GMO. (By the way, there is no GMO comfrey (that I know of)).
Hybrid Comfrey vs Heirloom Comfrey
When we select varieties of plants to grow on our homestead, we plant a variety of both the heirloom and the hybrid varieties. Comfrey is an exception; comfrey has the ability to get out of control. You want to control your comfrey and not have the comfrey control you. We can have all the comfrey we want simply by using root cuttings from our Blocking 14 comfrey plants and planting the cutting in an exact area where we want comfrey to grow. When we harvest our comfrey, we don’t have to worry about seeds falling all about as we carry the cuttings across the homestead. But, most importantly, I don’t want comfrey seeds (or any seeds) in the compost…the very place we’ll end up putting most of our comfrey cuttings. To sum this up: We want heirloom tomatoes for the seeds because of the annual classification of the plant. We don’t need heirloom comfrey because of its perennial classification and the heirloom’s tendency to spread everywhere. If you grow common comfrey, you’ll have comfrey seeds in your compost. Then you’ll have comfrey from here to Sunday.
Whenever you plant anything, you have to consider many factors. Read more about factors to consider when planting a garden. Aside from the “generic-ness” of that article, there are a few specifics that I like to consider when growing comfrey.
Consideration #1: Location, location, location. A cliche’ I know, but helpful nonetheless. What will you be using your comfrey for? We use if for compost, that’s for sure. But, we also use if as a garden shrubbery (don’t say it!) that serves as an attractive backdrop for things like herbs and other plants in our perennial beds. The leaves are huge and beautifully green. The small bell-like flowers are very eye-pleasing. Plant the majority of your comfrey around your compost for easy harvest and frequent cuttings. With 5-7 cuttings a year and up to 140 tons of production per acre per season, keeping the comfrey near the composting center is almost a must.
Consideration #2: Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you. Sunlight is a must for comfrey to get real big. I’ve grown comfrey in the shade and it gets a bit spindly and leggy. The stuff I plant in full sunlight got huge and full. If you have your compost “over and out of the way” meaning; “it’s on the fence line in the back under the shade tree,” I’d consider planting it elsewhere and ignoring consideration #1.
Consideration #3: Where you are is where you are. You are not in control of your grow zone…for the most part. You could move…but…why…you’ll just focus on the bad stuff when you get “there” and wish you were back “here” where you already are right now. Comfrey is forgiving and will not ask you to move. Comfrey can withstand a wide range of temperatures from -40 degrees to 120 degrees and will keep on keepin’ on. Most literature suggests that comfrey will do best in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9. Read more about understanding your Hardiness Zone. But comfrey will grow almost anywhere.
Consideration #4: Most people see dirt. A homesteader sees potential. A nice, comfortable soil pH of 6.0-7.0 will do the comfrey good. Read more about understanding soil pH. Is your soil sandy, loamy or clay? Who cares? Comfrey will grow there. It does like moisture (grows naturally along England’s creek banks). Using a nice, heavy mulch will hold that moisture. Weeding comfrey that is mulched is usually not a problem. I have found that comfrey likes to “wake up” in early spring before the weeds are still dreaming. When the weeds do “wake up,” they find themselves in the shadow of the enlarging comfrey and suffer. Poor weeds.
Consideration #5: Deposit nutrients for your young comfrey plants and the rate of return will be enough to retire on. Well, not retire financially but retire fertile-ly…phytologically (phy′to·log′ic-lee) speaking. Seems kinda silly to take a soil-building plant like comfrey and add things like compost, manure, mulch and other items that the comfrey itself is being planted to produce. But, investing in the initial planting stages of your comfrey plant is like money in the bank with an endless flow of interest payments and a stable, secure principle that keeps on giving year after year. Rest assured that comfrey will grow without soil additives. But, until those 4’ to 8’ feet deep roots that stretch out 3’ feet in diameter from the root collar, your plants will grow slower than those that are initially well fed. My 2-year old comfrey roots were a back-strainer when we dug them up from the old homestead.
1. For best results, plant you comfrey cuttings in the early spring. Comfrey will grow when planted in the summer and even well into the fall months.
2. Loosen the soil about 8”-12” deep and add about 3”-4” of compost or an organic fertilizer. Comfrey is pretty versatile. It prefers a fertilizer with an NPK of 2-1-2 but will do A-OK with an NPK ratio a bit higher (when applying natural fertilizers). Read more about macronutrients and micronutrients here. How much fertilizer to apply? Directions baby! Directions. Each one has its specifics; follow the recipe. You could add steer manure instead of the fertilizer at about 3”-4” and then work it into the soil. If you want my recipe follow this link to creating worm compost tea fertilizers. Here are some links to a few fertilizing options:
3. Smooth out the row or planting bed and plant the root cuttings about 2”-4” below the surface. Depth depends on the temperature. The cooler the days, the more shallow. The warmer the days, the deeper to plant the root cuttings.
4. Lay the root cuttings flat. You don’t have to stick it up and down in the ground. You want it to be parallel to the surface of the Earth.
5. Mulch, mulch, mulch. This will retain the moisture in the soil and keep the weed growth down. After about one to one-and-a-half months, buds will develop on your root cuttings and you’ll be on your way.
I hope these five considerations and five nitty-gritties help you decide where and how to plant your comfrey. Once you have your comfrey and it becomes established (2-3 years), you will be good-to-go with composting, side dressing, fertilizer teas and even have enough to create a medicinal topical remedies in the forms of creams, infused oils and salves…an article for another day…