We’re in the very early stages of establishing our small mixed orchard which is both exciting and a lot of work. When you live on a steep block everything is a lot of work. Due to our every-changing levels we have quite of lot of earth banks, which are much more affordable compared to installing retaining walls. So, we’ve been experimenting with different plants to see which ones can handle the tough love environment – comfrey is one of them.
When you’re planting out medium to large areas with plants, learning how to propagate them yourself saves you big bucks, so we do a fair bot of it at our place. Here’s how we do it with comfrey.
To get started with subdividing your comfrey plant, find one you like, either in your own garden or a friends, and dig it up. Pop it in a bucket of water before subdividing to give it a good soak and prepare it for what’s to come.
When you’re ready, pull off 98% of the leaves, leaving just the tiniest ones which will still catch and transfer sunlight into the plant’s system. As you can see below, in one plant there are 5 clearly defined ‘sub plants’ which can easily be divided and planted independently, however we’re going to go further and get 12 plants out of this one cluster.
How do we turn 1 plant into 12? Well, when digging up a comfrey plant, get as much of its root system as possible. You can chop the roots up into pieces (no less than 1 inch’ish) and plant them separately – each one will sprout into its own plant. This is also why comfrey has a bad reputation for spreading throughout your garden and taking over. Often, comfrey is planted near, or in, people’s vegetable gardens where soil is seasonally turned over and disturbed. I NEVER recommend this as when you harvest your annual vegies or dig in crops you can unknowingly propagate an impressive amount of comfrey plants by digging into their root zone and chopping up bits of root. Each one of those ‘bits’ then turns into its own, vigorous plant… Taking over your vegie garden and making you have strong, negative feelings towards it.
So we only plant comfrey in areas which will never have their soil disturbed, they’re planted once and then left there. For us, this is in our orchard and edible forest garden where it does a bang up job of helping to stabilise steep slopes and being a multifunctional plant with many benefits.
So get out your secateurs and chop up your plant into as many pieces as possible, you can also just use your hands to snap the root into sections, however it’s harder to control the sizes you get.
Chop up the roots, no smaller than one inch. Each of these root nuggets will sprout into their own plant.
We’re planting our comfrey around 30cm apart which is quite close as they bush up thickly and quickly. However we’re doing this purposefully as they’re being planted on contour where they will form a thick, living hedge to help stabilise the bank they’re planted on. Soil will subtly collect on the uphill side of the comfrey, creating an easier space for other plants to thrive – in this case, this will be a clover ground cover.
One day, in the not too distant future, these little plants will look like this. Image from The Slowpoke.
When is the best time to subdivide comfrey plants? Generally in late Winter when your plants are dormant or early Spring when they’re just putting on new leaves. However, comfrey is bloody hardy stuff and I’ve subdivided them at any time of the year and it has still worked.
You can use comfrey for a large range of things including in your various compost recipes, fodder for animals (in moderation), medicinal purposes (bruises and broken bones) and the large leaves can be harvested and used as a mulch in your garden. Growing up, my folks would juice it up with dandelion leaves, carrot and apple and give it to us when we were sick, it was creatively called the green drink), it always worked a treat (however medical professional recommend not doing this). To read more about these uses in detail check out The Slowpoke’s recent article…
* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director if Good Life and lover os all things fun and garden-esk.