Subdividing Comfrey

Sep 23, 2014

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.

IMG_0756To 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.

IMG_0762

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.

IMG_0759This comfrey plant has an impressively fat tap root which we chopped up extensively

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.

IMG_0761

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.

IMG_0769Plant your bits of root or tiny plants into prepared soil and water them in. In no time at all they’ll be ‘up and at em’.

theslowpoke-comfrey1-1

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

Happy subdividing!

* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director if Good Life and lover os all things fun and garden-esk.

your thoughts:

9 Comments

  1. Johnny B

    For those of us who don’t have any growing in our yard, and don’t have any friends with some growing in their yard, what is an alternative way to get comfrey? Is it the sort of thing I could find growing wild? The nurseries around Hobart I’ve looked at don’t seem to sell it – I guess it’s not worth it for them if it’s so eeasy to propagate yourself!

    John.

    Reply
    • Johnny B

      Ooops, sorry about posting twice – damn technology!

      Reply
  2. Leanne Levi

    I managed to find some comfrey roots for sale on Ebay – they arrived healthy and took of well in some potting soil, I transplanted in the garden and they are establishing under the fruit trees.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Cool – sounds like it’s going well for you Leanne 🙂

      Reply
  3. Erin

    It would be good to note in your post that ingesting comfrey for humans is carcinogenic.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Yup – I just mentioned medical professionals don’t recommend ingesting it 🙂

      Reply
    • STK

      ‘Medical professionals’ know little to absolute nothing regarding herbs, their traditionaluse, or their safety, so I’d seriously take any of their recommendations related to plants with a truckload of scepticism.

      I grew up drinking a comfrey drink every morning through the spring / summer, every single year, when the comfrey started coming up. We were never harmed in any way. Likewise my sister, cousins & my entire family.

      We blended fresh comfrey leaves with fresh pineapple chunks & water into what we called our ‘green drink’. Absolutely delicious. I’d highly recommend giving it a try.

      Reply
  4. brad

    i started a couple of big comfrey patches off by seed. i think Eden Seeds, or maybe Diggers sell comfrey seed. grows fast, and once you have some you can divide and reproduce!

    Reply
  5. Calvin Abbott

    When the Canadian Feds banned Comfrey like they have with vitamin B17 and give many warnings I knew I had to get some, found some in Ontario and in a local old farm. old farms and old farmers have this generally.

    Reply

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