Growing and Using Comfrey In a Permaculture Orchard
Comfrey brings nutrients to the surface, suppresses weeds, adds incredible amounts of biomass, can feed you and your livestock, can be used as a liquid fertilizer, kick starts your compost pile, and many more things.
I could easily write a book on all the benefits that comfrey has, it’s benefits are that numerous.
Eight years ago we bought a sad, little plant at the end of a local plant sale. It was a Bocking #14 (Boraginaceae family, Symphytum Genus) Comfrey and we planted in our orchard as soon as we got home.
With gentle root pruning, we peppered our orchard with hundreds of these plants. And they gave back much more than we’ve ever given them, making them a mainstay of our plantings.
The 3 Types of Comfrey and Which to Plant in your orchard
There are three main types of comfrey, Russian, True or Common, and Hidcote Blue. Both True and Hidcote Blue can be different levels of invasive so we stay away from them. All varieties of Russian are sterile, so they are not spread by seed, only by root cuttings.
If you plant comfrey in your Permaculture Orchard and do not want it to take over, make sure you NEVER rototill it. We have a friend who did this and they’ll never get rid of it all, it’s everywhere! That wouldn’t be a bad thing in an orchard, but they did this in their annual vegetable garden, yikes!
Comfrey is easily propagated from an established plant that is at least 4 years old. So, plant a handful and in a few years you will be able to add more as you’d like.
Comfrey as a Companion Plant
Growing comfrey under fruit trees and shrubs in the Permaculture Orchard creates an incredible companionship.
Establishing a weed free bed around your trees ensures that they can establish themselves without having to compete with grasses and weeds for nutrients. Comfrey outcompetes weeds and helps maintain a ground cover at the same time.
Young trees need nutrients that can be trapped in soil and take time for a tree to find these. Comfrey helps free up these nutrients on an annual basis, assisting your tree in feeding itself successfully with minerals such as potassium and calcium.
An established comfrey plant can be scythed down just after blossoming and provide nutrients through natural composting.
Then, the plants grow again, even in the heat of summer, and providing you with more weed cover and compost for your orchard trees.
If you wait until blossoms fall to scythe, the plant becomes incredibly carbon heavy and will increase the growth of your soil as well as your trees.
Around the plant itself the soil will become dark chocolate brown, very friable, and full of soil life. Trees feeder roots easily find what they need unlike a heavy, carbon dioxide laden soil with fine grasses.
Pollinators love this plant too! The natives as well as the honey bee swarm our plants all summer long. Having an reliable source of pollen for them ensures that your tree blossoms are covered as well.
Comfrey makes Incredible Compost!
Using comfrey in your compost piles will increase the nutrients throughout your compost. It is also the ultimate green for your compost, helping the whole pile heat up quicker and break down faster.
Adding flower stalks and a few leaves to your compost pile will activate it for you with less work on your part.
In the orchard, cut a few leaves and lay them on top of your soil. Cover with grass clippings or shredded leaves. Your plants will appreciate this natural and gentle feed. Your weeds will not as they are shaded out.
It’s lasagna gardening on steroids.
Keeps deer out of the orchard...really
Comfrey is a great plant to have outside of your orchard (or garden)fencing.
Deer enjoy this plant almost as much as hosta, but they don’t eat it to the ground, more as a browse.
Our areas with comfrey have less deer incursions and happier trees.
some important notes...
If you only add one companion plant to your orchard this year, I would highly recommend comfrey. It will feed your trees, smother weeds, create healthy soil, attract pollinators, and break down your compost quicker.
The only question I have is why haven’t you planted it yet?
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