Comfrey under Apple Tree
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Andrea Locke
Posted on: January 24, 2005

I’ve been thinking about planting a large patch of comfrey under a big old apple tree. I read somewhere that comfrey is beneficial as a companion plant to apples -- do you have any thoughts on this. I would like to harvest comfrey for medicinal (external) use as well as using it as forage for my goats, chickens and donkey. Last summer, I smothered the grass under the tree with a heavy application of strawy manure. Bocking No. 4 seems to be the one recommended as forage in your catalogue, but I am tempted to start from seed with your common comfrey for purely economic reasons. Can you provide advice on whether to go with seeds vs. plants, which variety you would recommend, and whether I should rototill under the tree or plant through the mulch?

Comfrey is not usually thought of as a companion plant because it can be invasive and can quickly overtake other plants of similar size. It does very well under and along the drip line of trees -- in fact it often show up under trees after a few years on its own. I don’t have any information on whether or not it is beneficial to apple trees, but I can imagine that it would be because it attracts pollinators and because a thick patch of it under apple trees may interfere with the spread of pests. Also, the deep roots have the effect of "lifting" nutrients from deep in the ground back up to the surface, which would over a period of several years gradually release nutrients that the surface roots of the trees can access. Comfrey is a terrific composting plant because of the way in which it brings nutrients to the surface.

Seeds will work if you prefer to try seeds instead of plants.

I would be reluctant to rototill under the trees for fear of damaging the roots of the trees. Comfrey is vigourous enough that all you need to do is to plant a few plants around each tree and you will have a thick patch within a few years.

I’ve spent the last two evenings enjoying your Q&A section in the web site, and have spent many happy hours with the paper catalogue over the years. Thank you for the valuable services you provide for those of us interested in herbs.

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