Tuesday, July 7, 2015

But what do you think?

Typically I’m all for experimenting and figuring it out as I go. But every once and awhile I want to turn to a knowledgeable friend and ask “what should I do?”….and today that friend is you.

Last May I purchased a pair of Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminster Gold', they were small.

How small? Well there’s my hand for scale.


My lust for this plant began with a visit to an open garden back in 2013. Look at those gorgeous mounds of creamy yellow and green foliage!

Swoon.

Here’s one of my plants now. Soon after I planted them they grew up, up, up and then bloomed. The flowers were fine, nothing to get excited about. Those two big leaves? They’re fairly new,

I’d kind of thought this experiment was going nowhere until the big leaves showed up. I want more like them…

At this point I started doing a little internet research, and that’s when I really got confused. The Missouri Botanical Garden website got things off to a frightening start when I read this: “Many of the comfreys, including this hybrid, spread aggressively by creeping rhizomes and can be somewhat invasive in the garden. Moreover, once planted, comfrey can be very difficult to dig out because any small section of root left behind can sprout a new plant.”…what? That sounds like my Bishop’s Weed battle. I don’t want to go through that again.

They also said this: “Trim foliage as needed to shape plant. Cutting back stems promptly after flowering may encourage a rebloom. If growing as a foliage plant, however, consider removing flowering stems as they appear.” Okay, too late. The flower stems appeared and I did nothing.

More research took me to Nan Ondra’s blog, Hayefield, where she introduced this plant as a “current fav” (in a post from 2008) and says: “Unlike other comfreys, this one stays where you put it. I truly wish it would spread a bit! The large grayish green leaves are broadly bordered with a nice lemony yellow that softens toward more of a butter yellow toward bloom time. Mine’s been in bloom for about a week now. In another week, I’ll cut the whole thing to the ground, then let it resprout for a good mound of fresh foliage that looks good through the summer.”

So this is where I ask “but what do you think?” Have you grown the variegated comfrey? Did it spread? Have you cut it back? Is it too late for me to cut it back now? Tell me what you think!

Oh and while you’re at weigh in on what I should do with this volunteer Castor Bean seedling. Not in an ideal spot, right at the edge of the planting bed, in front of the variegated Echium.

Can't see it? Sorry, bad photo. Here it's circled. I'd kind of like to see how it does, since it's a volunteer. But once it starts to get big it will be too late to move it. Theoretically the Echium should get big too, so maybe it's okay. But...what do you think?

All material © 2009-2015 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

45 comments:

  1. Weed and transplant the ricin? Comfrey can be aggressive but perhaps this yellow variegated one is an exception? It's possible that it'll stay put for years before it shows any signs of invasion. Not much of a help I know...

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  2. Well, I haven't grown the variegated one, but I have a plain green one whose leaves start out yellowish, and it has never spread aggressively. I did have the experience of digging it out of my raised veggie beds, and transplanting it to a spot right next to my compost bins, and it did keep trying to return at its original spot, so it does grow long taproots. I think you could probably cut those flowered out stalks back now without worries. You might get more of the bigger leaves that way. I'd leave the Ricinus where it is. At this point in the gardening season it's not going to get uncomfortably huge before a freeze comes.

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    1. When I first read "at this point in the gardening season it's not going to get uncomfortably huge before a freeze comes" I remembered one of the seedlings you gave me last year. It was so small in early July (during the Fling) that Alan made fun of it "the smallest Castor Bean I've ever seen...." and then it managed to take off and become the biggest one in the garden with a huge trunk that I sawed off, rather than dug out, once it was dead. So basically I guess I need Alan to stop by and point and laugh at this one.

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  3. Cut the comfrey back at the beginning of a slightly cooler spell (which I read you're about to have) and water it well, and I predict big new leaves will result. I've only grown regular green-leaved comfrey, since the point for me is just adding the leaves to compost.

    Alison makes a good point about your baby castor plant; put it on your 'must move in spring 2015' list.

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    1. Spring 2015? Or 16? It will be dead in the Spring of 2016 (winter freeze and all you know...). Cooler spell....yes it's coming! I never thought I'd actually be happy about that but I am.

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    2. Oops, yes, 2016, only that makes no sense either given winter -- clearly the heat is addling my brain -- and no cool spell on the way to rescue me here

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  4. I don't have comfrey experience (something ate mine -- deer?) but I'd dig out the castor bean seedling while it's small. Get a big rootball as in my experience they don't really like having their roots disturbed -- any I've ever transplanted (or grown in a container too long before planting) take forever to get going again.

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    1. It figures that the only one I had show up as a volunteer was in a bad spot. I was really looking forward to seeing how they do when they plant themselves somewhere.

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  5. that's the kind of thing I ask you. I planted my Echiums candicans 'Star...' too close together. I'm always so sure plants aren't going to really grow. but back to your question--it's a scary thought isn't it, that they could turn all Bishops Weed on you...

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    1. Scary indeed. I don't want to go there again, ever.

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  6. 1. move the castor bean.
    2. Hayefield is a much colder climate--determine if the plant spreads in your zone.
    Nice leaves, but not nearly as pretty as a Hosta...and you bought them small, so they didn't cost that much...I'd try something else. Lots of fabulous big leaves out there...

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    1. Reports are it doesn't spread here either, yay! As for the Hosta comparison...but they're totally different! And this one grows in the sun...

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  7. I've grown this beauty for several years now and it is NOT INVASIVE. Not a pest in any way. I slowly grows into a beautiful clump. Mine have not significantly spread in the four years I've had them. I usually remove the flower stalks after they've produced the first flowers. Then it makes those gorgeous rosettes of lemon variegated leaves. One of my plants was a division from Sue (Idyll Haven). She was able to dig without a problem.

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    1. This is all good news, thanks Deanne!

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  8. Loree, I've had A . Gold for 2 plus years and have seen no sign of spreading thus far. I always cut the flowers , but do so based on the foliage-as the flowers age the foliage gets ratty. Old leaves get ratty too, so I groom through out the year . Most of my New Enland peeps grow it as well , and I don't recall any of them ever mentioning the plant traveling, though their cold-a** winters may be a factor.

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    1. Cold-a** indeed. How do they do it?

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  9. I fell in love with Axminster Gold via Grace's blog (you could ask her directly) but not enough to act on. I've seen it looking ratty elsewhere (ka seems to have a handle on that).

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    1. Thanks for the reminder about Grace growing this. I did solicit a response from her (below - very helpful!).

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  10. Wait for the Ricin to produce two more leaves, then move it. I have the comfrey, and while the species turns into huge plants that romp around here and looks slightly tropical, this one has sat still for two years with no babies. I'm kind of disappointed, since I wanted it to be huge. I'm East Coast zone 4a, and plants that get big and tropical looking are hard to find.

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    1. I noticed tiny "real" leaves yesterday. So we're almost there. Sorry to learn your comfrey is behaving - when you wanted big and tropical.

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  11. I just planter that comfrey this year. Small plant, growing slowly with smaller leaves and a few really big ones. Also keeps getting almost all pale yellow leaves. So . . . your experience and the comments make me think it will settle in and all turn out fine eventually.

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    1. Yes, that seems to be the consensus. Good luck with yours!

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  12. Not aggressive in my book. I have only had it revert a few times and I have it in six places. Ive found it comes back best if you allow it to flower letting the bees have their way with it then when it gets top heavy and flops, cut it to the ground. It takes a while but it rebounds with a nice big rosette of giant leaves <3 It's also ez to root from a non flowering tip cutting too. I hate to tell you how much I paid for this plant years ago :P

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    1. Reading Nan Ondra's comment about how hard it was to find I can only imagine how expensive it must have been. The fact that you now have six of them tells me it's worth working with to get the look I want.

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  13. I think you should rely on input from PNW gardeners to determine whether or not Symphytum is aggressive in your area - it won't grow here, unfortunately. (I checked into it a year or more ago when I saw those beautiful leaves in blog posts by eastern gardeners.) I'd move the castor bean seedling.

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  14. I purchased my comfrey in 2010. I planted it in a semi shady spot and for the first few years, despite my constant watering, it wilted--a lot. Fortunately it came right back with a good drenching. This year it finished blooming about three weeks ago. I cut the whole thing down because even the leaves that didn't have bloom stems were brown from the heat. There wasn't one leave left, just the stems cut to the ground. I wondered if I'd been a little too agressive but within a week of giving it a good soaking, it sprang back and is now doing fine. It is not the slightest bit invasive. No runners, no seedlings. However, mine has never looked as large and majestic as the ones in your photo. Maybe it's the fact that I've got it in part shade. It is one of the few plants I've never moved so it's growing in its original spot. My flowering stems reached five feet. I see yours are much lower so it must be your more sunny location. Yes, I would cut off all those flowering stems. Keep the two leaves. Water it well and maybe a little fish fertilizer and it will come right back. I hope this helps. (Oh and dig up that castor seedling. You'll regret it if you don't. Been there, done that.)

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    1. "It is one of the few plants I've never moved"...I chuckled at that. It might be the sunny location (that keeps the stems shorter) or the fact that it flowered so quickly after planting, when it was still a wee thing. Thank you for sharing your experience Grace!

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  15. I tried thinking once but it hurt my head so I stopped. I've killed that variegated comfrey. Mine reverted to green so I dug it up - no resprouting. I've another in the hellstrip that's looking a little tired now that it's bloomed and I was just considering cutting it back to the ground. When I do, I give it a nice drink of fish fertilizer, some manure, keep it watered and watch it come back beautifully. The castor bean - wait until it gets it's first true leaves, then move it.

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    1. Reverted huh? That's not wanted.

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  16. I know nothing about the plant, so I´m not much help...I hope it is not invasive...

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    1. Sounds like it's not. I wonder why the folks at MBG had such a bad experience?

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  17. One of my favorite plants in the garden. It grows in sun (with enough water) or shade. Supposedly it's difficult to propagate which makes it expensive around here but I've had no problem dividing them. Usually I cut off the flower stems since they flop and get ratty. As others have mentioned, you do need to groom the foliage as it browns but plant sends up new pristine leaves all season.

    I had a Castor Bean seedling this year too. So far I've moved it twice with no issue. On a sad note, my Tetrapanax did not make it through last winter. Will have to try again.

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    1. Good to know about the dividing! As yes, it's still on the expensive side. Sorry about your Tetrapanax! I wish I had baby plants to share!

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  18. I have the non variegated comfrey in my garden and whilst it isn't spreading it also refuses to leave. I suspect that being variegated will reduce the plants vigour as it has less chorophyllum to photosynthesis and that should be to your benefit.

    I

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    1. "refuses to leave"...yikes! Sounds like Acanthus mollis.

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  19. No spreading here in Ireland, just nicely clumping. Your post has reminded me that I need to move mine to a better position. Thanks!

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    1. You are so welcome - and thanks for using the term "clumping"...that's exactly what I want!

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  20. Gah, I lusted after Grace's immediately after seeing it in her garden. I want one SO bad. Where did you find them? I'm a whacker in most cases. I've found almost everything comes back pretty quickly with warm weather and water.

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    1. I got these up in Spokane, but I've seen them around here in a Blooming Nursery pot. They are usually much larger, and thus more expensive.

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  21. I let a single castor bean plant go to seed a few years ago... and I still have seedlings popping up everywhere. I think at last count I had 5 this year. If any of the flowers go to seed over bare dirt, it seems the seeds have little trouble over-wintering around our area. It also seems like they flower and spread seeds earlier and earlier every year, too! I'd move it, or keep it trimmed short. They don't seem to mind trimming.

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    1. Years later? That's great. I remember sitting on the patio last summer and hearing mine popping and spitting seeds in the heat. I envisioned a Castor Bean forest this year, but so far only the one. Trimming huh? I never would have thought of that!

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  22. I haven't grown any sort of comfrey, so I can't help there. That one is beautiful, but it sounds like it wants lots of water to look good. As for the castor bean, if you really want to see how a volunteer seedling performs, I would leave it in place. If you are more concerned about aesthetics, I would follow Alan's advice.

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  23. I am just beginning my own bishop's weed battle and was glad to see someone else's experience with eradicating it. Round-up just made it turn brown faster but didn't knock it down at all. I think it laughed at the 2,4-D I sprayed it with. I was hoping to avoid digging it, as it is embedded at the base of a rock wall, but i am trying to prevent the inevitable upward spread. Sorry I have no advice on Comfrey, but thanks for the info on the Aegopodium. Now to go get the shovels.....

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