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  • Pest Free? December 18, 2014
    Pest free is a very desirable trait in plants according to the nursery trade. I watched a large cockroach race across my counter today and I certainly wanted to be pest free at that moment! Pest is just a derogatory term for bugs, of course, and I don’t feel that all bugs are pests. Do […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • Holiday Giving for Wildlife Gardeners December 17, 2014
    As we celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, put up our Christmas trees, bake delicious holiday goodies, and buy presents for our loved ones, I also like to give a little back to wildlife by working to create more wildlife habitats in our gardens and communities. There are many ways you can give a […] We love hearing from you! Please click her […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Is “Drink Your Tea” in Your Garden? December 16, 2014
    Male Towhee Look low and listen for the rustling of leaves! You will often wonder what animal might be coming your way, especially in the fall when fallen leaves blanket the ground. Be patient and you might see the beautifully marked Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) using its two-footed backward hop to turn over leaves to […] We love hearing from you […]
    Joni James
  • Snuffleupagus: In the Garden Stuck on You December 12, 2014
    The great reptile hunter was at it again.  I saw my dog Chili lying in the grass, alert and stretching out her paw like she was batting at something.  And, of course, she was.  Meet Timmy the turtle (named after a pull toy I owned as a toddler…ahhhh memories!). Timmy is actually a three striped […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the b […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Itzy and Bitzy…New Spiders for Me December 5, 2014
    The Groundsel Bushes (Baccharis spp.) a.k.a. Saltbush have been a-buzz.  By far the most visited of all shrubs in my Florida native plant garden this week.  Various wasps and ants and beetles have been mining the leaves for tasty morsels of the Groundselbush Beetle (Trirhabda bacharidis) larvae and/or aphids or scales. I was surprised that […] We love hearin […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • From the New York Botanical Garden December 4, 2014
    Recently I attended a symposium at the New York Botanical Garden called, The Changing Nature of Nature in Cities. I was especially curious to hear Emma Marris, author of The Rambunctious Garden speak, and I wasn’t disappointed. I promised last month to write about the symposium’s content. Honestly, I’m still digesting the message from the […] We love hearing […]
    Jesse Elwert
  • Virginia Pine December 2, 2014
    The holidays. They’re here. They’ve got me thinking of pine trees, and pinecones. And I’m wishing for snow. I’ve had a tiny bit of snow already, but I’m ready for more. This is Virginia pine, Pinus virginiana. I live in a cabin, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in central Virginia. There are plenty of Virginia pine up […] We love hearing from you! Please click h […]
    Brenda Clements Jones
  • Thanksgiving December 1, 2014
    I hope everyone had a beautiful Thanksgiving weekend with their families. I found these photos in my archives and thought they would be perfect for the season.  I love to do “set-up” shots to highlight seasonal themes . . . colorful gourds being some of my favorite subjects.  My brother built an arbor this year […] We love hearing from you! Please click here […]
    Judy Burris
  • Saturday Night Live Musical Guest in the Garden November 28, 2014
    I eyed a beefy looking katydid the other day, lounging on the leaf of a Redbay sapling (Persea sp.).  It was munching away probably trying to gain some nourishment to build up its strength.  This guy…and yes, it is a male…appeared to have done battle with a predator at some point. Antennas were broken off […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to se […]
    Loret T. Setters

#GardenChat

How to Grow: Comfrey

A weed is but an unloved flower.

~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Comfrey: invasive perennial or super-garden plant? Maybe a bit of both… though I definitely lean towards the latter. Comfrey is a perennial herb (or to some a “useful weed”) and a member of the borage family. The thick roots tap deeply into the layers of soil mining the nutrients and storing them in the green tongue-shaped leaves. Comfrey leaves contain more nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K) than farm animal manures and more nitrogen and potassium than garden compost. Comfrey leaves also contain calcium and iron. The leaves are excellent for composting and when used as a mulch, break down readily without robbing the soil of precious nitrogen. Pretty super, right?!

Comfrey is quick-growing and forms a spreading clump in sun or shade. Depending on the variety, it can range from ten inches to three feet tall. All varieties die back to the ground in winter. The whisker-leaved plants produce nodding bell-shaped flowers that are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. Once established it takes a lot of digging to remove comfrey roots from the soil (trust me, leave even a tiny piece and the plant will return) so take care in selecting a spot for it to thrive. That said, I simply pull up clumps of the plant and toss them into the compost pile as the season goes on. Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) also reseeds heavily, hence the “invasive” and “weedy” labels. If you don’t want a yard full of comfrey (or you aren’t a fan of dead-heading) Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) produces very little viable seed and will remain for years where you plant it. Russian comfrey is also said to yield the greatest benefits in the garden as a fertilizer. (Check back Monday for more on comfrey’s uses in the garden.)

The easiest way to grow any comfrey is from root cuttings. Lift a clump and cut the black rootstock into two-inch pieces. Plant the cuttings just under the soil’s surface, water well and in about a week new plants will emerge. (Young foliage is susceptible to attack from hungry slugs so take precautions!) Once growing, a monthly feeding of liquid kelp is plenty to satisfy comfrey’s green need for nitrogen, though I confess I’ve never fertilized my comfrey and it still grows like crazy!  New comfrey plantings should be allowed to become established for one year before harvesting the leaves for use.Once well-established, the plant can be cut back to 2″ above the soil throughout the season and the leaves used in compost or to make comfrey garden tea.

Near the end of the season, around the middle of August, leave the plants to grow and flower without further cutting so they’ll remain vigorous and healthy the following year. After three years the plants can be dug up and divided regularly. To divide ours, I simply plunge the spade into the plant in early spring when the leaves emerge and lift a chunk to move. The divisions die back when planted, give them a week and they’ll recover and start growing all over again.

I’m experimenting with several different methods for using comfrey in the garden this year. If you’d like to know more about what I’m trying please check back for my next post on Monday. Happy gardening!

7 comments to How to Grow: Comfrey

  • I’ve been growing comfry for years, although mine must be Symphytum officinale since it reseeds heavily if I’m not vigilant with the shears. I like it for it’s ability to attract bees and use in the compost pile.

  • Lisa Gustavson

    I have two varieties of comfrey, one of which is Russian, the other I’m not sure…though it’s not Symphytum officinale because it has never reseeded. Both were gifts to me many years ago and I adore growing them if for nothing more than the flowers and the beautiful green leaves. This year I’m having fun experimenting…but more on that later! ;-)

  • mizzzy

    were will i get comfrey seeds from,i have looked in quite a few shops to no avail:(

  • Lisa Gustavson

    I’ve not seen seeds widely available, either. Comfrey is much easier to grow from divisions, look for plants at a local nursery with herbs or from a friend!

  • Debbie

    You can buy them from Richter’s Herbs in Canada. You can order on line.

  • Lisa Gustavson

    I LOVE Richter’s…thanks for the tip! :-)

  • Witchesstorm

    I would like to thank you for your informative page on Comfrey. I moved into the place I am in last year and WAS trying to get rid of this dumb huge weed that would not go away… apparently these were well established comfrey plants and have grown back this year No Problem. And now I know that they are usable too :) woohoo Thank you very much.

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