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  • In the Garden: Cloudy with a Chance of Confusion August 29, 2014
    I met a new butterfly this week.  This particular butterfly is one of the skippers. Skippers are in the Superfamily Hesperioidea, as opposed to say, Swallowtails or Milkweed Butterflies that are in the Papilionoidea Superfamily encompassing Butterflies (excluding skippers). Skippers are a diverse bunch and often hard to identify. This skipper was rather larg […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Native Plants Beyond the Garden August 28, 2014
    I love having native plants in my garden. Every moment that I can do so finds me slipping into the garden to find a beautiful flower, a hummingbird sipping on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), an insect collecting food or collecting prey, and to listen to the sweet song of birds. As much as I love […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see al […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • When a Tree Falls in the Schoolyard August 25, 2014
    We had only one shade tree at our suburban DC elementary school, a 50ish-year-old pin oak, and it was cut down over the summer without notice. After the shock and swearing wore off, I started thinking about how we could use what remained. Almost anything can be turned into a lesson, including a prominently placed […] We love hearing from you! Please click he […]
    Stacey Evers
  • The Worms Crawl In but Do They Swim? August 22, 2014
    This week I noticed that there was some webbing on a Baldcypress tree I planted a while back. At some point my property was likely home to many of these trees as is evident by decaying knees I see when the pond level gets low.  These majestic trees require wet conditions during part of the year […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the b […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Native Shrubs for Small Gardens August 19, 2014
    For those with small wildlife gardens, gardening with native plants has always been a challenge. Natives tend to be not just large size but absolutely huge. Fortunately the nursery industry is responding to the growing demand for wildlife friendly native plants for the small space garden. Plant breeders have come out with some outstanding dwarf […] We love h […]
    Karyl Seppala
  • Wildlife Deception as a Defense August 15, 2014
    Tanner, the English Setter was headed out for his afternoon stroll of the yard.  I saw something over behind a tall cluster of Bidens alba and it seemed to be thrashing.  Tanner zoomed on over and flushed out a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  The hawk flew off with its feathers somewhat ruffled in the quick getaway. Tanner […] We love hearing from you! Please click he […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Baldcypress Ecosystem August 13, 2014
    Birding in Delaware at Trap Pond State Park, a baldcypress ecosystem. After a wonderful trip aboard the Mummichog II for the Cape Water Taxi Ecotour to explore the ecosystem of the Indian River Bay in southeastern Delaware, today we headed to southwestern Delaware to explore a fresh water ecosystem. Trap Pond State Park, near Laurel, […] We love hearing from […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Cardinal Flower August 12, 2014
      Hummingbirds love it. So do I. If it was a Corvette Stingray, the color would be called “Victory Red.” It is a blazing, brilliant, red, not often seen in a native plant. In the picture above, you see a sweat bee, using a leaf as a resting spot on the Cardinal Flower’s, Lobelia cardinalis, landing […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all t […]
    Brenda Clements Jones
  • Raising Question Mark butterflies August 11, 2014
    Question Mark butterflies can be elusive if you don’t know how to attract them to your beautiful wildlife garden. They are drawn more to sap runs (often created by woodpeckers) and rotting fruit than the flowers in your yard. If you have a plum or cherry tree you may see these and other butterflies feeding […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to s […]
    Judy Burris

#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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