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  • Hackberry January 27, 2015
    Here on Snow Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I see quite a few hackberry trees, Celtis occidentalis. Most are trees with circumferences of 5 inches or smaller, trees that have not been around long. Their small size may be, in part, because the forest up here is a young forest. Back in the 1950s […] We love hearing from you! Please click he […]
    Brenda Clements Jones
  • Beer and Butterflies, Hops and Commas January 26, 2015
    This is the time of year I think most of us gardening folk are itching to get back out there tending to our plants and critters.  I’ve been taking inventory of my seeds, shopping around for new bee boxes and bird houses and mentally designing new flower beds.  Since my brother and I spend so […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beau […]
    Judy Burris
  • Florida Winter Birds January 23, 2015
    I’ve had two recent avian visitors that for me are a real treat.  You see migrating birds aren’t exclusively a phenomenon of northern climes.  Florida also has migratory visitors, some merely passing through and some that stay a few months but don’t breed here. If you prepare a Florida winter wildlife garden to their liking, […] We love hearing from you! Ple […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • The Undisclosed Location January 22, 2015
    I love January in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains. Recent rain has brought new life to the drought-stricken soil, and new spring green seedlings are sprouting up everywhere. Trails are still wet one week after our 1-day rainstorm.  After waiting all year for rain, native plants waste no time in asserting themselves. This month, the air […] We lo […]
    Kathy Vilim
  • Dead Wood is Not Dead Weight January 21, 2015
    Dead wood from trees provides abundant habitat for wildlife in your garden. We talk often of the value of native trees in your wildlife garden. Trees provide all manner of ecosystem services, and provide food and shelter for many different kinds of wildlife. In fact, native trees support vastly larger numbers of different species of […] We love hearing from […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Arbor Day? Yes! And It’s All About Florida Trees! January 16, 2015
    Florida weather puts us ahead of the April National Arbor Day planting curve.  The third Friday of January is officially designated as Florida Arbor Day (in Louisiana too!).   Tis our dry season, so I suppose we plant now to get the roots reaching deep for water before rainy season hits and makes it easy.  This […] We love hearing from you! Please click here […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Can I Make a Difference? January 15, 2015
    How many of you ponder this question? You’re living in a house with a small yard in an urban area. After you plant your tomato and pepper plants, there just isn’t much room left. You hung up a bird feeder – could you do more, you wonder? You hear about the problems with the bees […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photos […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • Resources for Planning Your Wildlife Garden January 14, 2015
    It’s the Dreaming Season–winter is upon us, and for most of us snow and cold are keeping us inside where it’s warm and cozy, and not outside working in our wildlife gardens. This is the perfect time to plan, and dream about, the steps we will take in our gardens in the coming spring to […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Start your rain barrels now January 12, 2015
    This is Old Man Winter’s time, which at a school can translate into a lot of indoor recess time and little to no garden time. Here’s a winter project to keep students’ minds on the gardens and focus their energy when they can’t get outside: Painting rain barrels. We have two rain barrels at Belvedere. Although we don’t use […] We love hearing from you! Pleas […]
    Stacey Evers

#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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