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  • Birds Who Tease: Purple Martins April 18, 2014
    Bluebird babies fledged this week from their nest high up in the Purple Martin house. Next day, the Purple Martins (Progne subis) arrived. I guess it was a sublet and the lease was up for the bluebirds. Purple Martins are a picky bunch. They zoom round and round and round some more. They peer into […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all th […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Fireflies in the Garden April 17, 2014
      Fireflies in the Garden, a Poem by Robert Frost Here come real stars to fill the upper skies, And here on earth come emulating flies, That though they never equal stars in size, (And they were never really stars at heart) Achieve at times a very star-like start. Only, of course, they can’t sustain […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all […]
    Kathy Vilim
  • Loblolly Pine Wildlife Value April 16, 2014
    Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) is a native tree of the southeastern United States. Often growing in wet woodlands, Loblolly Pine provides great habitat and value for wildlife. The native range of Pinus taeda covers eastern Texas to northern Florida, and all of the southern coastal states up to Delaware. Pinus taeda Botanical Description Pinus taeda: This tree [ […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • For The Love of a Tree April 12, 2014
      Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.  ~Chinese proverb       You may remember last year I wrote about the plight of our ash trees.   It was just about this time, in early spring, that we were saying goodbye to 4 of our mature ash trees […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photos and let u […]
    Donna Donabella
  • Squirrelly Squirrels in the Garden April 11, 2014
    Squirrels are a normal occurrence in a great many beautiful wildlife gardens.  Up until this year, suprisingly my yard was not one of them. Perhaps not so surprisingly after all.  When I purchased my plot back in 2006, it was pretty much clear cut sans a smattering of long leaf pine trees.  Squirrel have a […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to s […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Go Forth and … Purchase April 10, 2014
    Spring is a wonderful time to buy plants and the stores are full of them. Even the grocery store had everything from annuals to potted fruit trees to tempt shoppers the other day. Native plant lovers are no less immune to the call of a plant sale than anyone else and luckily spring native plant […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the b […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • Birding Festivals Through The Year April 9, 2014
    If you want to learn more about the birds in your wildlife garden, one of the best things you can do is to attend birding festivals near you to learn more about birds in their natural habitats. One of the big things on my bucket list is to travel around the country going from birding […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful ph […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Spring, Up Close April 7, 2014
    I love macro photography. The ability to look very closely takes the most ordinary object and makes it extraordinary. I thought it would be fun to take a “macro-eyed” view of my wildlife garden during each season. Here’s my offering for Spring 2014. In the grand food web of life, plants are the heavy-lifters. In […] We love hearing from you! Please click her […]
    Christy Peterson
  • Pollinators: Soldier Boy, oh my Little Soldier Boy April 4, 2014
    When you talk pollinators, most people expect a conversation about bees and/or butterflies.   Often flies will be considered as backups.  Well, let’s add another player to the pollination conversation…BEETLES. The Margined Soldier Beetle a.k.a. Margined Leatherwing (Chauliognathus marginatus) is here to dispel the myth that beetles are evil.   Hey, we aren’t […]
    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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