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  • Native Plant Garden of Gold October 24, 2014
    We’ve cooled down some in Central Florida, although by Northeast or Midwest standards it still is steamy and hot.  Still, it is Florida Autumn and the garden is reflecting the standard fall colors everyone is so accustomed to. As the golden flowers unfold, the birds wait with anticipation for some of the flowers to go […] We love hearing from you! Please cli […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • The Power of One October 23, 2014
    I believe in the power of using native plants in whatever landscape that man designs and creates. I believe in the power of using locally native plants to restore some small ecological balance back to a landscape that man has ripped apart. I believe that choosing to do so has an impact that, magnified by […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • Seed collecting for school gardens October 20, 2014
    If you’re already thinking about next year’s school garden, this is the time to pick up your seeds: they are cheaper now than at pretty much any other time of the year. When I say “pick up” seeds, I mean it literally. Go out to your fading garden and get them. Collecting seeds takes only a […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beauti […]
    Stacey Evers
  • Inviting Dragonflies to Lunch in the Garden October 17, 2014
    I noticed someone enjoying a bit of lunch in the garden recently.  It was an Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) and based on the coloration, a male. Males become pruinose blue with white claspers and a green face.” More often than not when I come across an Eastern Pondhawk in the garden it is one […] We love hearing from you! Please click […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Desert Ants are Dynamic October 11, 2014
    June was National Pollinator month, and many folks decided to help insect pollinators by planting flowers. Now for some not so popular insects that are also highly beneficial for the garden, but few people welcome them – ants. Indeed, some people are of the belief that the only good ant is a dead ant. While […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to […]
    Jacqueline Soule
  • Strays in the Garden October 10, 2014
    Hear the word stray and most likely you think of a dog or cat running the neighborhood while some irresponsible owner is oblivious to the whereabouts of their pets. My area?  We get a different category of strays.  Next door currently has a stray chicken hanging around.  A couple of weeks ago, a gang of […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • The Baby American Goldfinch in the Garden October 9, 2014
    Recently a fellow writer published a noticeably well researched post about the American Goldfinch. I was surprised to learn from reading this informative piece that this- early fall- is the American Goldfinch’s breeding season, and they only have one brood per year. A couple days later I was working at a clients home and saw […] We love hearing from you! Ple […]
    Jesse Elwert
  • Sassafras October 7, 2014
    You know the question, “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?” My quick answer would be, “A sassafras tree.” I’ve had a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Virginia, since 1992. During that time I’ve hiked my mountain up and down, getting to know all the things that grow here. I […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful […]
    Brenda Clements Jones
  • The Lowly Carpet Beetle October 6, 2014
    The scientific name for this tiny insect is the varied carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci).  Carpet beetles are pests in the home and in natural history museums.  The adult beetles eat pollen and nectar, but their larvae feed on biological fibers from carpets, clothing, feathers, plus insect and animal collections. Carpet beetle larvae hatch from eggs […] We […]
    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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