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  • Thankful for Nature November 20, 2014
    As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, my list of things to do grows. My mental list of what I am thankful for is in progress as well, and always at the top of that list are the gifts that the natural world has given us. From tiny pollinators to towering oaks, our world would […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photos […]
    Ellen Honeycutt
  • Saying Goodbye to All the Plants in My Front Garden November 19, 2014
    Well, it’s digging day. A day I’ve known was coming since we bought our house 14 years ago. Seems that over 100 years ago when my house was built it was considered a good idea to use clay pipes to carry away the sewage from the houses in this neighborhood. Think about it. You know […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photo […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Teaching native habitats with trout November 17, 2014
    It might seem fishy to set up a 55-gallon fish tank and say you’re going to use to it to teach outdoor education, but so far raising brook trout has been one of the most exciting and engaging projects we’ve taken on at the elementary school where I work. In the local school system, animal […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautif […]
    Stacey Evers
  • Aphids are Good? Wait….WHAT??? November 14, 2014
    Down at my pond recently, I waited patiently for a flower fly to land for a photo op.  I use a point and shoot camera and have yet to find that the sports setting is effective at getting close-up photos of insects so I don’t use it.  I took a random shot or two while […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photos and let us k […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • Winter Citizen Science Projects November 12, 2014
    Winter is a fabulous time to participate in a wide variety of citizen science projects to help biologists and scientists gather data for conservation planning and further our knowledge of ecosystem health and population abundance of different types of wildlife. I’m working on building a comprehensive list so I’m going to ask for your help […] We love hearing […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • A Heron By Any Other Name Would Be Easier To Identify November 7, 2014
    This is a fun time of year in Florida.  The birds are returning from their summer digs so I get a wide array of visitors.  I glanced out at the pond the other day and eyed a thin white head poking up through the cover of native grasses.  There standing on the tussock in the […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photos and l […]
    Loret T. Setters
  • A Fall Break From the Gardens November 6, 2014
    This growing season’s been marked by extremes for me, extremes of both joy and loss. I don’t remember ever being as busy in my whole life as in the past six months, and now that it’s November it’s time to slow down. I’m taking a fall break from the gardens this week, I’m headed to […] We love hearing from you! Please click here to see all the beautiful photo […]
    Jesse Elwert
  • Is It Time to Take Down The Hummingbird Feeders? November 5, 2014
    How late should I leave my hummingbird feeders up in the fall? There is a myth among some wildlife gardeners that leaving your hummingbird feeders up too late in the fall will entice the hummingbirds to hang around when they should be migrating. But this is simply not true. Hummingbirds don’t decide to hang around […] We love hearing from you! Please click h […]
    Carole Sevilla Brown
  • Witch Hazel November 4, 2014
      The autumn bloomer. American witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. Blooming to catch the last of the lovely purple asters. The asters have been blooming for many weeks now, adding an unexpected color to the color scheme of fall. Their bloom time overlaps, just a bit – but I’m getting distracted. I want to tell you about American […] We love hearing from you! […]
    Brenda Clements Jones

#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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