5 Surprising Benefits of Growing Comfrey in Your Garden
Comfrey has long been valued in organic gardening circles, but many backyard gardeners are still unaware of this plant’s incredible benefits. As a dynamic accumulator with deep taproots, comfrey extracts nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants.
Adding comfrey to your garden can improve soil health, deter pests, attract pollinators, and provide nutrients when used as a fertilizer, mulch, or compost addition. Here are five reasons why this versatile herb deserves a spot in every garden.
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Comfrey Accumulates Nutrients Deep in the Soil
One of the comfrey’s most useful qualities is its ability to pull up nutrients from deep in the subsoil and concentrate them in its leaves. The plant has a long taproot that can grow over 10 feet deep, accessing minerals and nutrients that shallow-rooted plants cannot reach.
Research shows comfrey leaves are rich sources of major plant nutrients like:
This makes Comfrey an excellent dynamic accumulator. As a natural “nutrient pump,” comfrey can be grown as a permanent part of your garden’s ecosystem to help recycle minerals and prevent nutrient depletion in the topsoil.
There are several ways to harness the nutrient density of comfrey for your garden:
- Comfrey fertilizer – Make a nutritious liquid plant food by steeping chopped comfrey leaves in water for 2-4 weeks. Dilute this smelly but effective “comfrey tea” at a ratio of 1:20 and apply it to plants as a foliar feed or soil drench.
- Comfrey compost – Add fresh or dried comfrey leaves to your compost pile. As the leaves break down, they transfer their nutrients to the finished compost to boost its quality.
- Comfrey mulch – Cut comfrey leaves several times per season and spread them as living mulch around garden beds. As the leaves decompose, nutrients are released into the soil.
Comfrey Boosts Soil Health and Fertility
In addition to providing nutrients through its leaves, comfrey improves overall soil health in several ways:
- The plant’s deep, dense roots help break up compacted soils and create channels for better drainage and air circulation.
- As comfrey leaves decompose, they add organic matter which feeds soil microorganisms and improves the soil food web.
- Comfrey accumulates carbon in its tissues, helping rebuild soils in gardens that have been depleted through repeated cultivation.
- The mucilaginous sap in comfrey contains allantoin, which promotes cell growth. This stimulates beneficial mycorrhizal fungi associations in the root zones of nearby plants.
After growing comfrey for just a few seasons, you’ll notice improved soil texture, water retention, and fertility in the areas around the plants.
Comfrey Attracts Pollinators to the Garden
The bell-shaped flowers of comfrey attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators looking for nectar and pollen. Plant comfrey near your vegetables and fruit trees to draw pollinators into those areas and potentially increase fruit and seed production.
Some types of butterflies also utilize comfrey as a food plant for their larvae. The common blue butterfly lays its eggs on comfrey leaves, which the caterpillars then eat before forming their chrysalises. Planting comfrey can help sustain butterfly populations in your garden.
Comfrey Deters Common Garden Pests
There is research indicating that comfrey leaves contain certain bioactive compounds that help deter some common garden pests when applied as mulch or leaf extract.
For example, in lab and field studies, applying comfrey leaf extract to potato plants reduced infestations of aphids by as much as 95%. The natural chemicals in comfrey may confuse or repel aphids and prevent them from feeding on leaves and stems.
There is also evidence that spreading comfrey mulch around plants can lower the incidence of fungus gnats, slugs, and snails in home gardens. The abrasive leaf hairs seem to deter these soft-bodied pests from moving onto covered areas.
While not a pesticide replacement, comfrey shows promise as a natural pest management tool. Consider interplanting it near plants susceptible to aphids like brassicas or alliums.
Comfrey is Beneficial for Companion Planting
The benefits of comfrey make it an excellent companion plant for many edible and ornamental plants. Some proven plant pairings include:
- Tomatoes – Comfrey provides nutrients, may deter tomato hornworms, and attracts pollinators.
- Potatoes – Accumulated nutrients from comfrey improve potato crop yield and quality.
- Fruit trees – Comfrey fertilizer boosts fruit production and the flowers attract pollinators.
- Brassicas – Potential reduction in pest pressure from comfrey; enhanced nutrient availability.
To use comfrey as a companion plant, situate it within a few feet of the plants it will benefit. Or, plant comfrey directly underneath fruit trees so the fallen leaves and mulch feed the tree’s roots.
Prune the comfrey leaves frequently to get the most plant growth and nutrient accumulation for companion planting.
Growing Comfrey in Your Garden
Convinced it’s time to try comfrey? Here are some tips for getting started:
- Select a sunny to partly shaded spot with decent fertility and space for the comfrey to spread.
- Amend the soil with aged compost or manure before planting. Comfrey prefers nutrient-rich soil.
- Plant dormant root cuttings or divisions in spring after the last frost. Mature comfrey can reach 2-4 feet tall.
- Comfrey is hardy in zones 3-9. Provide winter mulch in colder climates.
- Harvest leaves by snapping them off near the crown. Don’t uproot the plant which can reduce productivity.
- Consider planting in an out-of-the-way spot or contained bed since comfrey spreads rapidly.
With a little care, comfrey will reward you for years to come with its bounty of leaves for fertilizer, mulch, and compost. Discover how this unsung hero can benefit your garden!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I propagate comfrey?
Comfrey is easily propagated by root cuttings or division in early spring. Cut off sections of the roots that have buds, and plant horizontally 2-3 inches deep. Comfrey also spreads via self-seeding.
Is comfrey invasive?
Comfrey’s rapid growth and self-seeding habits can lead to it becoming weedy. Contain comfrey by planting in a pot sunk into the ground or installing root barriers around in-ground plants.
Can you eat comfrey?
Yes, young comfrey leaves can be eaten cooked or blanched to remove toxins. But comfrey is mainly grown as an ornamental and soil-building plant rather than an edible.