How To Grow Comfrey in Australia

Getting Started with Comfrey

Before diving into the world of comfrey cultivation, it's important to get started on the right foot. This section will guide you through two essential steps: choosing the right comfrey variety and selecting the ideal growing location.

Choosing the Right Comfrey Variety

Comfrey comes in various varieties, each with its own unique characteristics. When selecting a comfrey variety, consider the purpose you have in mind for your plants. Some common comfrey varieties include:

  1. Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum): Also known as common comfrey, Russian comfrey is a popular choice for its high nutrient content and rapid growth. It is well-suited for composting or as a nutrient-rich mulch.
  2. Bocking 14 Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 14'): Developed by Lawrence D. Hills, the founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), Bocking 14 comfrey is a non-seeding variety. This makes it a practical choice for gardeners who want to prevent comfrey from spreading too aggressively.

Choose a variety that aligns with your gardening goals and the specific benefits you aim to derive from growing comfrey.

Selecting the Ideal Growing Location

Comfrey thrives in a variety of growing conditions, but choosing the right location is key to ensuring healthy and productive plants. Consider the following factors when selecting an ideal growing spot for your comfrey:

  1. Sunlight: Comfrey prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Aim for a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  2. Soil: Comfrey is adaptable to different soil types but thrives in well-draining soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Ensure that the soil is rich in organic matter and provides good drainage to promote healthy growth.
  3. Space: Comfrey plants can spread rapidly, so choose a location that allows for their expansive growth. Keep in mind that they can reach a height of 3-5 feet (90-150 cm) and spread up to 4 feet (120 cm) wide.
  4. Accessibility: Consider the accessibility of the comfrey patch for maintenance activities such as pruning and harvesting. Select a location that is easy to reach and work with.

By selecting the right comfrey variety and finding an ideal growing location, you are setting the stage for successful comfrey cultivation. In the next section, we will explore the steps involved in planting comfrey, so you can get started on your journey to growing this beneficial plant.

Planting Comfrey

Preparing the Soil for Comfrey

Before planting comfrey, it's essential to prepare the soil to provide the best growing conditions for this versatile herb. Comfrey thrives in rich, well-draining soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. Here are the steps to prepare the soil for comfrey:

  1. Choose the right location: Select a spot in your garden that receives full or partial sun throughout the day. Comfrey can tolerate shade but will grow best in sunny areas.
  2. Clear the area: Remove any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting area to ensure there is no competition for nutrients and space.
  3. Loosen the soil: Use a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of around 12 inches (30 cm). This helps to improve drainage and allows comfrey's deep roots to penetrate the soil easily.
  4. Amend the soil: Comfrey benefits from soil that is rich in organic matter. Incorporate well-rotted compost or aged manure into the soil to improve its fertility and structure. This will provide the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.
  5. Test the pH: Check the pH level of the soil using a pH testing kit. If the pH is below 6.0, you can raise it by adding agricultural lime. If the pH is above 7.0, you can lower it by adding organic matter such as peat moss or compost.
  6. Level and smooth the soil: Rake the soil to ensure it is level and smooth, creating a suitable bed for planting comfrey.

Planting Methods for Comfrey

Comfrey can be propagated from seeds, cuttings, or divisions. Here are the two common methods for planting comfrey:

  1. Seeds: Sow comfrey seeds directly into the prepared soil. Plant them at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm) and space them about 12 inches (30 cm) apart. Keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate, which usually takes around 10 to 14 days.
  2. Cuttings or divisions: To propagate comfrey using cuttings or divisions, select healthy mature plants and carefully dig them up. Divide the plant into smaller sections, ensuring each division has a healthy root system. Plant the divisions at a depth of about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) and space them 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart. Water the newly planted divisions thoroughly.

Remember to water the newly planted comfrey regularly, especially during dry periods, to help establish their root systems. Once established, comfrey is a low-maintenance herb that requires minimal care. For more information on caring for comfrey plants, refer to the section on Caring for Comfrey Plants in this guide.

By following these planting methods and providing the right soil conditions, you'll be well on your way to growing healthy and thriving comfrey plants in your garden.

Caring for Comfrey Plants

Once you have planted your comfrey, it's important to provide proper care to ensure healthy growth and maximize its benefits. This section will cover the watering and irrigation, fertilizing, and pruning and harvesting practices for comfrey plants.

Watering and Irrigation

Comfrey plants have deep root systems that allow them to access water from deep within the soil. However, it's still important to provide regular watering, especially during dry periods. Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Deep watering once or twice a week should be sufficient to keep your comfrey plants healthy.

To conserve moisture and reduce weed competition, consider applying a layer of organic mulch around your comfrey plants. This will help retain moisture in the soil and reduce the frequency of watering.

Fertilising Comfrey

Comfrey is known for its nutrient-rich leaves, which can be used as a natural fertiliser. However, to ensure vigorous growth and abundant foliage, it's beneficial to provide additional nutrients to your comfrey plants.

Before planting comfrey, prepare the soil by incorporating well-rotted organic matter or compost. This will help provide a nutrient-rich environment for your plants. Additionally, you can supplement with a balanced organic fertiliser once or twice a year, following the instructions on the product label.

Avoid over-fertilizing comfrey, as excessive nitrogen can lead to more foliage growth and less flower production. Remember to maintain a balanced approach to ensure optimal plant health.

Pruning and Harvesting Comfrey

Comfrey plants have a vigorous growth habit and can quickly become large and bushy. Regular pruning is essential to maintain the plant's shape and productivity.

To encourage continuous growth and prevent the plants from becoming woody, prune comfrey back to around 6 inches above the ground after each harvest. This will help stimulate new leaf growth and ensure a fresh supply of comfrey leaves throughout the growing season.

When it comes to harvesting comfrey, you can start harvesting the leaves once the plant has become established and has sufficient foliage. Harvesting can be done by cutting the leaves at the base of the plant, leaving a few leaves behind to allow for regrowth. The leaves can be used for various purposes, such as making comfrey tea or as a natural fertiliser.

Remember to handle comfrey leaves with care, as the plant contains compounds that can cause skin irritation in some individuals. It's advisable to wear gloves when handling comfrey leaves.

By providing proper care to your comfrey plants, including regular watering, appropriate fertilisation, and timely pruning and harvesting, you can enjoy healthy and productive comfrey plants in your garden. Harness the benefits of comfrey as a natural fertiliser, mulch, or compost ingredient, and watch your garden thrive.

Common Issues and Solutions

Growing comfrey in Australia can be a rewarding experience, but like any plant, comfrey can face certain challenges. In this section, we will explore two common issues that you may encounter when growing comfrey: dealing with pests and diseases, and handling comfrey overgrowth.

Dealing with Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can pose a threat to the health of your comfrey plants. While comfrey is generally resistant to many common pests and diseases, it's important to be vigilant and take appropriate measures to prevent any potential issues.

Pests: Some pests that may affect comfrey include aphids, slugs, and snails. To control these pests, you can try natural methods such as introducing beneficial insects, like ladybugs, or using organic pest control solutions. Regularly inspect your plants for signs of infestation and take action promptly.

Diseases: Comfrey is relatively resistant to diseases, but it can occasionally be susceptible to fungal infections such as powdery mildew. To prevent diseases, ensure proper air circulation around your comfrey plants by spacing them appropriately. If you notice any signs of disease, remove and dispose of the affected parts to prevent further spread.

Handling Comfrey Overgrowth

Comfrey is a vigorous plant that can quickly spread and take over an area if left unchecked. While the rapid growth can be beneficial for mulching and soil improvement, it's important to manage comfrey to prevent it from becoming invasive.

Containment: To control comfrey's growth, consider planting it in containers or raised beds. This will help limit its spread and make it easier to manage. Regularly trim back the leaves and stems to prevent overgrowth.

Root Barrier: Another method to contain comfrey is by installing a root barrier around the planting area. This can be done by sinking a barrier material, such as thick plastic or metal, into the ground to prevent the roots from spreading beyond a certain point.

Regular Harvesting: Harvesting comfrey regularly can also help control its growth. By cutting back the leaves and stems, you not only prevent overgrowth but also encourage the plant to produce new growth. Harvesting comfrey is a great opportunity to utilise its leaves for mulching, composting, or making comfrey tea, which can be used as a natural fertiliser.

By addressing pest and disease issues promptly and implementing strategies to manage comfrey's growth, you can ensure a healthy and thriving comfrey patch in your garden. Remember to stay observant, take action when necessary, and enjoy the benefits of growing comfrey in Australia.

Comfrey in the Garden

Comfrey is not only a valuable herb for its medicinal properties but also a beneficial addition to any garden. Its deep-rooted nature and nutrient-rich properties make it an excellent choice for various garden applications. Let's explore how comfrey can be used in the garden as mulch, fertiliser, and compost.

Comfrey as Mulch

Comfrey leaves can be used as a natural mulch in the garden. As a mulch, comfrey provides several benefits. It helps to suppress weed growth by blocking sunlight and preventing weed seeds from germinating. Additionally, the dense foliage of comfrey acts as a protective layer, helping to conserve moisture in the soil and reduce water evaporation. This is particularly beneficial during hot and dry periods.

To use comfrey as mulch, simply lay the leaves around the base of your plants, leaving a gap around the stem to prevent rot. As the leaves break down, they contribute valuable nutrients to the soil, promoting healthy plant growth. The high levels of potassium in comfrey leaves are particularly beneficial for flowering and fruiting plants. Remember to remove any diseased or damaged leaves before mulching to prevent the spread of pests or diseases.

Comfrey as a Fertiliser

Comfrey is renowned for its ability to accumulate nutrients in its leaves. By making a comfrey fertiliser, you can harness these nutrients and provide a nutrient-rich boost to your plants. The high levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus make comfrey fertilizer an excellent choice for promoting healthy growth and flowering.

To make comfrey fertiliser, you can follow these simple steps:

  1. Harvest comfrey leaves, avoiding any damaged or diseased parts.
  2. Chop the leaves into small pieces to accelerate the decomposition process.
  3. Place the chopped leaves in a container or bucket.
  4. Add water to cover the leaves.
  5. Cover the container and let it sit for 3 to 4 weeks, stirring occasionally.
  6. After the fermentation period, strain the liquid into another container, and the resulting liquid is your comfrey fertiliser.
  7. Dilute the comfrey fertiliser with water at a ratio of 1:10 (1 part fertiliser to 10 parts water).
  8. Use the diluted fertiliser to water your plants, applying it directly to the soil around the base of the plants.

Remember to wear gloves and take caution when handling comfrey, as it can cause skin irritation in some individuals. You can read more guides about what to plant in Australia in our A-Z guides. 

Comfrey in Compost

Comfrey leaves can also be used to enhance the quality of your compost. Adding comfrey to your compost pile accelerates the decomposition process and helps create nutrient-rich compost. The high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of comfrey leaves helps to balance the compost, ensuring optimal conditions for decomposition.

To incorporate comfrey into your compost, simply layer the leaves with other organic materials, such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and other plant matter. The decomposition process will break down the comfrey leaves, releasing their nutrients into the compost. Remember to maintain a proper balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials to ensure successful composting.

By utilising comfrey as mulch, fertiliser, and compost, you can maximise its benefits in your garden. Experiment with different applications and observe the positive impact comfrey has on your plants' health and overall garden ecosystem. For more information on growing other vegetables and herbs in Australia, check out our articles on how to grow samphire in Australia, how to grow nasturtiums in Australia, and how to grow marigold in Australia.

Previous article How To Grow Lettuce in Australia