Lunar logic: planting by the moon

by Xanthe White / 26 May, 2012
Can planting by the moon improve the results in your garden?

Most people will have noticed this month’s brilliant supermoon as it loomed 30,000km closer to Earth. A full moon at perigee is up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than one at its furthest point (apogee), according to Nasa. The moon’s proximity to Earth creates a stunning effect in the night sky, but it also pulls the tides higher. For centuries, people have used the moon to guide them through the gardening calendar and to calculate when and what to plant. It is, of course, an obvious reference point if you have no other way of passing accurate gardening knowledge down from one generation to the next. But is there more to the moon’s influence than just being a timekeeper? Is it possible that by synchronising your planting to its monthly cycle, you can improve your gardening?

Moon gardening is not, as it romantically sounds, a matter of wandering around your flowerbeds under the glow of the night sky, although there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. The tradition is based mainly on two basic principles. First, the moon’s ability to draw and release water as it does with the tides. Second, the changes in reflected sunlight that plants receive from the moon, depending on its fullness. The first part of the cycle is the waxing moon, the period between new moon and full, when the moon’s light is increasing. This is when its gravitational pull is greatest and tides are at their most full. The second part of the cycle is when the moon is waning, from full to new moon, the period when both the intensity of light and the pull on water are weakest.

The first quarter, which occurs in the waxing period, is considered the period of growth. This it the time to concentrate on the upward movement of plants or tasks that require water and light. At the start of this period, it’s advisable to plant or sow seeds that are productive above ground. This includes everything from beans and flowers to fruit trees. It is also an excellent time to take cuttings. Grafting, too, requires a strong flow of water through the stems.

Root crops, on the other hand, should not be planted in this period, as the rising water will enhance top growth at the expense of root development. Towards the end of May, liquid fertilisers are supposed to work with increased efficiency, which is in line with this philosophy. If water is being drawn through most efficiently, any added nutrient should be well distributed.

Of course, most crops will go through several cycles of the moon before being ready to harvest, but the emphasis is on that first stage of germination as plants will be hardier if they get a good start in life. As the waxing cycle moves towards the full moon, planting and sowing should ease off, because as growth increases, smaller plants that haven’t yet branched will become stretched and spindly. Concentrate on tilling new soil, mulching to retain moisture and restricting weeds that will be growing with equal vigour in this period. When the moon begins to wane, the sap and water flow in plants reduces, so it’s a good time to harvest, which also lessens the load a plant has to carry through this phase. After the growth of the previous period, this is when crops should be at their most plump.

It’s also an opportune time to prune. Plants are in a less-active growth phase, so cuts will heal over before the new flush of growth in the upcoming cycle. Putting your energy into weeding is most beneficial at this time, as weeds are growing more slowly and their seeds are less likely to germinate. As the last quarter ends and the new moon is approaching, root crops can be sown. If you imagine the tides pulling out and water drawing downward, this is when strong roots will establish, ready for the second quarter when growth is active. This is also a great time for sowing lawn, as strong roots are needed to support the constant fast growth. As the moon enters the last cycle and the new moon begins, we can either take a breather or cultivate the beds ready for another succession of growth. Boost the soil with compost and sheep pellets ready for an increased uptake.

Of course, nothing in nature occurs in isolation and it would be foolish to base your gardening decisions entirely on the moon’s cycle. You will still need to take note of cold snaps, storms, wet periods, droughts and the quality of seeds, and watch out for pests and diseases. But when you consider the power of the light in the sky and the moon’s ability to drag and draw the immense weight of an ocean, it seems foolhardy to ignore the infl uence of such a gravitational force on the cycle of growth in our gardens.


First Quarter

  • Sow and plant foliage and fruiting crops

  • Sow and plant flowering plants

  • Do grafting

  • Take cuttings

  • Apply liquid fertilisers (towards the end of May)

Full Moon

  • Prepare new beds

  • Seedlings planted now will be spindly as the growth is fastest

Last Quarter

  • Sow root crops

  • Harvest produce

  • Manage weeds

  • Sow grass (it will establish strong roots in this period)

New Moon

  • Prepare new beds ready for the first quarter

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