Could you please explain the notion of planting and gardening according to the cycles of the moon? Is there really anything to this?
Renata Jones, Palo Alto, CA
Moon gardeners believe plants do better when set out at the right time. The phase of the moon determines whether energy and nutrients are directed above or below ground.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
Steve Silk, a Fine Gardening contributing editor and collector of gardening folklore, replies: Gardeners who plot their planting according to the phases of the moon are not part of the lunatic fringe. It’s no secret that the moon’s gravitational forces, cyclical though they are, exert a powerful pull upon earthly bodies of water, from the rising and falling tides of the sea, to the ebb and flow of water and nutrients through every leaf, flower, and stem of a plant.
Accordingly, proponents of moon gardening believe that there are optimal times in the lunar cycle to sow seeds, transplant, fertilize, take cuttings, and pull weeds. At its simplest level, the idea is to use the waxing moon, from the new moon to the full moon, to put in plants with lots of aboveground growth, fruits, and flowers. Increasing gravitational forces are believed to draw nutrients upward, like a rising tide.
As the moon wanes, from the full moon to the last quarter, plant anything that requires a large root network or underground storage system—like bulbs, tubers, biennials, and many perennials. As the gravitational forces decline, liquids are said to retreat to the lower parts of plants. During the last phase of the moon, from the last quarter to the new moon, don’t plant anything. Instead, pull weeds; those plucked at this time are considered less likely to regrow.
Serious adherents of moon gardening also factor the passage of the moon through the zodiac into their planting schedule. They believe the best planting conditions occur when the moon is in an appropriate phase and in the house of a zodiac sign that is considered fruitful, such as Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus, Capricorn, or Virgo.
Though many ancient cultures revered the moon as a symbol of fertility, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that gardening governed by astronomical phases is any more or less effective than random planting. But it’s hard to dismiss techniques developed long, long ago in human history and passed down from generation to generation. The Old Farmer’s Almanac uses these lunar cycles to develop its calendars for garden chores, and it has plenty of satisfied customers who come back year after year.
Why not draw your own conclusion? Grow a variety of seeds, bulbs, and transplants started under optimal lunar conditions alongside the same variety of plants begun in the wrong phase of the lunar cycle, and compare the results. You just might learn there’s a reason the full moon in May is often called the Flower Moon.