Gardening by the Moon: How the Moon can make flora and fauna flourish

By Hayley White

Reading time: 15 minutes 

The Feat of Gardening

How so well a gardener be,
Here he may both hear & see
Every time of the year & of the month
And how the craft shall be done
In what manner he shall delve & set
Both in drought and in wet

By Hayley White 

Reading time: 15 minutes 

The Feat of Gardening

How so well a gardener be,
Here he may both hear & see
Every time of the year & of the month
And how the craft shall be done
In what manner he shall delve & set
Both in drought and in wet
How he shall his seeds sow
Of every month he most know
Both of worts and of leek
Onions and of garlic
Parsley, clary and also sage
And all other herbage

–  John Gardener (c. 1440)

The above poem is the earliest record of gardening techniques used in the Medieval era. It paints a picture of using the Moon at certain times of the month to ascertain when to plant crops.

In ancient times, people had to understand a lot about the world in order to survive, especially, when to plant their crops. We all know that plants need sunlight to grow. But what some people do not know – and this included me – is that the Moon is also essential to the growing process.

‘Gardening by the Moon’ is a concept that has been around for millennia, and it is argued that the lunar cycle used as a calendar in the sky was the first thing human observed which helped them understand and connect with the natural world. Astrological agriculture, as it is sometimes called, takes centre stage in many ancient cultures.

Ancient Babylonian people were said to use the Moon as a marker of when to when to sow seed, plant new crops, and when to fertilise them. The same can be said for Ancient Mediterranean and Mesopotamian people who also used the Moon’s phases to keep track of how their crops were progressing. Ancient Greek sources show their agricultural lunar cycle was divided into three phases: the waxing Moon, the mid-month, and the waning Moon. Roman authors paid particular attention to the waxing and waning Moon. Iwaniszewski (2006) states that these societies were completely different and created distinct planting rules to follow their separate lunar systems.

It was common practice in Polynesian cultures to have monthly calendars, called Maramataka, based on the phases of the Moon. They formed the pillars on which Polynesian cultural life and community stood. The Maramataka worked as a marker of appropriate times for certain activities, the most important one being food gathering and preparation like plant harvesting and catching fish. When the Polynesian Maramataka came to Aotearoa, our ancestors had to adapt to the Southern hemisphere’s sky, climate, and seasons (Clarke, Roberts, Weko, 2006).

Photo: Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash

For many folk cultures, the idea that the Moon affects plants comes from its association with the human body. Almost all ancient and modern societies associate the Moon with fertility, believing her to be closely linked to the biological function of a woman. They believe the Moon determines the length of menstrual cycles and the average length of pregnancy in terms of the lunar count (Iwaniszewski, 2006). Because of this, it seems natural that if the Moon has such a strong influence with human fertility, then it must also have the same with plants.

Scientists today are a bit sceptical about gardening by the Moon; but there has been a myriad of studies to show that it works. Kolisko (1935) proved that the phase of the Moon at the time of sowing influences the period and percentage of germination, and the growth of the plant (Beeson, 1946).

It all comes down to the way in which the Moon controls the flow of water. The Moon has a gravitational pull that generates something called tidal force. The Moon’s tidal force pulls our oceans towards it, creating a high tide. This translates into how the Moon influences water movement in soils and plants, too. Scientists have hypothesised how the Moon’s gravitational pull affects the soil’s moisture levels and the movement of sap within the plants themselves. The four different phases of the Moon – new Moon, waxing Moon, full Moon, and waning Moon – all affect the way plants grow.

The waxing Moon is where she is moving towards being full. This phase generally lasts 10 days and has many meanings attached. For the French and the Americans, it is a time when energy starts increasing and plant sap is drawn upwards. This means that stem and leaf growth is improved as the sap flows up the plant. Classical Roman metaphors describe the waxing Moon as hot and humid, good for planting, sowing, and woodcutting.

Below is a list of tasks to do during the waxing Moon to help ensure the success of your garden (alongside plenty of watering, of course!):

  • Plant short-lived plants from which you would typically harvest the leaves, seeds, flowers, or fruits
  • Foliar fertilise. This means use fertiliser that is designed to be applied to the leaves of a plant
  • Tip-prune or pinch-prune (cut or pull off the tips) of each plant to encourage new shoots and a bushier plant with more stems
  • Plant or move flowering annuals that require replanting every year (like petunias, begonias, and marigolds), biennials that complete their life cycle every two seasons, using the first season to produce stems, roots, and leaves, and the second season to produce fruits, seeds, and flowers (like carrots, brussels sprouts, grains, grasses, melons, and green manure crops such as clover and mustard)
  • Apply liquid fertilisers that are taken up into the plant quickly
  • Graft new plants (by putting two plants together to create a new plant) because higher sap flow will increase growth
  • Plant seeds while moisture is closer to the soil surface.

 

The full Moon has been praised as the most beautiful celestial body and has inspired many a story and song. During a full Moon, we see it at its maximum light, with Earth being directly between the Sun and Moon. This phase lasts 4 days and is when the Moon pulls in the highest tides, pulls moisture to the surface of the soil, and starts to push plant sap downwards to direct energy to the roots. A lot of plants and other living things reach peak energy now, and this is possibly why some people tend to go a bit ‘crazy’ on a full Moon.

Photo: Neven Krcmarek, Unsplash

The Municipality of Ginatilan of Cebu, Philippines has many different planting beliefs based around the full Moon – most importantly for coconuts and bananas. Coconuts are planted on the December full Moon because it is believed that in the last month of the year, the coconut tree will not grow very tall and the coconuts will grow large, plentiful, and round – like the Moon. The banana tree is planted then, too, because, likewise, it is believed that the tree will not grow too tall, and fruit will be “fat and full” like the Moon. To plant a banana tree in a waning or waxing Moon will cause “thin” and “flat” fruit (Trosdal, 1975).

 

 

To get the most out of the full Moon, you can do these things to make sure your plants prosper:

  • Plant or sow root crops like beetroots, onions, and potatoes
  • Plant microgreens and edible sprouts as the seeds absorb the most water now
  • Plant perennials (evergreen plants that survive winter and grow back year-round like apple and lemon trees, shrubs, vines, bulbs, strawberries, asparagus, and lawn grasses)
  • Take cuttings, divide plants, and conduct plant transplants as it is an excellent time for root growth
  • Prune dormant plants
  • Harvest

 

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti, Unsplash

The waning Moon is the lunar phase where the moonlight, energy, and gravitational pull of the Moon decreases. It is the polar opposite of the waxing Moon. This phase lasts 9 days and is considered a fairly dormant period of the plant cycle. If it’s believed that plants prosper and grow in the waxing Moon, then plants in the waning Moon will wither and die. French and American farmers believed that the sap descends during the waning Moon, and ancient Romans believed that the waning Moon was cold and damp, good for harvesting and woodcutting (Iwaniszewski, 2006). Though this is the time when the garden is resting, gardeners are not. Soil improvement is important during this lunar phase, so that when the energy is refreshed there is nutrition for the plants to grow again. It is considered the most opportune time for cutting hard wood trees for construction, as the wood is thought to be resistant to fungi and insects (Zürcher, 2011).

As this is a low-energy time for your plants, this is what you can focus on:

  • Avoid above-ground crops
  • Add microbial solution to your soil
  • Add soil fertiliser
  • Harvest your crops for longest shelf life; the longer you leave your crops during this time the more likely they are to rot (this is a direct result of the sap flowing down into the roots of the plant)
  • Take cuttings and divide plants
  • Improve soil – weed, mulch, and make compost and manure teas
  • Prune shrubs and vines
  • Root crops and bulbs can be planted because sap flow is still drawn to the roots.

 

As the new Moon comes around, this is when her energy is at its lowest. During the 4 days of the new Moon, it is perfectly aligned between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon is lit up on its far side so we cannot see the reflection. This is also a good time to focus on preparing the soil. Gravity pulls up both tides and water, and this causes moisture to rise to the surface of the soil. The new Moon is a static phase; not much is happening, but root and leaf growth are good, and seeds are given a healthier start because the moisture is better absorbed.

Because plant growth is at somewhat of a standstill during the new Moon, this is what can be done:

  • Apply liquid fertilisers
  • Plant vegetables that crop above ground but that do not have seeds, like broccoli and cabbage
  • Plant crops where we eat the stems and leaves, like lettuce, celery, and spinach
  • Plant grains and flowering annuals, and sow annual grasses
  • Prune your plants.

 

One of the biggest things to keep in mind if you are thinking of gardening by the Moon is that you should not water or tamper with your plants for 12 hours before the next Moon phase. This gives your plants enough time to differentiate between phases and move through the stages mentioned above.

Gardening by the Moon was essential for ancient and medieval civilisations. These civilisations needed their crops to survive, so following traditions that stemmed from their ancestor’s dependence on the stars was second nature. Scientists still debate whether gardening by the Moon is relevant because of its links to ancient astrology. While it is always useful to take things with a grain of salt, I think thousands of years’ worth of successful crops planted by these ancient people speaks for itself. If you want to try gardening by the Moon, lunar calendars can be found everywhere – even on calendars themselves! But what is even better is taking a step outside, breathing in the fresh air, and looking at the sky as you connect with nature. No matter what, the Moon is smiling down on you and on your budding garden.

 

Sources: 1. The Moon and Plant Growth, nature.com 2. Counting lunar phase cycles in Mesoamerica. Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy 3. Planting Guide: Moon cycles, insectsandorganicgardening.com.au 4. Maramataka: The Maori moon calendar, Lincoln University 5. Cebuanco Folk Beliefs and Customs Connected with Planting. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 6. Plants and the Moon – Traditions and Phenomena. HerbalEGram 

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