Planting by the Light of the Moon, Pt. 1

A Guide to Lunar Planting:

Scheduling Farming and Gardening Tasks According to the Moon’s Phases

Moon - Lunar Planting

Part 1 – The Phases of the Moon

In this age of seemingly constant technological advances, it is easy to forget
that the moon was once a guiding force in the everyday lives of most people –
and to some, it still is. A lot of ancient beliefs about the moon are pure
superstition, but many others, especially those concerned with planting and
other farming and gardening tasks, have been shown to be at least partially
true. The gravitational pull of the moon upon Earth actually does have
physical effects, such as controlling tidal cycles and causing pressure changes
in both subterranean aquifers and the internal fluid systems of plants. Many
contemporary farmers and gardeners would not think of undertaking planting or
harvesting activities without first consulting an astronomical calendar.

For those who hold by these tenets, doing the right thing at the right time can
make all the difference in the world. Knowing whether the moon is waxing or
waning, between Full Moon and New Moon or vice versa, or in its First Quarter
or Last Quarter phase can make or break a successful growing season, or so
lunar planters and harvesters believe. And it seems they have a valid point. An
article appearing in the scientific journal ‘Biological Agriculture and
Horticulture’ synthesized the findings of previous studies and concludes that,
indeed, ‘lunar factors may have a practical significance for agriculture’.

The Pull of the Moon

The moon is the nearest celestial body to the Earth and its gravity greatly
affects Earth, exerting a pulling force that is quite strong. This force controls, to a great degree, the tidal action of oceans, soil moisture levels, and the delicate balance of water and other fluids in the internal systems of plants. The effects of lunar gravitational pull are strongest when the moon is
closest to the Earth – during the new moon and full moon phases of the lunar cycle. The pull is strong during the new moon, when the moon is between the Earth and the sun, but even stronger during a full moon because both the moon and the sun are exerting gravitational influences from opposite sides of the Earth.

Oceanic tides are highest during a full moon and new moon because of the moon’s gravity. So are soil moisture levels and the ability of plants and seeds to absorb moisture, which is why these moon phases are considered good times to do general plantings and seed sowing. Seeds germinate best and plants grow fastest during new and full moons. Researchers have found that this is true even in experiments conducted in laboratories where the plants were never directly exposed to the moon.

Phases of the Moon
The moon, like Earth, has one-half of its surface illuminated by the sun at any one time. We see different portions of the moon’s illuminated surface at different times, due to the orbital rotation of the moon around Earth and to the rotation of Earth on its axis. The phases of the moon correspond with and describe the ever-changing visible portions of its surface. The moon rises in the east and sets in the west, about 50 minutes later each day. It takes 29.5  days for the moon to orbit Earth and complete all its phases, moving gradually  eastward at a rate imperceptible to the naked eye. Together the phases of the moon are known as a “lunar cycle” or, to astronomers, a “lunation”. The first phase of each lunation is the new moon.

New Moon

During this phase, also called the “dark of the moon”, the moon is almost
directly between the Earth and the sun. The moon is nearly invisible, with its
lit half facing almost entirely away from Earth. A new moon, like all moon
phases, occurs about once a month. On rare occasions, a solar eclipse may occur
during a new moon, if the moon is positioned exactly between the sun and Earth.
A new moon rises and sets with the sun, and shadows it across the daytime sky.

During a new moon, soil moisture levels are high and plants and seeds absorb water very well. The result is that the new moon phase of the lunar cycle is a time of balanced leaf and root growth. According to lunar folklore, new moons are a good time to plant above-ground crops and crops that bear their seeds outside the fruit. Examples include grains, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, and celery. Plants that are transplanted or repotted during a new moon tend to do well because of the soil moisture available in this phase.

Waxing Crescent Moon

waxing crescent moon
Waxing Cresecent Moon

A waxing moon occurs when the lit portion of the moon appears to be growing successively larger each evening as it progresses from a new moon to a full moon and back to a new moon. Waxing crescent moons can be seen between one and  several days following the new moon. Waxing crescent moons are called “right-hand moons”, because they appear similar to the curved edge of a right hand. Some also call them “young moons”. Waxing crescent moons are always seen in the west after sunset. They rise from one to several hours after sunset and set a few hours after sunrise.

First Quarter Moon

first quarter moon
First Quarter Moon

A first quarter moon occurs about a week after a new moon. It appears as a semicircle, like the letter “D” – half of the side of the moon facing Earth is illuminated, and half is in shadow. This moon phase takes its name from the fact that the moon has now completed 1/4 of its orbit around Earth (as measured from new moon to new moon). Because half the moon’s face is lit, some people call this a “half moon”. First quarter moons rise at noon and set at midnight.

The first quarter is a good time for general planting – especially two days prior to the full moon. A first quarter moon is considered to be a very fruitful period and a time of vigorous leaf growth. It is also supposed to be the absolute best time to plant corn. If you want your lawn to grow faster, mow it during this phase. Crops that do well when sown during a first quarter moon include above-ground annuals with seeds that grow inside fruit, like tomatoes, beans, melons, peppers, squash, and peas.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Waxing Gibbous Moon

“Gibbous” refers to those phases where more than one-half of the moon’s visible surface is illuminated – in between the last quarter and new moon or the first
quarter and full moon. A waxing gibbous moon appears in the eastern sky after sunset and looks nearly full. It occurs between one and two weeks after a new moon. Waxing gibbous moons are often visible during the day.


Full Moon

Full moons rise around sunset and set in the morning at about sunrise. They occur about two weeks following the new moon and mark the completion of half the lunar cycle (1/2 a lunation). During the full moon phase, the moon is on the opposite of the Earth from the sun and is positioned in such a way as to reflect sunlight across its entire Earth-facing side. Needless to say, a full moon is the brightest, longest-lasting phase of the lunar cycle.

Lunar planting guides say that the full moon is a good time to transplant and
repot plants, and that root crops harvested during a full moon will keep
longer. Because of increased soil moisture and uptake of water by plant tissues
and seeds, full moons are also a very good time for general planting and sowing
of seeds.

Waning Gibbous Moon
“Waning” describes any phase where the visible part of the moon’s illuminated
surface is growing smaller, from a full moon to a crescent moon, eventually
passing into the new moon phase. This visible portion is smaller each night,
moving from right to left. Waning moons are called “left-hand moons”, because
they appear similar to the curved edge of a left hand. Waning gibbous moons
rise several hours after sunset, often appearing orange or red and abnormally
large when near the horizon, both of which are optical illusions. Waning
gibbous moons set hours after sunrise and therefore can usually be seen well
into the morning hours in the western sky.

Last Quarter Moon
When one-half of the moon’s face is lit, it is called a “quarter moon”. A last
quarter moon occurs approximately three weeks after a new moon and one week
after a full moon, when the moon has completed about three-fourths if its
journey around Earth. A last quarter moon rises around midnight and sets
around noon. It appears in the sky as a backward “D”.

According to lunar folklore, timber should be cut during the quarter moon,
because it will dry and cure better and be more resistant to insects, mold, and
fungus. The lessened gravitational pull of the moon and decreasing moonlight
suggest that this is a period of rest, which continues until the next new moon.
This is a great time to clear brush, cut trees, kill weeds or pests, harvest,
and prune.

Waning Crescent Moon
A waning crescent moon is the final moon phase before the new moon – the lunar
cycle is nearly complete. Waning crescent moons rise in the east a few hours
before sunrise – if you are not an early riser yourself, you may never see one.
Waning crescent moons stay in the sky all day, but are not visible against the
glare of the sun. They set a few hours (or less) before the sun.

Waning crescent moons mark the most dormant time of the month in terms of plant
growth. Like a last quarter moon, activities like weeding, pruning, harvesting,
and so forth should be conducted during a waning crescent moon. This is the
best time to till soil, in part because it is easier due to the fact that soil
moisture is lower during this phase. If you would like to reduce your lawn’s
growing rate, this is the time to mow it.

Hair Moon

One final non-agricultural, yet extremely important, note is that unbeknownst
to most of us, the phases of the moon can also affect our hair. Although
researchers have not yet been able to prove this, we at feel that
it is only a matter of time before they do. Just as the moon’s gravity causes
increases or decreases in plant and soil moisture, so it does to our hair. What
this means is that if you normally have frizzy hair, expect it to be frizzier
during new and full moons. On the other hand, if you have dry, flyaway hair,
expect these to be your best hair days. Just like mowing your lawn, cut your
hair during a last quarter or waning crescent moon to retard its growth and
during the first quarter to encourage it. Even though this may be slightly
off-topic, we thought it important to impart to you this crucial information.

Increasing crop yields by planning agricultural and gardening activities around
the lunar calendar is certainly more than an old wives’ tale. Scientific
studies and experiments have shown this procedure to be highly effective and a
very useful tool for farmers and gardeners alike. We know that the effects of
the moon on plants are due to its gravity, which pulls on the water and other
fluids of Earth. What we don’t know is why the position of the moon relative to
signs and constellations of the Zodiac affects certain kinds of plants in
different – and often amazing – ways.

In Parts 2 and 3, we’ll explore these effects and offer some
more general tips on planting by the moon.