Gardening By the Moon – A Lost Tradition


Our modern world has far too many changes and complexities to speak about.  We race to get ahead from a technological standpoint, thinking that we can improve things by using automation and electronics.  Usually that scenario comes true, but not always.  Sometimes we can find improvements in our processes by looking to the past and reviving time-tested practices. Gardening by the moon is one of those ‘lost arts’ that falls into the latter category. It’s a simple technique which can be implemented by anyone, even those who are inexperienced when it comes to growing.

This article discusses traditional gardening by the moon, which focuses decision-making based on the phases of the moon.  This technique has been confused with a similar technique which focuses more on the position of the moon in the 12 zodiac signs in addition to the moon phase.  The latter technique can be found on many astrological sites, or possibly sites that highlight “best days” for doing everything from gardening to fishing, to getting dental work.

Why Gardening By the Moon?

The basic premise supporting Gardening by the Moon, is that the cycles of the moon affect plant growth.  Understanding that the gravitational pull from the moon causes the rising and falling tides, it also affects the moisture level in the ground.  More moisture will be pulled to the surface of the soil during the full moon and the new moon, which will cause seeds to absorb more.  The results are a higher germination percentage rate and healthier plants, right from the start.

Lunar Planting Guide

Gardening by the moon focuses on four distinct phases, with the first two occurring during the waxing phase (when the moon is increasing in size) and the latter two in the waning phase (when the moon is diminishing in size).  During the waxing phase, the water table is rising and it’s the time to plant.  Use the time during the waning phase to weed, prune, or thin out crops or herbs.  Growers who practice gardening by the moon swear that following the lunar planting guide produces higher yields and keeps row crops from going to seed as quickly.

As the moon enters the waxing phase, plant vegetables that grow above ground and annuals.  This includes corn, squash, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and other leafy items.  Herbs such as basil, feverfew, borage, and many other leafy herbs should be planted during this window. About halfway through the waxing phase, sow plants that form internal seeds, such as green beans, wax beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, edamame, and pumpkins.

Once the moon becomes full, everything changes.  Growth begins to slow as the water table starts dropping. This is the best phase for planting root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, beets and onions.  Plant perennial and biennial flowers and bulbs as well as herbs planted for their roots, such as valerian or burdock, at this time period as well.  As the moonlight decreases night by night, plants are encouraged to grow roots, tubers, and bulbs.  Try to accomplish all planting in the earlier half of this phase.  In the days preceding the new moon, don’t do any planting, allow your newly planted gardens to rest.

Gardening by the Moon – After You’ve Sowed Your Seeds

The waning phase of the moon is better for pruning and weeding.  With the lower water table, sap and plant juices run slower and your plants will lose less moisture if you cut them during this phase.  Clearing weeds during this period is critical to minimize any spreading when the moisture level is higher in the waxing phase.

Harvesting vegetables is recommended from the midpoint of the waxing phase until the full moon.  With the moisture being at it’s peak, you’ll get a juicy and luscious harvest.

The best time to harvest herbs (above ground ones) is on or in the few days after the full moon, when the sap is high, but the energy is turning downward.  With moisture flowing down into the roots rather than the leafy part of the plane, they will be easier and quicker to dry.

Geotropism – A Broader Understanding of Gardening by the Moon

Geotropism is the response of a plant to the stimulus of gravity; in layman’s terms, it means that plants use the force of gravity to orient themselves.  The roots will grow into the soil (in the direction of the gravitational pull) while the stalks grow in the opposite direction against gravity and towards the light.

This process happens everywhere, but most people don’t pay attention to it because they assume the plants always grow in the direction of sunlight, when it’s actually a combination of the two.  A simple test can prove this.  You can take a garden bulb and plant it pointed side down (opposite of how it is supposed to be planted).  Even though it is underground and in complete darkness, it will turn around and grow upward, thus demonstrating geotropism.

Additional Reading Resources

The Farmer’s Almanac has a great Growing Guide to review.

To learn more about herbs, please check out the Herb page on this site, or our newly launched sister site, Idaho Sacred Herbs.


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