Planting (and Harvesting) Under the Light of the Silvery Moon

From Associated Press

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, for no apparent reason, seedlings take longer than usual to poke through the soil? Or that transplants sometimes get off to a rousing start right after planting, while other times they sit for a while before growing?

Are plants so fickle?

Perhaps it’s the moon.

There’s an old saying: “Plant potatoes by the dark of the moon.”


Some gardeners believe that the best times for garden activities are dictated by the phases of the moon. Not that your garden will be a flop otherwise, but rather, as one moon gardener says, you should “take advantage of the impetus provided by nature.”

For those who choose to plant by moonlight, instructions are more refined today, even taking into consideration the zodiac. And planting is not the only activity covered. There are days (and nights) that are supposed to be ideal for fertilizing, for mowing the lawn, for harvesting--even for making pickles.

If you just want to dabble in “moon gardening,” detailed instructions can be distilled into two general rules:

* The period from two days before to seven days after the new moon is best for planting seeds that sprout very quickly or very slowly.


* The time from the full moon to seven days later is best for transplanting and sowing seeds that sprout in a moderately long time.

The moon’s influence might come from its gravity, light or magnetism. Lunar gravity is supposed to promote leaf growth and inhibit root growth. That’s why seedlings should establish well if transplanted during the third quarter, when decreasing moonlight and tidal pull slows leaf growth and stimulates root growth.

Is there any scientific basis for reckoning with the phases of the moon when gardening? Yes and no.

The theory has basic weak points. Ocean tides occur because gravitational attraction is a function distance and there is a differential pull of lunar (and solar) gravity between the side of the Earth closest and the side farthest from the moon. But the two sides of a seed are only a fraction of an inch different in distance from the moon, so “tidal” effects in seeds are negligible.


On the other hand, there is no question that the moon affects barometric pressure, temperature and cosmic radiation flux. Carefully controlled experiments have, in fact, detected cyclical uptake of water and shoot growth in plants that coincide with the lunar day and month.

These cyclical responses are rarely in simple harmony with only lunar cycles. There seem to be other cosmic influences also at work. The zodiac perhaps?

Problems arise when trying to translate simple experimental responses into the complex world of the garden.

The whole area of moon gardening seems worthy of further investigation--and perhaps backyard experimentation.