Many gardeners traditionally begin their spring planting according to the soil temperature, frost date, and in Canada, the May 24th weekend, but there is another method to determine the ideal time to plant. Moon gardening is the practice of planting and harvesting crops to coincide with the lunar phases of the moon.
Planting by the moon may have been inspired by folklore and superstition, but there is scientific evidence to back it up. Although the sun and moon both influence the gravitational field surrounding the earth, the pull of the moon is stronger because it’s closer. The moon’s gravitational pull influences all water on earth including ocean tides, lakes, rivers and streams. It also affects moisture in the soil and how close that moisture is to the surface.
Phases of the moon
The moon has four lunar phases: new moon, first quarter, last quarter and full moon. These four quarters last about seven days each. The first two quarters occur during the waxing moon when light increases, whereas the third and fourth quarters are after the full moon when the light wans or decreases. Through trial and error, farmers observed how these four phases influenced plants and determined the best time to plant and harvest crops.
How the moon influences plants
New moon: The new moon is said to help plants grow balanced roots. During a new moon, the gravity of the moon pulls water up in the soil, which increases a seed’s ability to germinate. Plants also benefit from increased moonlight during the night. According to folklore, the new moon is the ideal time to plant crops that produce their seeds outside the fruit like lettuce, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.
Second quarter: During the second quarter, plants benefit from strong leaf growth because of the increased moonlight. Plants that form seeds inside their fruit like peppers, tomatoes, squash and beans should be planted during this quarter.
Full moon: As the moon wanes, the gravitational pull is at its highest, resulting in moist soil and decreased moonlight. These conditions are ideal for root plants including carrots, potatoes, radishes, onions and beets. According to a study done by Dr. Lili Kolisko in Germany in 1939, the success rate of seed germination increases a few days before a full moon. Gardening folklore also suggests that pruning is best done during a full moon because it encourages root growth.
Last quarter: During the last quarter of the moon, the gravitational pull and moonlight have decreased to their lowest levels. This is the ideal time to let the garden rest. During a ten-year study, Dr. Frank Brown of Northwestern University studied the effects of the moon’s phases on plants. Through his research, he discovered that plants do in fact absorb more water and moonlight during a full moon.