Planting, with the moon as your guide...

This week's 'In The Garden' article is written by Sean Brady, horticulturalist at Blarney Castle Gardens.
Planting, with the moon as your guide...

Gardeners and farmers have been using moon phase gardening for ages.

GARDENING by the Moon is a growing trend and the techniques are not new.

Gardeners and farmers have been using moon phase gardening for ages, and it is a fairly simple process. Moon planting has been practiced by people who were in tune with nature’s patterns. In our busy modern world, many gardeners have lost sight of this age-old technique.

The cycles of the moon have influenced gardeners from diverse cultures over many centuries. 

While science may not fully understand why it is successful, a large volume of evidence suggests it is.

Observing the cycles of the moon and the way it affects both people and plants can help to determine when to plant, in order to improve both our health and yield from our gardening activities. It is a great way to plan your garden.

Many gardeners follow the age-old practice of planting by the Moon’s phase for a healthier, more productive garden. It is more than just a trend, because connecting with the phases of the Moon taps into our deep desire to be in tune with nature.

Some people recognise that the earth has cycles of inhalation and exhalation. In the morning, Earth exhales, which allows sap and water to rise. This is the best time to harvest plants whose parts we eat are above ground. Lettuce, for example, is full and plump. It is also the best time to apply foliar feeds and sprays.

In the evening, Earth inhales, which draws sap down into the roots and soil. This is the best time to sow seeds, harvest root crops, dig soil, ready for planting, and spreading compost.

The basic idea behind Gardening by the Moon is that the cycles affect plant growth.

Just as the Moon’s gravitational pull causes tides to rise and fall, it also affects moisture in the soil. Therefore, it’s said seeds will absorb more water during the full Moon and new Moon, when more moisture is pulled to the soil surface.

This causes seeds to swell, resulting in greater germination and better-established plants. The Moon also impacts plant growth through geotropism, which is how plants grow in response to gravity. Roots grow downward in the direction of gravitational pull and stems grow in the opposite direction (ie, upwards). This behaviour can be easily demonstrated with potted plants. Lay one on its side and the stem will grow upwards. Or, consider a tulip bulb: if you plant it incorrectly with the pointed end down, it will turn around and send its shoots upward, even though it’s in total darkness.

There are detailed lunar planting calendars online and in print, giving phase info and zodiac signs, as well as detailed garden tasks. But a basic calendar will do just as well if you’re just getting started. Most calendars list the full, new, and quarter moons.

The Moon has four phases or quarters and each lasts about a week. 

In the first two quarters, the new dark moon you see gets bigger and more visible. This is known as the waxing phase. You see an increase in light until the full moon is visible.

The 3rd and 4th quarters are after the full moon. This is when the light begins to wane or decrease. Then the cycle starts again.

Moon phase gardening takes into account two periods of the lunar cycle: the time between the new Moon and the full Moon (the waxing), and the time between the full Moon and new Moon (the waning). It is considered best to plant certain types of plants during the waning of the Moon and other types during the waxing.

The new moon

Ancient Greeks believed the new moon was a time of fertility and rebirth, because the moon and sun were joined together at the same part of the sky. During the new moon, gravity from the moon is pulling water up, which aids in germination.

This is the best time to plant above ground crops plants that produce seeds outside of the fruit, such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage and grains during this phase.

A young mother with her daughter, watering tomato plants. 
A young mother with her daughter, watering tomato plants. 

The Waxing Moon.

In a waxing moon, when light increases towards a full moon, sap flow is drawn up. This is the most suitable time for sowing and transplanting flowering annuals, biennials, grains and melons and above ground crops that produce seeds inside of fruits, like beans, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Basically, any short-lived plant that we want to harvest its leaves, seed, flowers or fruits.

It’s also a good time for applying liquid fertilisers, pruning and grafting as increased sap flow produces new growth more quickly.

The Full Moon

During this phase, energy is drawn down, and after the Moon has peaked, the light starts to decrease, which is good for root growth. Plant root crops such as beets, carrots, onions, and potatoes. This is also a good phase to transplant any type of plant.

The Waning Moon

This is a time of rest and maintenance. Weed, prune, fertilise, and graft during this moon phase. The last few nights of this quarter, when the sky appears moonless, is a fallow period. This signifies the death of the old before the start of the new. It’s best to do no garden work at this time if possible.

Gardeners who use this system claim Moon gardening provides many benefits over conventional gardening, stating that seeds germinate sooner. Root vegetables and bulbs also shoot more quickly.

Plants appear to grow faster and are healthier when comparing plants sown at the optimum time to those that were not. Plants produce higher yields and suffer less pest damage because they are stronger.

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