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Gardening By The Moon

Last month, Jane Hawley Stevens of Four Elements Organic Herbals gave a wonderful presentation at the Growing Stronger Collaborative Conference about gardening according to the phases of the moon. Stevens did a beautiful job of explaining how this concept works, and why you might want to experiment with it in your own garden.

According to Stevens, “nature follows cycles.” On a very basic level, gardening by the moon can be interpreted as “waxing moon is a growth period, and the waning moon is rest time.” Working with the cycles of the moon can create a better relationship with nature, and possibly a better output for your garden.

Gardening by the moon doesn’t mean you are gardening at night. What Stevens says is that by keeping track of each quarter of the moon, you can harness certain environmental  properties that can be used to achieve different results in the garden. How? The answer may be a bit complex, but part of the reason may be a result of the way the moon’s gravitational force affects water on earth, just like the ebb and flow of the tides.

Stevens explains that because of the moon’s proximity to earth, the gravitational pull has a great influence on the water. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the tides. If you live close to a coast, you are probably aware of the effect that the moon has on the water level of the ocean from day to day, and even from full moon to new moon, where the high tide levels are at their highest. If you don’t live near the coast, there is still water moving up and down near you—it’s just underground. Stevens says that when the water is closest to the surface (high tide), it can help swell seeds that are planted, and possibly increase germination of seeds.  This is why she tells us that planting seeds is best done at a new moon. 

Want to try gardening by the moon? The first thing you will need to do is figure out which phase of the moon you are in. You could do this by looking it up on the internet, but you can also find the phase of the moon by looking at it. We all probably know what the full moon and new moon look like, but the in between times can be trickier to decipher. But all you have to remember are the letters “D-O-C”. 

The first quarter of the moon starts with the new moon, and as the days go by, the light begins to fill the right side of the moon until the whole right side is illuminated (one week after the new moon), when this happens the lit part of the moon represents a “D”:waxing crescent of the lunar moon cycle, we call this the 2nd quarter. As the days continue to pass, the moon will continue to become illuminated until it is full. The full moon resembles an “O”:full moon of the lunar cycle, and we call this the 3rd quarter. After the full moon passes, the moon will lose it’s illumination on the right side until only the left side is illuminated, resembling a “C”:waning crescent of the lunar moon cycle, this is called the 4th quarter. All you have to remember is “D-O-C” and you will know which phase of the moon you are in.

Now that you know how to figure out which phase of the moon you are in, you can use the information below to figure out when it’s best to do different things in your garden:

new moon phase of the lunar cycle 1st Quarter:

The first quarter of the moon starts with the New Moon. During this quarter, the moisture in the soil is pulled up toward the surface. This extra moisture can cause the seeds to swell and sprout. The best things to plant during this quarter are leafy things like lettuce, kale, broccoli, herbs, etc.


waxing crescent of the lunar moon cycle 2nd Quarter:

The second quarter starts one week after the new moon, and the lit part of the moon looks like a “D”. During this quarter it’s best to plant crops that produce their seed within it’s fruit, such as tomatoes and peppers.


full moon of the lunar cycle 3rd Quarter:

The 3rd quarter starts with the full moon and the lit part of the moon looks like an “O”. During this quarter, the moisture in the solid begins to move down and away from the surface. The best things to plant during the 3rd quarter are root crops and perennials.


waning crescent of the lunar moon cycle 4th Quarter

The 4th quarter starts one week after the full moon and the lit part of the moon looks like a “C”. This is the driest part of the cycle when the moisture in the soil is being pulled down and away from the surface. This is a good time to do weeding because it will be the hardest for the weeds to recover. The 4th quarter is also a good time to harvest herbs for drying because there will be less moisture present in the plant.

Stevens also noted that harvesting is often best done during the 3rd or 4th quarter. But she also notes that you often just have to harvest things when they are ripe. 

She says these things are really just guidelines that can help us as we make decisions in our garden. She encourages keeping records so you can compare the results of following the moon, and not following the moon.

Have you tried gardening by the moon? Did you find it helpful? Let us know what your experience was by emailing us at campaigns@organicconsumers.org

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