Lunacy: Does it hold sway in your garden?

Left: The moon rules the tides. Right: Does it also rule the growth of these plants?

Left: The moon rules the tides. Right: Does it also rule the growth of these plants?

Arranging your gardening according to the phases of the moon


Article by Janet Macunovich and photos by Steven Nikkila

Lunacy. Spoken of a person, it means mental derangement and irrational actions. Use it in relation to plants and it means scheduling farm or garden chores according to an orderly celestial pattern.

Two very different definitions. Or are they?

Lunacy is a traditional method of synchronizing one’s sowing, tending and reaping with the predictable phases of the moon and luna’s position relative to the constellations of the zodiac. A lunatic will plant perennials in the week following a full moon because he or she is assured by lunatic tradition that those plants will prosper better than perennials planted during the second week after a full moon.

If that follower of the moon has either a thoroughly practical background in sky-watching or an almanac which lists the moon’s phase and position in the zodiac for each day of the year, he or she may also decide to plant only on the third and fourth days of that week. That would happen because the moon was “in” the constellation Scorpio during those dates. Lunatics maintain that the moon in such a position exerts a prime and positive influence on plants.

Sound confusing? I looked deep into lunacy this winter. I came away skeptical but still interested, enough so to offer my findings to you. I outline the basic principles of lunacy and specifics for this spring’s garden chores in the chart on page 34.

Above and below: Lunar gardening stipulates that perennials will grow best long term if planted in the week following the new moon.

Above and below: Lunar gardening stipulates that perennials will grow best long term if planted in the week following the new moon.

perennials2-may-15I have viewed lunacy as I do the predicting of ocean tides for 3 reasons.

First, tidal predictions and planting calendars were both so important to early man that natural events were scrutinized and religiously recorded for countless generations to improve the accuracy of those forecasts.

Second, predicting both lunar and tidal events requires specialized calculations of a type legible only to those who have passed a course or two in higher math and astronomy. As one not initiated to those ways, I’ve closeted both issues in a mental nook labeled “Tides and Lunacy: information occasionally needed; obtain current schedule from almanac.”

Finally, and probably most importantly, the moon figures prominently in each of these disciplines yet in neither case can I describe the connection without making it sound like magic is involved. I first have to ask that the reader accept gravitational theory, that the moon is responsible for the sloshing of water back and forth across Earth’s ocean basins. I would present this as a scientific fact even though I can offer no simple proofs and so it may feel to you as it does to me—like an item of faith. Having done that, how can I fail to be equally serious about lunar influence on herbaceous plant cells? After all, they’re 95 percent water and quite pliable. The moon’s effect on these tiny watery bodies may lack the scientific proofs of tidal study, but it seems equally plausible to me.

Since the tomato is an annual that bears fruit above ground, the moon’s influence will be most positive on it if it’s planted between the time of the new moon and the full moon.

Since the tomato is an annual that bears fruit above ground, the moon’s influence will be most positive on it if it’s planted between the time of the new moon and the full moon.

Thus I think there must be something to lunacy, even if it is scientifically “soft” where tide prediction is “hard.”

I’ve found the two to be drastically different in practical application, however. I have recalled and used my “Tides and Lunacy” notes now and then, about as many times regarding tides as lunacy. Yet where checking on tides yielded a clear result, my attempts to employ the moon to better my garden were not so conclusive.

For instance, I checked an almanac when we planned to visit an Atlantic beach with water-loving, but wave-shy toddlers. Without question and just as foretold in the chart, it was low tide when we arrived. Yet I was unsure of the result when I planted according to lunar lore for a faster, better yield from peas. The seedlings seemed to appear quickly and the plants to be very productive, but I couldn’t be sure of either, lacking differently-timed peas as a comparison.

I keep looking for science in lunacy, though. First I read a no-till farming association’s report that fewer weeds sprouted in test fields cultivated at night than fields tilled by day. Then I wonder if this might be once-removed proof of the lunatic prediction that a bed weeded in the week before new moon (the dark of the moon) would stay weed-free longer than if weeded at another time. In night tilling, seeds receive dim moonlight rather than bright sunshine. Weeding on a date when there will be no moon means less total light reaches the seeds during their first 24 hours than if the moon did shine. So, both the no-till tests and the lunatic procedure involve less total light reaching weed seeds early on. If that first 12 or 24 hours is critical to weed development and if seeds can be shown to accumulate light-hours in the same way growing plants do, there might be something here.

Despite the nebulous connection between lunatic lore and results, serious lunatics have failed to conduct credible scientific studies that might cement the two. Believers seem to prefer to keep building upon that base as if it was rock steady.


The moon may be a bigger part of your garden than you imagine.

It might be understandable that this happened in the past. Then, priests and priestesses schooled in reading the sky and naming dates advised their flocks when to plant or harvest. In return for this basic, good information, the soothsayers received food, clothing and homage from a community. Perhaps succeeding generations of farmers, having memorized all the basic lessons such as “plant in May, not March,” began to request more in return for their support of the learned few. Maybe priests and priestesses truly observed such advanced lunacy, such as flowers planted in Libra and asparagus set out in Taurus growing better than the same crops started at other times, and passed this along. Or maybe some individuals fabricated some of this advice just to “sweeten the pot,” knowing the facts wouldn’t be tested by the simple folk who received that “added value.”

This second situation could explain some of the discrepancies of modern lunacy, such as “plant all perennial crops in the 3rd quarter” and “plant annual crops with seed outside the fruit such as asparagus in the first quarter.” Asparagus is a perennial. That’s undeniable. That it was assigned to a group of plants with “seed outside the fruit”—a vague concept never fully explained in lunatic tomes—may have been the work of a clergyperson desperate to be kept on!

Significantly, those who promote lunacy today—most notably, the publishers of lunacy books and farming almanacs—have not seen fit to invest any of the coin we’ve offered up to them to conduct even rudimentary scientific tests. Instead, the books and almanacs admonish us to “conduct tests and let us know what you find.”

So here I remain, on the fence but still leaning toward the moon. I want to believe that those seeds which popped up in half the predicted time were pulled by the waxing moon and that I will see the same result again if my garden ever depends on it. Yet I don’t have enough need for quicker, better crops to justify spending the time combing the almanacs, determining the best dates for this or that, and making tests.

I hope you have fun this year in your new view of the moon. And who knows? Maybe some loony thing you do will net you the tastiest tomato or huskiest hollyhock ever!

Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of the books “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet on her website


A guide to growing and harvesting vegetables in the fast lane

Cherry Belle radishes. (Flickr / Ripplestone Garden)

Cherry Belle radishes. (Flickr / Ripplestone Garden)

The Salt at

Yes, it is true that gardening requires patience.

But face it, we live in an impatient world. And gardeners everywhere were depressed by the brutal and endless winter.

So we are understandably eager to get sowing. And to see results by … well, if not next Thursday, then maybe mid-May?

There are two ways to make this happen. Some garden varieties naturally have a short germinate-to-harvest cycle. Then there are the hybrids developed at universities and seed companies. They take two plants with great traits (like early arrival or cold tolerance) and forge an even hardier offspring.

For guidance on the world of speedy plot-to-table vegetables, we turned to Ryan Schmitt, a horticulturist and garden blogger in Longmont, Colo., and Weston Miller, a community and urban horticulturist for the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Read the rest of the story…

The Greening of Detroit receives award

The American Horticultural Society has announced that the recipient of its 2015 Urban Beautification Award is The Greening of Detroit. This award is given to an individual, institution, or company for significant contributions to urban horticulture and the beautification of American cities. Founded in 1989, The Greening of Detroit is a Michigan nonprofit resource agency that focuses on using city land in a way that improves quality of life, has environmental integrity, and promotes education and stewardship. Its programs seek to address some of Detroit’s most challenging issues, from unemployment to “food deserts”—areas where residents lack ready access to fresh, locally grown food. Thousands of the organization’s volunteers assist with planting trees and creating gardens in neighborhoods throughout the city each year. For more information: and

Pruning lavender plants

How much do you trim lavender bushes? Mine are getting rather leggy and sprawling. When is the best time to prune them?

Let’s assume these are English lavender plants (Lavendula angustifolia), since these are hardy and the most popular in our area. There are many varieties of English lavender, but all have the same basic care. There may be several reasons why your lavender plants are getting leggy and sprawling, including pruning, water, light, and soil.

Pruning is essential for lavender. Pruning is not the same as harvesting. When flowers are harvested, typically not much of the plant is removed. Growers prune plants twice a year: very early spring (April) and after they bloom. Lavender will become leggy and flower production will decrease significantly if it isn’t pruned quite hard. Prune down to three nodes on the new growth above the old wood, which looks gray and isn’t flexible. The plant is usually trimmed to a dome shape to let in lots of light and to help the air circulate. April is a good time to do this. Then do another trim in late summer to early fall. If you happen to prune at the wrong time, don’t worry, the blooms will be back even stronger next year.

Another factor that contributes to a leggy, sprawling plant is overhead watering, or too much water. Lavenders are very drought tolerant, especially after they are established. Watering should only occur as a supplement for hot, dry weather and they should not be placed where sprinklers water daily. In a typical Michigan summer (no droughts or periods of high temperatures), no watering at all may be needed. Light, as in full sun, is essential. Picture the open fields of lavender in Provence, France. Lavender doesn’t need a special soil, so long as it is very well-drained, even sandy. Very rich, clay or damp soil is not recommended.

Holland, Michigan’s Windmill Island Gardens celebrates 50 years

Mother’s Day blooms abound at Windmill Island Gardens. (Photo: Flickr/Rachel Kramer)

Mother’s Day blooms abound at Windmill Island Gardens. (Photo: Flickr/Rachel Kramer)

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Windmill Island Gardens, a city-owned park in the heart of Holland, Michigan. To celebrate the anniversary, horticulture staff will implement a theme of “The Gilded Garden,” intended to evoke a sense of luxury, opulence and visual treasure.

After the tulips are done blooming, annuals will be planted in their place. The gardening staff has chosen flower cultivars in as many shades of yellow and gold as possible to evoke the rich hues of summer. Vibrant masses of golden-toned blooms, stunning color, arresting foliage, and carefully chosen plant combinations will adorn each flower bed. Over 100 varieties of annuals are included in the garden plan; over 20 are new cultivars that have never been grown on the island before.

Whether visitors are seeking a tranquil corner, a shady bench with a view of the windmill, or a velvet expanse of green lawn, the gardens at Windmill Island can provide a feast for the eyes and the soul. For nearly 50 years, the centerpiece of the gardens has been the 252-year-old DeZwaan Windmill. It symbolizes the authentic Dutch heritage of the community. For more information, click here.