Planting by the Stars - Planting Times

We all already plant by the 'stars' when we wait for the Sun to be in a certain part of the zodiac before we plant; it is too cold before, and too late after. Some planting research reflects the Earth's rotation and there's some closer focus on the Sun's cycles and the planets' influences, but our super 'star' is the Moon; the Moon has many rhythms which have been considered in relation to planting.

Synodic cycle

The most obvious is the 29.5 day 'synodic' cycle. This is marked by the rhythmical waxing and waning of the visible aspect punctuated by the full moon when the Sun and Moon are either side of the Earth (opposition), and new Moon when the Sun and Moon are to the same side of the Earth (conjunction, occultation, or occlusion). The Moon takes 27 days to orbit the Earth but since the sun has moved on by 27 degrees in this time the synodic cycle is 2 days longer.

Most calendar years have 12 full moons. Indeed, this defines the Muslim year. The Jewish year, without 'intercalation' would also move 11 days a year through the seasons. 'Synodos' is Greek for 'meeting'. It also means 'copulation' suggesting links to fertility (and makes me cheerful when I hear of the General Synod of the Church of England). This synodic rhythm dominates traditional lore and much modern research concerning biological processes. (more on the synodic cycle.....)

Nodal cycle

Every 27.5 days the moon completes a 'nodal' cycle. The Sun, Moon, and planets have a similar background of stars in their cycles but the Moon's trajectory is 5 degrees from that of the Sun. This means that there are two points at which these two apparent orbits seem to cross. These are known as the ascending, or North node (or the Dragon's head) and the descending or South node (Dragon's tail). These crossing points also complete a lap of the zodiac in 18.6 years.

Considering the nodal and synodic cycles together brings a familiar and portentous 'coincidence'. If these crossing points coincide with the full or new moon we Earth dwellers witness lunar or solar eclipses. (Also less noticeable planetary eclipses or occultations.) It is for this reason that the path upon which our closest heavenly bodies cross the Zodiac is known as the 'ecliptic'. (More on the nodal cycle....)

Apogee-perigee (Apsidal cycle)

Because its orbit around the Earth is elliptical, the Moon is alternately closer to and further away from the Earth in its journey. This cycle takes around 27.2 days, and has a closest point known as the 'perigee' and a most distant point called 'apogee'. As seen from the Earth and due the Moon's stage in this cycle, the moon is in front of different constellations for shorter and longer periods, with a variance of 30%. At perigee the moon appears to be larger and move faster against the zodiac, and exerts a a greater pull on the tides.

The equivalent phenomena in the Earth's elliptical orbit of the Sun is known as 'perihelion' (in January) and 'ahelion' or 'aphelion' in July. (More on the apsidal cycle.....)

Solunar or ascending and descending cycle

Because the Earth's equator is at a 23 degree angle to the Ecliptic all the bodies of the solar system appear to rise and fall relative to our horizon. We are familiar with this, particularly away from the equator, because it is synonymous with our seasons and the extra time the sun spends in the sky in summer. During this cycle the moon is sometimes higher in the sky and other times lower. This cycle of ascending (currently through the constellations of Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries and Taurus) and descending (Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra and Scorpio) mimics the sun's own low winter position and higher summer passage from horizon to horizon. (More on the ascending and descending cycle....)

Sidereal cycle

A 'sidereal' cycle of the Moon takes 27.3 days and is the time it takes for the same stars to be behind the Moon as seen from the Earth. This time is also the time it takes for the Moon to turn on its axis (which is why we always see the man in the Moon's face), and very close to the time it takes for the Sun to revolve on its own axis!. (More on the sidereal cycle....)

Elemental cycle

Maria Thun uses this sidereal cycle and has identified differentiation in the Moon's influence as the Moon moves in front of different constellations. Her empirical findings are that the background of the Moon as viewed from the Earth will influence the activities undertaken at that time. In many cultures and over eons this background, the 'zodiac', has been divided into 12 sections. The constellations of stars which comprise this zodiac are of different sizes (for instance, The Scales being given as little as an 18 degree arc of the zodiac whilst the Virgin has a mighty 46 degrees). Maria Thun uses these constellations as the divisions which flavour the Moon's influence.

Some astrologers and lunar gardeners use this same basic division but give each constellation an equal twelfth portion of the zodiac, and when they do so they are using the 'sidereal' zodiac.

Yet others use an equal 30 degree division but Aires , the sign, now starts at around 25 degrees of the Fishes, the constellation, due to the 'precession of the equinoxes'. Such a zodiac is known as the 'Tropical' zodiac, and is used by most Western astrologers when ascribing significance to the time and place of a person's birth.

(Whilst lack of agreement amongst astrological schools over these seemingly arbitrary divisions of the heavens is, for many rationally adept modern people, just one of the many nails in astrology's coffin, I consider it to be a stimulus to work back from the results.) (More on the zodiacs...)

So, until we can assign empirically determined roles to each zodiac, we will work with Maria Thun's empirically determined assertion that plants are 'listening' to the Moon playing the visible constellations. These 12 constellations have been given a fourfold differentiation.


The Elements and the constellations
Constellations Element Plant
Ram, Lion, Archer
Seed and Fruit
Bull, Virgin, Goat
Twins, Scales, Waterman
Fishes, Cancer, Scorpion

As an early consideration, planting whilst the Moon is in front of a constellation corresponding to the part of a plant one wishes to emphasize and encourage (a carrot's root, or a cereal's seeds) is a great assistance to that plant.

However, this excellent start in life would be compromised (and here again, opinions are not unanimous) if the Moon were being eclipsed at that very same time, or if it were to be at apogee or in an ascending phase. These reinforcing or interfering cycles all seem to require consideration before one can say confidently what time is going to assist which crop. It is this complex interplay of rhythms that makes the experience of one Maria Thun, or all you guys - if not now, later - so valuable.

Other heavenly bodies - the Earth

The spin of the Earth appears to bring the Moon, Sun, stars and planets rising over the horizon and then disappearing over the other 'edge'. Colin Bishop's research showed large peaks when sowing as the Moon rose on the horizon ('Moonrise'). Brian Keats considers that cows chew the cud in relation to this Lunar day (and the position of the midday sun). A 19th century gardening column in the Astrologer always showed this as an important point of the day. Kollerstrom considers this to be a crucial marker in the day and uses it in his calendars.

Morning, like the ascending Moon, is good for harvesting food to be eaten soon and taking cuttings and exhuming seedlings for transplants, whilst the afternoon favours pruning, sowing, and 'bedding-in' transplants.

The projection of the Earth's equator on to the heavens (the 'Celestial Equator') crosses the ecliptic in two places. Most famous is the one found when the sun rises on the morning of the spring equinox. Currently this 'vernal point' is against the constellation of the fishes so, given that the 'precession of the equinox' needs about 72 Earth years for each degree of the ecliptic, we are due for the age of Aquarius in about 4 - 500 years. (Assuming no big changes, we can then calculate that the precession of the equinox will complete a tour of the zodiac in about 26000 Earth years. this is a 'platonic year', or what an Earth year feels like without a synod when you are in your prime, or a synod feels like with the wrong company.)

Other heavenly bodies - the Sun

The Sun must not be forgotten! It is really the prime scheduler of our farming and gardening. Although the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the ecliptic brings on the seasons, it is the Sun whose influence is moderated by this rhythm.

The sectional rings of trees are a diary of a tree's annual experience (chronodendrology). The rings are often fat every 11 years: the sun spot cycle. In some regions crop feasts and famines are moderated by this sun spot activity with more warm and wet days at sun spot maxima, marked by increases in UK potato, turnip and Swede harvests and dairy yields. Good years for wine and bad years for telecommunications correlate with sun spot activity. USA average temperatures also rise with the sun spot activity, whereas droughts and forest fires follow the troughs. William Hershel, 200 years ago stated that the price of wheat varied with sun spot activity, and WJ Stein agreed in 1937. However, it appears that the lunar signal (18.6 years) is stronger than the solar one (11 years).

Other heavenly bodies - the Planets

In books such as Nicholas Culpepper's herbal you will see that each plant has its associated planet which dothe sore enhance its virtueses. There is a core of agreement amongst historical sources about which planets govern which plants, and a lot of divergent advice! What does it mean, that a plant is 'ruled by a planet'? It means that that particular planet needs to be unstressed at the time of sowing, tending, and harvesting. If the Sunflower is a Jupiter plant (as investigated by Lili Kolisko) then Jupiter should not be in conjunction, nor square (at 90 degrees) with other planets, nor retrograde, and ideally, should be in front of its home constellation - The Water Carrier. (Traditionally there are constellations through which the planets do not travel harmoniously!) There are many increasingly arcane thoughts about what to do to strengthen a plant's connection with its ruling planet, including eurhythmy gestures, adding homoeopathic doses of the corresponding metal (tin for Jupiter's sunflowers), and much much more. 'There be dragons ......'

Kollerstrom finds Moon-Venus aspects to be ideal for flowers, particularly roses. Sun-Moon trines are basically good for everything in that elemental grouping, especially those Sun-governed plants such as oranges and vines.

Some biodynamic people have, from tradition, considered that perennial plants like to be have a happy Saturn - opposition, trine and sextile to the Moon and or Sun would be ideal.

The Moon cycles are also in competition for the plants' attention, so to speak, from other aspects of the celestial arrangement. If these planets are working together, as they are when at 120 degrees from each other, they will complement each other's actions. However. working from the same aspect in a conjunction or eclipse, they interfere and the plants do not respond well.

At times when a planet is not in an important aspect or bothering its home or contrary constellations it is said to be neutral. Thun has used this neutral idea as a resting year between test years so that continuing influences are mitigated.

Perennial plants and trees are further in tune with the planets of longer cycles. Maria Thun shows the problems with Beech trees and their relation to the 28 year cycle of Saturn. With such plants experimentation is not so simple, just because of the length of time between planting and the result. However, indications can be gleaned from the history of forests.

All these principles are covered in Maria Thun's and Nick Kollerstrom's publications and it is to those that we encourage you to go for details. We have collected some tid bits but please take on our caveat.