Planting by the Signs: Influence of the Zodiac

the ecliptic progression allows for planting by the signs

image © Tau’olunga

Overlapping and interacting with the cycle of waxing and waning is the particular zodiac sign the moon is in at any time. Moon phase is always important but in some traditions—especially the Appalachian system of planting by the signs described in the Foxfire books—preference is given to sign. The late Louise Riotte was taught a nearly-identical zodiac planting technique by her father, himself an immigrant to the US from Germany’s vineyard-rich Rhine Valley.

Once you’ve gotten the basics of planting by the moon’s phases, you may want to incorporate planting by the signs. Consider:

        • combine the ideal phase AND sign for peak performance of your favorite fresh-eating vegetables, or to boost seed production when growing out from a small number of seeds
        • offset a less favorable moon quarter by planting under a more favorable moon sign
        • schedule a range of garden chores (weeding, pruning, etc) to their preferred sign to make the best of every day

The moon transits from one sign to the next every few days, and over the course of a month will go through all twelve—Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

Each sign is associated with a different element and corresponding part of the plant: earth (roots), water (leaves), air (flowers), and fire (fruit). In general, water are the most productive signs, followed by earth. Air and fire signs can be beneficial for particular crops, but are mostly used for harvesting, weeding, and cultivating.

Between signs the moon is “void of course,” a wonderful time for both you and your garden to rest. Pick a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the beauty growing all around you!

Origins of the Zodiac

Planting by the signs has its roots in one of the oldest human hobbies, astrology. Today’s modern astronomy and astrology both have their roots in ancient astrology. People have been tracking astrological events since at least 1400 BCE. Our contemporary twelve sign zodiac dates to approximately the fifth century BCE, though ancient humans named some individual constellations, like the Twins, far earlier.

As they tracked the progression of the moon through the zodiac each month, their natural human curiosity must have caused them to observe differences in crops planted at different times of the month. These observations were eventually codified into the technology of planting by the signs, which you can use to make the same observations in your gardens today.

The modern word zodiac is from the Ancient Greek for “cycle of little animals.” Today as then, this cycle is used as a timekeeping device, with many people closely following both the solar and lunar progression of the zodiac.

Planning by the Signs

While each sign has its own preferences and particularities, some of them are similar enough to be grouped together for planning purposes:

The three water signs are excellent all-purpose planting signs. Most every fruit and vegetable will do well under any of these three signs. Cancer is a bit better for greens, grains, & legumes while Scorpio is better suited to fruit, and Pisces-planted crops tend to show excellent root growth, but all three may be used just about interchangeably when scheduling planting days (though anecdotal evidence warns Pisces-planted potatoes will be covered with hard-to-scrub nubbins). It’s beneficial to prune, clone, graft, fertilize, and irrigate when the moon is in a water sign.

These earth signs are productive and resistant to setbacks, with plants often showing increased hardiness and drought tolerance when sown under them. Taurus, being a moist sign as well as an earthy one, is particularly favorable for all brassicas and greens, especially cabbage and collard greens, and is the best sign for planting potatoes. Both signs are good for transplanting and fertilizing, and trees pruned under Capricorn tend to heal quickly and without rot.

Although the air signs aren’t renowned for their fertility, Libra rules flowers and is a good sign to plant or transplant all flowers. Fruiting crops (cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) planted during Libra may bloom showily without setting much fruit. In herbal medicine, the dried flowers of many plants are what are used for tea (chamomile, lavender), so it can be a wonderful sign for planting medicinal herbs.

All four of these signs are largely barren with a few specific exceptions. Sagittarius, a fire/fruit sign, is good for planting alliums, particularly garlic, as well as peppers, radishes, and apple trees. Aries, also fire, is well suited for seed crops, and for growing tobacco (check your state and local laws before planting). Aquarius (air/flower) is especially good for cloning and for planting onion sets, and some swear by Gemini (air) for planting melons and beans. Both of the fire signs are noted as good days to harvest for long-term storage, though the air signs also do well in that regard. All four are dry signs and favorable for cultivating, weeding, and other similar activities.

Only Virgo is barren and wet. Seed sown under Virgo tends to rot, and any fruit or tuber produced may not keep well. Some have good luck planting vines, flowers, and melons under it, but as I live in a rainy/soggy area and many crops are already susceptible to rot, I prefer to use it for mulching and weeding.

The most barren of all signs, it is not advised to ever plant or transplant in Leo. Instead, focus on weeding, killing noxious growths like poison ivy, cutting back brambles and briars (especially in August in the fourth quarter!), and killing garden pests like mites and snails with natural methods like neem oil or beer traps. Barren Leo follows fruitful Cancer by only a few hours, so it pays to have a calendar calculated to your time zone.

More common than the above groupings is that a planting guide will tell you to do this or that chore in a dry sign, or to plant a certain vegetable under an earth sign. Typically you can swap out a wet or dry sign for same, or one sign of a certain element for another of the same element, with no ill effect.

The Elements

planting by the signs - earth

Taurus Virgo Capricorn

Planting under an earth sign sign encourages root growth, which makes them also ideal for transplanting. Taurus and Capricorn encourage hardiness and study growth, while Virgo is beneficial for flowering vines and herbs. Also prune, water, fertilize, and mulch.

planting by the signs - water

Cancer Scorpio Pisces

Fertile and wet across the board, water signs favorable for leaf growth. All three are great all-purpose planting and transplanting signs for near any crop. In addition to planting, graft, clone, prune to encourage growth, water deeply, and fertilize.

planting by the signs - air

Gemini Libra Aquarius

Generally on the barren/dry side, air signs encourage us to focus on on harvesting for seed or storage. Planting favors flower production but not necessarily fruit-setting. Libra is the most fertile and moist, while Gemini and Aquarius favor weeding and cultivation.

planting by the signs - fire

Aries Leo Sagittarius

Fire sign days encourage fruit/seed production but are best for weeding and pest control. Being so barren makes them the ideal time to cut back briars or dig out invasive plants. Sagittarius is the most fertile, particularly for garlic, while Leo is the least.

Planting and Beyond: the Signs In Depth

Aries the Ram (fire – barren & dry), located in the head, is not considered a good planting sign. Instead, weed, cultivate, and harvest, especially for storage and seedsaving. Dig roots for medicinal use in spring and fall. Any crops planted are likely to be leggy and quick to mature—or bolt!

Taurus the Bull (earth – productive & moist), located in the throat, is the most fertile of the non-water signs. Encourages hardiness and short, sturdy growth. The very best sign for planting potatoes and cabbages; favorable for greens, brassicas, tubers, and perennials, as well as transplanting.

Gemini the Twins (air – barren & dry), located in the arms, is a good sign for weeding, cultivating, harvesting, and to control pests and noxious weeds. Some plant melons and beans.

Cancer the Crab (water – very fruitful & moist), located in the breast and stomach, is the most fertile planting sign and favorable for all crops. Graft, water, fertilize, and start or turn compost.

Leo the Lion (fire – very barren & dry), located in the back and heart, is the least fertile sign and best used for harvesting, weeding, cultivating, and controlling pests. The fourth quarter moon in Leo which occurs each August is the best time to cut back briars and other noxious weeds.

Virgo the Virgin (earth – barren & wet), located in the bowels, is the only earth sign NOT considered fertile. Fruit from seed planted under this sign is liable to rot before harvest. However, it is recommended for planting medicinal herbs and flowering vines, for vertical gardening, and for mulching.

Libra the Scales (air – semi-fruitful & moist), located in the kidneys, is the best sign to plant flowers under, and the most fertile of the air signs. Many aromatic and medicinal herbs, often planted for their flowers, do well under Libra, as well as grains and fruits.

Scorpio the Scorpion (water – very fruitful & moist), located in the loins, is the second-best all purpose planting sign. Plant or transplant all crops, especially for drought-hardiness, but do not harvest roots. Said to be the best sign for transplanting tomatoes or planting corn. Prune to increase fruit production, graft, water, and fertilize.

Sagittarius the Archer (fire – barren & dry), located in the thighs, is mostly recommended for harvesting for long-term storage, particularly of apples and pears. It can also be good for planting fruit trees, alliums, peppers, and tubers.

Capricorn the Goat (earth – productive & dry), located in the knees, is a fair planting sign, especially for root growth or herbs for seed, and encourages drought tolerance. Graft, prune, and set fence posts.

Aquarius the Watercarrier (air – barren & dry), located in the shins and ankles, is used mostly for weeding, cultivating, and especially for harvesting fruit and root crops. Also plant onions and clone.

Pisces the Fish (productive & moist), located in the feet, is an excellent planting sign for all crops except potatoes, and is especially favorable for grafting or taking cuttings. Plant and transplant for root growth and hardiness. Water, fertilize, and start or turn compost.

planting by the signs extends to many aspects of life

Many people use the signs to guide aspects of their life far beyond gardening. Each sign is associated with a part or area of the body, as shown in the diagram above, and this is used to schedule surgeries, hair cutting, vacations, loan signings, and more.

Also of interest to the home gardener and small farmer will be advice on animal husbandry, setting fence posts, and many common chores. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading Riotte’s book Raising Animals by the Moon and the first Foxfire book, or listening to the sixth episode of the Foxfire podcast It Still Lives.

article text and zodiac symbols © Wolf Hill Press 2023