How to plant a moon garden
Choosing the location, plants, and accents for your moon garden
Having a moon garden—one created specifically to be enjoyed at night—is extremely rewarding. And planting is relatively easy. Follow these steps to create an impressive and enjoyable moon garden.
1. Choose Your Moon Garden’s Size and Location
Your moon garden should be easy to access in the dark, without requiring you to slog through wet grass to enjoy it. According to Mark Wolfe, environment education and communications manager at Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, Georgia, you want a location where plants will grow and be seen in the evening hours. “For most people, that’s a small area near the back deck,” he says. Mark also recommends tracking the moonlight’s path before planting. “Take note of where it comes up and where it shines, not just in each phase but in different seasons,” he says. After all, you want the moonlight to shine on your plants to bring out their colors. Lynne Phillips, general manager of the Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, Virginia, says a moon garden can be any size, but suggests keeping it simple. “I always recommend starting with what’s easy if you’ve never done this before,” she says.
2. Select Moon Garden Plants
For any type of garden, you should consider soil type and the amount of sun exposure when choosing plants—shade-loving plants for shaded areas and plants that will thrive in full sun for open spaces. The same goes for your moon garden. “Look at the growing conditions,” Mark says, “then buy what will grow in that space.” Plants most visible by moonlight include white blooms that remain open at night and silvery foliage. Mark also recommends yellow and gold flowers, which “give a softer glow than the white,” he says. Expand your sensory experience with white varieties of highly scented flowers like roses, peonies, and jasmine. These will keep your moon garden enjoyable even in periods of little to no moonlight. It’s also a good idea to plan your garden so that there’s something to see and smell throughout the year. “I tell all my customers to start with a mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and foundation plants so we have something blooming and of interest all the time,” Lynne says. Often overlooked, annuals bloom the entire warm weather season.
3. Add Extra Elements to Your Moon Garden
In addition to the white or silver foliage of plants like dusty miller or lamb’s ear, Mark recommends dark green foliage to provide a contrasting backdrop. His favorites include holly and Chinese fringe. Adding lighting can help accentuate colors—when done sparingly. “Go easy on the lighting,” Mark says. “You don’t want to take away from the moonlight.” Finally, appeal to more senses with sound. Water fountains, tinkling chimes, and even ornamental grasses add soft, soothing music to your moonlit oasis.
Six of Our Experts’ Favorite Moon Garden Plants
Though there are some popular go-tos for moon gardens, Mark says it’s best to shop for desired traits, not for plants from someone else’s list that may not grow in your area. To determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your location, use the United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map. With that in mind, here are six of Mark’s and Lynn’s favorite plants for moon gardens:
Limelight Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'): This woody shrub grows up to 8 feet tall and wide in zones 3 to 9. Plant it in partial to full sun in well-drained soil. The blooms start off a lime green color and turn cream, pink, red, and burgundy as they age.
White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus): A native to the Southeast United States, this deciduous shrub can grow up to 20 feet tall. Its name comes from the slightly fragrant, creamy white, fringe-like flower clusters that bloom from late spring to early summer. Fringetree prefers an open, airy location in zones 4 to 9. Choose a male plant for heavier blooms.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): Wormwood scores high on every scale for the moon garden. It’s a very aromatic herb with soft silvery leaves. It grows up to 2 feet tall and produces tiny yellow flowers in zones 5 to 11. Wormwood thrives in full sun.
Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens): This fragrant and striking woody shrub grows easily from seed. The ballerina white’s 6- to 8-inch whorled bloom looks upward to the sky, unlike its dangling cousins. In the garden, it grows to about 3 feet tall in zones 9 and 10. In Northern climates, it grows well in containers. (Toxic if ingested.)
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata): Also known as jasmine or sweet tobacco, this variety grows up to 5 feet tall and is highly fragrant at night. It enjoys rich soil with full sun and regular watering. Flowering tobacco produces white flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds and are deer resistant. (Toxic if ingested.)
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba): Night-blooming moonflower is a species of morning glory that’s native to tropical and subtropical regions. The flowers of this perennial woody vine open in the evening and stay open until dawn. In colder climates, moonflower grows as an annual that begins blooming in early autumn.