Can You Grow Plants On The Moon? (4 Things You Would Need)


Earth and its moon are relatively close, but they have some big differences: a day on the Moon is almost 30 days on Earth.  Despite this and other differences, we can’t help but wonder if plants can survive on the Earth’s only moon.

So, can you grow plants on the moon?  To grow plants on the moon, you need ideal conditions for temperature, light, atmosphere, and nutrition.  At a minimum, this means cold protection, artificial light, atmosphere, and a growing medium (such as soil).

Of course, we know that some plants will survive in harsh conditions better than others.  Research is already underway at NASA to make such discoveries.

In this article, we’ll get into the specifics of growing plants on the moon.  If you ever make it to the moon to try out gardening, you’ll know what to expect up there!

Let’s begin.

Can You Grow Plants On The Moon?

All of the plants we know have evolved over time to adapt to life on Earth.  One of these plants would not be prepared for life on the moon without help from people.

crescent moon
Plants that evolved to grow on Earth would need some help to grow on the moon.

We know that some plants are more tolerant of drought and cold, and these would have a chance of growing on the moon.  However, just because a plant is tough doesn’t mean it can survive on the moon.

Can A Plant Survive On The Moon?

To survive on the moon, a plant would need the same things that a plant Earth would need, including:

  • Temperature – correct daytime and nighttime temperature ranges would be critical for survival.
  • Sunlight – intensity of sunlight, day length, and season length are all important.
  • Atmosphere –water, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide are all necessary to some extent.
  • Nutrition – proper soil pH and nutrients are necessary for growth.
moon
Plants on the moon would need the same things as plants on Earth: proper temperature, sunlight, atmosphere, and nutrition.

We’ll begin with one of the most important challenges of growing plants on the moon: temperature.

Temperature On The Moon

A plant that grows on Earth could not survive on the moon without protection from heat or cold (or both!)

According to NASA, the lowest temperature on the moon is -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius), compared to Earth’s coldest temperature of -134 degrees Fahrenheit (-92 degrees Celsius) in Antarctica.

frosted leaf
Plants could not survive the coldest temperatures that the moon has to offer: -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius).

On the other hand, the highest temperature on the moon is 240 degrees Fahrenheit (116 degrees Celsius), compared to Earth’s hottest temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) in Death Valley.

This means that the moon does approach temperatures where plants could grow – at least some of the time.  According to the University of California, 70 degrees Fahrenheit would be the perfect temperature for germinating seeds and growing many crops.

However, some plants will survive frost (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius).  Even if a plant can survive frost, it would have no chance at temperatures of 100 degrees below zero.

If you want to grow plants on the moon, you will need to protect them from the extreme cold and heat.  To avoid large fluctuations, you might want to choose a part of the moon that has a more stable temperature.

A greenhouse is one concept that might help to keep plants in a more stable environment on the moon.  After all, the greenhouse effect would apply on the moon just like it would on Earth.

You could build a greenhouse out of a clear cover made of plastic or glass.  This structure would trap heat underneath the dome.

Another benefit is that an atmosphere could be contained under the dome.  This trapped atmosphere would help to protect plants from radiation damage.

Just remember that a dome or greenhouse alone will not be enough to allow plants to grow.  You would likely need a temperature control system to provide heat or cold as the temperature fluctuates.

Sunlight On The Moon

The moon does receive sunlight, but there are some problems to contend with.

First, the moon has very little protection against the sun’s radiation.  The Earth has a magnetic field that provides protection against some of the most harmful energy from the sun.

sunrise
The sunlight that reaches us is filtered by the Earth’s magnetic field and ozone layer. The moon does not have these benefits.

According to NASA, the moon is outside of Earth’s magnetic field.  This means that X-rays and other dangerous radiation from the sun will reach the moon’s surface largely intact.

Second, the moon has a very thin atmosphere and no ozone layer.  This means that ultraviolet radiation is not filtered out, and this would be a problem for plants (or animals) on the moon.

Can Photosynthesis Happen On The Moon?

Photosynthesis can happen on the moon, as it can on Earth and elsewhere.  However, it might take some work to provide the necessary conditions for photosynthesis to occur.

For a plant to produce sugar (energy) and oxygen by photosynthesis, it needs:

  • water
  • carbon dioxide
  • light
seedling
At a minimum, a plant needs water, carbon dioxide, and light to produce energy by photosynthesis.

According to NASA, there is water on the sunlit surface of the moon. However, it might be necessary to provide more water as a supplement to get plants started.

Also, the moon has a very thin atmosphere.  In fact, the air on Earth contains 10 trillion times as many molecules as the same volume on the moon!

According to NASA, there are small amounts of helium, argon, neon, ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide in the moon’s atmosphere.  However, the amount of carbon dioxide is unlikely to be enough to support photosynthesis in plants.

Is There Enough Sunlight On The Moon To Grow Plants?

There might be enough sunlight on the moon to grow plants.  However, growing plants on the moon would present a challenge.

Since the length of a day on the moon is almost 30 days on Earth (29.53 days to be exact), we might need to provide plants with shade and artificial light at different times.

We already use artificial lights to grow plants on Earth.  For instance, gardeners who plant seeds indoors in winter or early spring may use LEDs or other “grow lights” so that their plants can get started earlier in the season.

LED
An LED can provide the extra light that plants need to grow in an environment without enough natural sunlight.

There are some growers who use only indoor lighting, such as these “freight farms” which are housed in shipping containers.

However, the amount of daylight will differ, depending on the season (time of year).

Does The Moon Have Seasons?

The moon has basically no seasons, since its axis has very little tilt (about 1.5 degrees).  On the other hand, Earth’s axis is tilted about 23.5 degrees, which is what gives us our seasons.

autumn fall road
The Earth’s tilt of 23.5 degrees is what gives us our seasons. The moon’s tilt is only 1.5 degrees, meaning there are basically no seasons there.

Also, remember that a “year” on the moon is 27 days, since it takes just under a month to revolve around the Earth.  This means that a “day” on the moon is actually longer than a “year”, which would make it challenging for plants to grow there (to say the least!)

Atmosphere On The Moon

The moon has its own atmosphere, but there are some problems for plants trying to grow there:

  • The moon’s atmosphere is thin compared to Earth’s.  This results in extreme cold in some places.
  • There is hardly any carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, or water in the moon’s atmosphere (again, because it is so thin, there are few molecules of anything in the air on the moon).
moon
The moon’s atmosphere is thin, and it doesn’t have enough of what we would need to grow plants.

Does The Moon Have An Atmosphere?

The moon does have an atmosphere, but it is much thinner than the Earth’s atmosphere.  In fact, the air on Earth has 10 trillion times as many molecules as the air on the moon.

planet Earth
The moon’s atmosphere is much thinner than the Earth’s atmosphere – about 10 trillion times thinner.

There are traces of helium, argon, neon, ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide in the moon’s atmosphere.  However, there is not enough carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis for plants.

Plants will also need nitrogen and oxygen to survive.  On Earth, the soil contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to other forms, such as ammonia and ammonium.

Plants can use these other forms of nitrogen for their growth, but they cannot use nitrogen gas itself.  With no nitrogen gas in the air (and with no nitrogen-fixing bacteria on the moon), plants will need another way to get nitrogen compounds.

One possible solution is traditional nitrogen-based fertilizers.  However, a more “natural” method is to introduce the bacteria that turn nitrogen gas into nitrogen compounds that plants can use.

Does The Moon Have Water?

The moon does have water.  Originally, it was unclear whether there was any water on the moon, and if any of it was liquid.

water
The moon does have water, but it may be much drier than our deserts.

Now, NASA has stated that there is water on the sunlit surface of the moon.  However, they also state that the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water that was detected in the moon’s soil.

Plants need liquid water to live for two reasons:

  • 1. nutrients must be dissolved in water so that plants can absorb them through their roots.
  • 2. liquid water is a key ingredient in photosynthesis.

However, there might not be enough liquid water on the moon to grow plants.  We might need to bring some of our own to kick start the cycle of plant growth on the moon.

Does The Moon Have Oxygen?

The moon does have oxygen, but most of it is not in the atmosphere.  Instead, most of the oxygen on the moon is trapped in the soil.

sandy soil
Most of the oxygen on the moon is trapped in the soil.

According to NASA, the soil on the moon is 40% oxygen by mass.  However, the problem of harvesting this oxygen from the soil is a problem that needs to be solved.

However, any oxygen harvested in gas form would need to be contained in a dome or greenhouse.  Once plants start growing on the moon, they will create oxygen from carbon dioxide by photosynthesis.

Just remember that the vast majority of oxygen on Earth (50% to 80%) comes from the ocean. Until we can create oceans on the moon, we must seek another source of oxygen for humans to breathe.

Nutrition On The Moon

Any plants growing on the moon will need the same nutrients as they would need on Earth, such as:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Sulfur

On Earth, the soil has different consistencies and nutrient content in different regions.  The same would be true on the moon.

If any nutrient is deficient in the soil, we can use a specialized fertilizer to provide a supplement.

Another option is to grow plants without soil using hydroponics, aquaponics, or aeroponics.  You can learn more about growing plants without soil in my article here.

hydroponics
Hydroponics is a way to grow plants without soil – but they would still need nutrients to survive.

Just remember: when you grow plants without soil, they will still need nutrients in their water (or in a spray solution for aeroponics).

Regardless of whether you grow plants with or without soil, you still need to maintain the proper pH for plant growth.  The ideal pH range will depend on the plant you are growing, but a pH of 6 to 7 is tolerable for most plants.

Finally, remember that you would need to be on the lookout for any dangerous chemicals in the soil when growing plants on the moon.  Before growing, you would want to remove these chemicals to avoid uptake by plants that are intended for human consumption.

Conclusion

Now you know some of the challenges of growing plants on the moon.  It may take a while, but it is possible to grow plants on the moon someday – with some help from humans.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

You can also explore the unique challenges of growing plants on Mars in my article here.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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