Companion Planting: The Three Sisters

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The classic example of happy companion plants is the legendary "three sisters"—corn, pole beans, and either pumpkins or squash. This trio is one of the easiest and most satisfying to grow.

Tips for growing the three sisters:

  • To try them in your garden, in spring, prepare the soil by adding fish scraps or wood ash to increase fertility, if desired.
  • Make a mound of soil about a foot high and four feet wide.
  • When the danger of frost has passed, plant the corn in the mound. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep and about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  • When the corn is about 5 inches tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support.
  • The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons, which don't like to step on them.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the "three sisters" for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or foes!

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Comments

I am re planting my garden

By marietta4042 on June 26

I am re planting my garden midsummer in va. I was wondering of the sister rule still applies of they are transplants? is it even possible?

Starting a garden late, was

By Eric McCarrol

Starting a garden late, was given 24, 4x8 garden boxes and free water... I would like yellow squash, collards, cabbage, okra, sweet corn, sweet peas, green beans, onions, and asscarrots, tomatoes, sweet green yellow and red peppers, and assorted herbs... any suggestions for companions, spacing and number of types and total plants per box?

You might be interested in

By Almanac Staff on June 25

You might be interested in these articles:

companion plants:

http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-friend-or-foe

http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-list-ten-common-vegetables

http://www.almanac.com/content/herb-companions-garden-and-kitchen

 

For spacing for each plant, see our vegetable and herb articles:

http://www.almanac.com/plants/type/vegetable

http://www.almanac.com/plants/type/herb

 

You might also be interested in our online Garden Planner, which is a tool to plot your garden (you could set up 24 rows of 4x8 raised beds, for example)--it will automatically give you the spacing for each plant and tell you how many would fit in the area, etc., and the planting/harvesting times will be tailored to your local climate (via zip code). It is a free tool for 30 days. After that, if you find you like it, you can subscribe for $25 per year. It's handy for garden records, and it will tell you next year what plants should not be put in the same plot (crop rotation). See:

http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/

Need gardening help.

By Phyllis Westray

Need gardening help.

Do the squash/pumpkins need

By Fatmittz

Do the squash/pumpkins need to be planted ON the mound? Or are they planted along the perimeter on level ground?

We plant 4 to 5 seeds inside

By Almanac Staff

We plant 4 to 5 seeds inside a small mound or hill when we plant pumpkins.  You plant one inch deep on the mound itself.

You can also hill up squash, though this is more useful in northern climates to help warm up the soil.

In fact, in hot southern climates, some gardeners will plant in a depression so they can more easily water.

It would be helpful for you to review our growing pages for pumpkins and for summer squash below:

http://www.almanac.com/plant/pumpkins
http://www.almanac.com/plant/squash-zucchini

 

Are there other vegetable /

By rgr393

Are there other vegetable / fruit combinations that will thrive using the Three Sisters companion planting method?.

Here is a list of vegetables

By Almanac Staff

Here is a list of vegetables that thrive in each other's company (as well as those that do not):

http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-list-ten-common-vegetables

I have 16 corn plants planted

By jeremy leger

I have 16 corn plants planted in a square beans around the outside and squash planted at the corners no mound what does the mound do

Good question. Planting in or

By Almanac Staff

Good question. Planting in or on mounds keeps water from collecting at the plant's stem and root. That's why squash and melons are also grown this way. It maybe that with good drainage, your crops will be fine without a mound, but making mounds ensures drainage not matter what weather conditions come to pass. Apparently some folks also plant in raised beds as well as on flat ground.
As for mounding the three sisters in particular, one source suggests that Iroquois Native Americans believed that the trio would only survive if planted on a mound.
Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you.

Yes, tomatoes are an

By Lady Anne

Yes, tomatoes are an antagonist to both corn and potatoes. Tomatoes are a heavy feeder, as well as corn. Both should not be planted in the same area where they will rob each other of needed nutrients, thus you will have weak crops from both. Check your local extension office for further information and general families/foes.

According to our companion

By Almanac Staff

According to our companion planting chart (http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-list-ten-common-vegetables), sunflowers are not foes of tomatoes.

The planting chart and James'

By Eilatk

The planting chart and James' comment says tomatoes and sunflowers DO NOT get along together, however, last year I had both sunflowers and tomato plants come up in the same bed and those tomato plants out-produced those in other areas of the garden. So, it would seem that there exceptions to the rule?

I'm trying four sisters, but

By Ivesorganics.com

I'm trying four sisters, but two versions of each. Corn/sunflowers; zucchini/summer squash; peas/beans. I love this concept, plus the fact it has been used successfully for hundreds of years by our native people.

Neither sunflowers nor peas

By James LM

Neither sunflowers nor peas were raised by Native Americans. Sunflowers were imported from Russia and peas from Europe. I am not sure that corn will do well if panted with sunflowers. Sunflowers have a negative alleopathic effect on many garden plants.

I am sorry, but you are

By moongoddesse

I am sorry, but you are incorrect on the note about the sunflowers. Sunflowers are a native to North America and while it was commercialized elsewhere and bred for bigger better flowers elsewhere (especially Russia) sunflowers were used by some Native American Tribes. One example is a type of perennial sunflower that was used by Native Americans called sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes ....that sunflower is harvested for the root.

Corn does fine with

By Abigal

Corn does fine with sunflowers, I've been doing it for years with success. They also do well with cucumber. Sunflowers attract birds keep this in mind if you have a crop that birds savor. Sunflowers also attract Aphids .....

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