Learn more and buy the 2015 Old Farmer's Almanac!

Companion Planting: The Three Sisters

PrintPrintEmailEmail
Your rating: None Average: 4.3 of 5 (50 votes)

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!

Related Articles

More Articles:

Comments

I had great success with a

By anita rafidi on October 20

I had great success with a 3sisters this year--lots of food produced easily,even though--i would do somethings different next year... i planted it on a 16x14foot low-profile hugelkulture bed which was marvelously rich with compost and decomposing wood.

i planted sunflowers in the same bed with no ill effects--they were used as a pretty edge, while the inside was filled with corn, scarlet runner beans & delicata squash...I was pretty random with the plantings--didn't mound & didn't follow spacing guidlines, even stuffed a few volunteer squashes into the edges when i found them elsewhere--next time i will make wider paths of at least 2feet between my blocks; i think i planted too much squash which got out of control and pulled down my corn--also i used some saved squash seeds which obviously had been cross pollinated and produced frankensquash--next year only fresh bought seed and if i didn't have so much i think i could have controlled it's direction better... I have been considering using zuchini instead of a trailing squash next year--still thinking on this.

we also were blessed with a long hot summer.you could see pictures of my garden on Sun Lotus Yoga Sanctuary facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.878525305506928.1073741836.115846265108173&type=3

Does anyone know how a three

By School Garden Mamma on October 2

Does anyone know how a three sisters garden is/was traditionally 'put to bed' in the winter? We have harvested our beans, corn and squash -do we leave the corn stalks over winter? (We are in Minnesota)

Good question! We haven't

By Almanac Staff on October 3

Good question! We haven't heard how the garden was traditionally put to bed. However, we'd recommend that you remove garden debris before winter, to discourage pests and diseases from overwintering. Some gardeners cut the corn stalks at the base and let the fallen stalks dry for a week or so. They then chop the stalks and leaves into small pieces (by hand, mower, or chipper/shredder) and till the chopped pieces into the soil, or add them to the compost pile.

I am re planting my garden

By marietta4042

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

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 .....

Post new comment

Before posting, please review all comments. Due to the volume of questions, Almanac editors can respond only occasionally, as time allows. We also welcome tips from our wonderful Almanac community!

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.