Three Sisters Companion Planting

One of the oldest examples of companion planting

The Three Sisters planting combination is one of the oldest examples of companion gardening.

It was practised by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and is still widely planted in vegie gardens across the world today.
The three plants used in this ancient gardening system are beans, corn and squash (any trailing member from the Cucurbit family will work- pumpkin, melons, cucumber etc). The principle behind this combination is that the beans will use the corn as a support to climb up, and in turn as they are in the legume family they will fix nitrogen from the soil and make it more available to the other plants. The rambling squash vines provide a living mulch and help shade the roots of the corn and the beans, preventing them drying out in the heat of summer. And as most of the Cucurbit family have spiny stems they also prevent pests climbing up to eat the corn and beans.

So simple and easy to do at home

You need an area of well prepared garden bed that is no smaller than 3 metres square, and in a full sun position.

All of the seeds are sown directly into the ground in late spring- early summer.

First sow the corn and squash. Sow the corn in blocks of at least 4x4 to ensure good pollination rates. Sow the corn about 15-20 centimetres apart. Interplant the blocks of corn with squash plants, planting the squash seeds about 10 centimetres apart. Once the seeds have germinated thin the squash seeds so there are about 2 plants for every 4 corn plants. Then 3-4 weeks later, or once the corn plants are around 10 centimetres high it is time to plant the bean seeds. Plant 2 or 3 bean seeds at the base of each corn plant.

You will need to make sure you weed between the plants while they are still young. But once the plants are established you need to do little else except water in hot or windy time.

So as you can see these Three Sisters have a beautiful relationship and live in harmony together. By practising this planting combination you are ensuing this age old gardening tradition is continued for thousands of years to come!



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Evette is a passionate backyard gardener and has been a Diggers Botanical Guide. Over the years she has also headed up the Heronswood Garden Shop, plus our plant, seed and bulb departments, giving her a wealth of knowledge to share with members.

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