How to Plant a Three Sister’s Garden

A Three Sister’s Garden is a Native American planting guild, where you plant squash, pole beans, and corn together. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, the corn provides a natural trellis for the beans to grab on to, and the squash provides a nice groundcover to keep pests out. The corn also provides a nice dappled shade that the squash likes.

Three Sisters Garden

Tools & materials needed?

Seed drill or screwdriver, metal rake, compost, corn seed, squash seed, pole bean seed



You should plant your three sister’s garden in the late spring and early summer when the soil and air temperatures are warm.



Squash, Bean and corn seed should be an inch deep. 



This is where it gets complicated. I allow 2 foot by 2 foot blocks of space for my squash hills, and 2x2 blocks for my beans and corn. So I will plant my squash in 12 inch diameter, 4 inch high hills. I plant 6 seeds in each hill, and thin to 3 plants in each hill when the dominant plants become obvious. I also try to get each plant to grow in a different direction so they don’t get too tangled up with one another.


For my corn and bean 2x2 block I plant 4 corn seeds and 4 bean seeds. The corn is planted in a one foot apart from each other in a “+” plus sign pattern. The 4 bean seeds are also planted one foot apart from each other in an “X” pattern. This makes for a box. The bean seed and corn seed are 6 inches apart from one another.


The 2x2 blocks are alternated between corn/beans, and squash, so 10 blocks next to each other will measure 20 feet long. It is a good idea to leave a 2 foot row in between each row of blocks.


The white flags are my corn and bean 2x2 area blocks, and the silver flags are my 2x2 area blocks for the squash hills. There is another 2 feet in between the rows.


How to plant the seed?

1. I mulch my garden, so I first take my metal rake and pull the mulch away from the area I am going to make my squash hills.                                                                        

2. I make 12 inch diameter hills that are 4 inches high with good organic compost set 6 feet apart from one another.


3. I plant 4 seeds 1 inch deep in each hill. Then push the mulch back over the hills.

4. I then use a screwdriver or my planting bar to make direct drills through the mulch and soil to plant my blocks of (4) corn, and (4) bean seeds. These are planted 1 inch deep. Then cover the seed.

5. Water your seeds in. Make sure to keep the soil moist until germination.


Variations of the Three Sisters Garden

It is not necessary to always install the traditional corn, beans, and squash garden if you would like a Three Sisters Garden. There are many variations you could experiment with. To do this, you have to think about what each component of the Three Sisters Garden is.


Corn can be substituted for sunflowers. Sunflowers provide the trellis for the beans, and they are greedy nitrogen feeders like corn. In milder climates, you could substitute pole beans for peas. Beans and peas both provide nitrogen fixation, and they both will climb the corn. Peas do need milder temperatures, so I would not try this variation where summers are very warm.


Squash can be substituted for other plants in the cucurbit family. Cucumbers or watermelon make nice substitutes. I do like to plant my cucumbers and watermelon toward the edges of the Three Sisters Garden, as they need more sun than squash. This easy to tell, as the squash leaves are much bigger than watermelon and cucumbers. The larger the leaves, typically the more shade the plants like.

Modified three sisters using short blue corn, watermelon, and bush beans. The watermelon needs more sun than squash so the short corn is a nice complement, and the bush beans work well as the short blue corn does not provide as steady of a trellis.

The variations I personally use are:

1. Yellow Corn or White Corn, Pole Beans, Squash on the interior, Cucumber on the edges


2. Blue Jade Corn, Bush Beans, Watermelon (Blue Jade Corn is a dwarf corn stalk, so it does not provide a trellis, nor does it provide excessive shade)


3. Sunflowers, Pole Beans, Squash on the interior, Watermelon on the edges


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