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Native Americans perfected Three Sisters gardening

Native Americans perfected Three Sisters gardening

Planting pole beans and squash among the corn is a Native American companion planting that is recognized as ingenious method for saving space, eliminating weeds and enhancing nitrogen. Give the corn seedlings a head start before planting the pole beans, pumpkins and winter squash.

DEAR AMOR: I have a couple of tips in gardening that I would like to share. To save space in gardening, plant pumpkins and winter squashes among the corn. Corn grows high, vines stay low. But Do NOT plant decorative corn next to eating corn. They cross pollinate and you get colorful hard kernels in your corn instead. — Lisa

DEAR LISA: Thank you for sharing your garden tips with us all. Since gardening season is here, the fun begins. For garden enthusiasts, the wait has been long for this time of the year to come around. The dirt is calling irresistibly. Our hands are so willing and anxious to finally sow seeds and tackle the weeds. Oh wait, not weeds again!

Growing pumpkins and squashes among the tall corn will definitely save space as they share one spot in the garden. The robust growth of the low growing pumpkins and winter squashes, however, will smother and prevent weed seeds from growing. This smart gardening method guarantees an enjoyable experience and a bounteous harvest.

The Three Sisters Garden is as smart as can be. It is known to work and is a well-established method practiced from generation to generation among the natives who have firsthand experience in toiling and gardening the land we now call our very own. It is a Native American companion planting method for space saving, weed control and critter management, among other physical and spiritual representations.

Pole beans are in the trio. It is intended to climb up the tall corn which eliminates the need for building up trellises. As much as the pole beans climb up away from devouring critters, the plants bear beans above ground for easy harvesting. This plant also returns nitrogen back to the soil for the next season’s soil amendments.


It is impossible to enjoy gardening without planning ahead. For a good start, manure, compost and rotten plant materials should be applied to a garden site beforehand. This area should also be free from weeds that could deplete nutrition from the intended plants.

Incorporating squash, corn, and beans to grow all together may only give us satisfaction if designed properly and not just plant as is, where is. A Three Sisters Garden will not be attractive if it’s planted in rows like we normally do. It will look chaotic.

Circular design will work best. Depending on length and desired garden size, connect multiple soaker hose together and lay it around in circles. The inner end of this soaker hose should be sealed up. It should then look like a cinnamon roll, if we have to be sweet about it.

Cover the soaker hose with aged woodchips that can be taken free from city dumps. It will thwart weed seeds from germinating as well as preventing water splashes that may carry bacterial spores up to the plant that causes blight or other plant diseases. It will water the roots of the plants but will not get any of their foliage wet.


After the soaker hose is laid and covered, it becomes a planting guide. Planting time is preferable after Mother’s Day in May. Presoak corn seeds to speed up germination for a few hours, but don’t exceed eight hours.

Plant corn in the inner circles, but not on the last one or two outer circles. Your corn should be planted evenly distanced from each other. After the corn has grown 6 inches above ground, plant pole beans by the corn seedling that were growing on the outer circle, but not on the last one or two circles.

At the same time with the pole beans, plant squash seeds on the last circle or two that has not been planted with corn or pole beans at all. You may have to wait another week or two if planting a grown squash seedling so as not to outgrow your corn and pole beans.

Plant what you love to eat. If there’s no need for too many squashes, add or replace with melon (watermelon, cantaloupe, or honey dew) fruits. With your built-in irrigation, water your circular garden regularly each week.

Amor Chamness Cook is a Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate and Purdue Extension Master Gardener. Send your garden questions for “Dear Amor” at


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