A Three Sisters garden is very specific. It consists of corn, pole beans that climb the corn, and squash. The leaves of the squash shade the ground and help retain soil moisture. These three plants are grown together in one mound. Tribes in the Northeast grew the Three Sisters in this manner. No one else in the country did. Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Mvskogee-Creeks, Seminoles, etc. did not grow the Three Sisters in this way. Groups in Mexico allowed pole beans to grow up corn, but squash was grown apart. It is a practical way to grow these plants, which is why most tribes claim to have always have farmed in this fashion.

Corn Dogs

Corn and squash in my big garden. Contrary to popular belief, Choctaws and other SE tribes (Cherokee, Muvskogee-Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole) did not grow the Three Sisters. They may have have grown corn, squash and beans, but not together in one mound as did tribes in the Northeast.

3 sisters My son's 3 Sisters garden

Squash blossoms

Tosh and 3 sisters garden

Above and below Tosh inspects his corn.

Tosh and Three Sisters

Below: Tosh marks his territory:

Tosh's garden sign

I plant the Three Sisters in different ways. One way is in rows, so that each plant is separate from the others (although this is not the “interactive” way to plant them). Another is to follow these instructions from NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art at

1. In late May or early June, hoe up the ground and heap the earth into piles about a foot high and about 20 in. across. The centers of your mounds should be about four feet apart and should have flattened tops.

Below: For Three Sisters in my large garden, I didn't make individual mounds. I made "grave" mounds.

Three Sisters mounds
2. First, in the center of each mound, plant five or six corn kernels in a small circle.
3. After a week or two, when the corn has grown to be five inches or so, plant seven or eight pole beans in a circle about six inches away from the corn kernels.
4. A week later, at the edge of the mound about a foot away from the beans, plant seven or eight squash or pumpkin seeds.
5. When the plants begin to grow, you will need to weed out all but a few of the sturdiest of the corn plants from each mound. Also keep the sturdiest of the bean and squash plants and weed out the weaker ones.
6. As the corn and beans grow up, you want to make sure that the beans are supported by cornstalks, wrapping around the corn. The squash will crawl out between the mounds, around the corn and beans, as seen in Tosh's garden below.

Corn, squash and beans

You also can plant the Three Sisters in a raised bed:

Three Sisters in raised bed Early June 2010 June 2014