Three Sisters Garden – Historical Theme Garden

The Three Sisters garden has a history in the Indian culture. It has been a story passed down for many generations and has value as a garden that supplies staple crops.

In the fall and now that we are celebrating Thanksgiving here in America this seems to be an appropriate theme garden.

You’ll want to plant your Three Sisters garden in once the danger of frost has passed. You’ll need an area that has direct sunshine for most of the day.

Prepare your garden area by breaking up and raking the soil. Next, build a mound about a foot in high and between 18 inches and 3 feet in diameter. If you’re in a dry area, flatten the top of the mound and make a shallow depression to keep water from running off. I put a lot of fertilizer in the bottom of the mound and pile soil on top of it.

Soak four to seven corn seeds overnight and then plant them about 6 inches apart in the center of each mound. Later thin to three or four seedlings. Many Native people honor the tradition of giving thanks to the “Four Directions” by orienting the corn seeds to the north, south, east, and west.

After a week or two, when the corn is at least 4 inches high, soak and then plant six pole bean seeds in a circle about 6 inches away from the corn. After a few weeks thin to three or four of the strongest bean seedlings.

At the same time, plant four squash or pumpkin seeds next to the mound, about a foot away from the beans. In about two weeks thin to one plant. If your area is larger you can plant more plants, but just don’t overcrowd the garden

Sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes planted around the edge also make a great addition to the Three Sisters garden. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other native crops are often planted in nearby plots.

Some of the other indigenous plants used by native North, South, and Central Americans include melon, tobacco, chili pepper, cotton, blueberry, wild rice, and hazelnuts.

When the corn is knee-high and again when silks appear on the husks apply aged manure or fish emulsion on the soil surface near each plant to feed them and help them grow.

The beans should naturally wind their selves up the corn stalks. If they aren’t movie the tendrils to the stalks and they should take hold and climb.

To allow room for corn and beans to grow, gently direct squash vines into walkways, garden edges, or between mounds. Once you observe young fruits on the squash, apply fertilizer like you did for the corn.

If you pinch off the tips of squash runners after several fruits have started to form, the plants will devote more energy to producing squash. I have done this for years and it gives you a better crop.

Three Sisters Bushel Basket mini garden

If you don’t have room for a full garden you can plant a Three Sisters Garden in a container. Again I like a bushel basket. I put a lot of fertilizer in the bottom and add compost. I sink a plastic pop bottle placed upside down in the soil to funnel my water deep into the soil near the roots where it does the most help.

Plant only 3 corn seeds (and thin to1), 2 bean seeds, and 1 mini pumpkin seed.

Place the container where it will receive at least six hours of sunlight (or 12 hours of grow lights) each day.

If you have room for one more bushel basket plant one with Indian corn, a few ornamental gourds and a scarlet runner bean. Add a few mini pumpkins or mums near the two container baskets in the fall and you have an instant fall theme garden.

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5 responses to “Three Sisters Garden – Historical Theme Garden”

  1. Teri

    This is great to find a site on gardening as I really need the help. I love to garden but am not very proficient yet. This article on the Three Sisters Garden is fascinating and I am jotting down the tips.
    Thanks very much for the great information.

  2. […] theme quality to the planting. The following url will take to to a Three Sisters Garden article. Best Related PostDish Gardening – Creative Indoor Gardening by admin on November 10th, 2007Raised […]

  3. Jim


    Regarding Three Sisters Gardens.

    Can you tell me if cucumbers or melons (watermelon or cantaloupe) could be planted in some of the mounds reserved for squash?

    Thanks 😉

  4. admin

    Yes, they could be planted together. The only difference if you plant melons is you might need a little more space or if you grow vertically you might need better supports. Denise

  5. […] Three Sisters Garden – Grow a traditional Native American style garden with corn, squash and beans. Check out this link for a three sisters article: […]

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