UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance
University of California
UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance

From the UC Blogosphere...

Growing the 3 Sisters

Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County

Client: I've heard various local home gardeners talking about planting the “3 sisters” in their vegetable garden. I think they are discussing corn, beans, and squash. Why would I want to plant the 3 sisters?

MGCC Help Desk: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk regarding growing the “3 sisters.”

<b>3 Sisters</b><br>from IALF
3 Sisters
from IALF
The traditional sisters are corn, beans, and squash, although there are other plants that work well as additions or substitutions: sunflowers, amaranth, watermelons, or bee balm, to name a few. In a 3 sisters garden, the corn becomes the pole for the pole beans. The beans enrich the soil with their nitrogen-fixing ability and help support the corn in the wind. The large leaves of squash or melon shade the soil to keep it cooler and retain more moisture, and their prickles provide a bit of a barrier against pests like deer and raccoons.

There are many variations on the 3 sisters garden, but the most traditional layout is something like this: several corn kernels planted in a circle, beans planted close to the corn, and then the squash planted in a wider circle around the inner plantings. 

This layout works great for growing dry corn and dry beans. If, however, you'd like to grow sweet corn and snap beans, you should consider an alternative. When growing dry corn and beans, everything is ready for harvest at the same time. But, fresh corn and beans will be ready before squash. You're probably not going to want to carefully step around your pumpkins or watermelon every time you harvest beans or corn, and the squash leaves probably won't appreciate being stepped on either.

In the above situation, an alternate layout is best. Rows of corn with beans planted in between is a great variation, with the option to plant some squash along one side. This variation has the added benefit of increased pollination for the corn. If you have a good amount of space, beans, corn, and squash can be planted in linear plots and used for crop rotation. From left to right, plant squash, then corn, then beans. Each subsequent season, move each crop to the right, so the corn and squash can benefit from the nitrogen-fixed soil the beans grew in. 

Companion planting can become a complex set of decisions. You will want to consider the variety of plants you wish to grow and then consider which do well together and which can exacerbate problems by, for example, attracting the same pests. Information regarding companion planting can be found at:

We wish you continued success with your gardening, especially growing the 3 sisters. Please do not hesitate to contact Master Gardeners again if you have further questions.

Help Desk of the Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (KR)

Note: The  UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round (except the last two weeks of December) to answer your gardening questions.  Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA  94523. We can also be reached via telephone:  (925)646-6586, email: ccmg@ucanr.edu, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog  (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/)

Posted on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 12:19 AM

Time Is Ticking...Do You Fuse Art with Science?

If fuse art with science through drawings, paintings, watercolors, photographs, sculptures, textiles, video, or mixed media, consider entering the Consilience of Art and Science Show at the Pence Gallery, Davis. Here a honey bee

Time is ticking...do you fuse art with science? Is your art ready to show? Organizers of the Consilience of Art and...

Posted on Friday, December 8, 2017 at 3:57 PM

If You're Into Insects...and Good Causes...

A Peruvian walking stick changes hands among children visiting the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

If you're into insects--who isn't?--and want to support the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California,...

Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 6:14 PM

Raising Awareness and Support On #GivingTuesday

Thanks to passionate UC Master Gardener volunteers, partners and friends, we raised $10,050 during #GivingTuesday!

Social media was buzzing with activity and "UNselfies" celebrating the program for #GivingTuesday!
#GivingTuesday provided an opportunity to raise awareness and talk about the UC Master Gardener Program and the incredible volunteers that make a difference across California's landscape. Funds raised will be used for both local county initiatives, school, community, demonstrations gardens, and statewide funds raised will be used to support advanced training opportunities to volunteers across the state in 2018. 

The UC Master Gardener Program plays a critical role in extending research-based information to the public and simply put, we could not do it without people like you. 

In 2017 you helped:
  • Extend sustainable landscaping practices to more than 2.1 million people in California!
  • Support more than 1,000 demonstration, community and school gardens around the state; creating beauty, outdoor classroom training opportunities, and increasing science literacy in schools, jails, hospitals, senior centers and more.
  • Combat food insecurity in our local communities by giving people the skills and knowledge to grow their own healthy fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce pesticide use and inspired habitats for pollinators and other beneficial insects. 

Social media was buzzing with activity on #GivingTuesday, with volunteers and program supporters sharing reasons why they love the program. "UNselfies" or unselfish selfies were posted in support of the incredible impacts the UC Master Gardener Program makes across California. Check out the fun slideshow of #UNSelfies that were shared across social media on #GivingTuesday! 

With much gratitude,

Missy Gable
(530) 750-1266

Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 9:20 AM

UC Davis Connections Emerge at Conference in Malayasia

At Sibu: Penny Gullan, emeritus professor, UC Davis; Abu Hassan Ahmad of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang; and Peter Cranston, emeritus professor, UC Davis. Cranston and Gullan now live in Canberra, Australia.

Talk about UC Davis connections! When UC Davis emeriti professors of entomology Peter Cranston and Penny Gullan of...

Posted on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 1:30 PM

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