The Three Sisters is a traditional Native American agricultural grouping or companion-planting combination that includes corn, beans, and squash, with corn providing a natural trellis for beans and vining squash, beans fixing soil nitrogen theoretically to the benefit of all three crops, and squash providing a living mulch with large leaves that cool the soil and discourage weeds.
The Three Sisters can be tricky in many areas of California; beans are grown from later winter or spring through early summer in hot-summer areas, and in some areas from early fall to early winter, while corn and squash are generally grown from spring through summer. Beans need cool-to-moderate temperatures with minimal to no frost, and suffer in late-spring and summer heat and/or frosts in various parts of California; while corn needs warm nights and is tolerant of summer heat. Zucchini falls somewhere in between; it likes cool weather with days as low as 60°F but tolerates heat.
Zucchini and other summer squash seed varieties sold in the United States generally are not vining plants, and rarely grow in a spreading form with the long vines that are common with winter squash. Many varieties of summer squash, particularly zucchini, produce dense, bushy, compact plants that may simply crowd out bean plants or even corn.
With the vigorous growth, long vines, and sprawling habit of many winter-squash and pumpkin varieties, smaller nearby plants may simply be overwhelmed, covered, and starved as a result of blocked sunlight. As a general rule, GardenZeus expert Darren Butler recommends against interplanting, period, for larger vining varieties of winter squash and pumpkins. For purposes of The Three Sisters, these varieties should only be planted with very tall or giant varieties of corn.
Beans and other nitrogen-fixing legumes use most of the nitrogen they fix, so unless you cut bean plants at soil level before harvest, there may be little nitrogen benefit to corn and squash. Soil nitrogen fixed by beans may be available only to crops that are planted afterward, not for current companions.
The Three Sisters agricultural grouping is more likely to be successful in some areas in California than in others. To receive customized information regarding how well The Three Sisters grouping is likely to work in your specific area, go to GardenZeus and enter your zip code. To receive customized information regarding growing any of corn, beans, winter squash or summer squash, go to GardenZeus and enter your zip code, and then go to the specific plant.