Earth-friendly solutions for organic gardeners.

Easy Irrigation: Top Ten (Really 11) Reasons to Use Ollas

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering…what’s an Olla? I had the same question after stumbling upon a blog article about using Ollas for irrigation.

Basically, an Olla is a pot. It is made of low-fired, unglazed clay. Instead of planting in the Olla, you plant around it and fill the Olla with water.

In the garden Ollas act as water reservoirs. Over time the Olla slowly irrigates the surrounding plants.

Here are the top ten reasons I think Ollas work well in Pacific Northwest gardens.

  1. Use Less Water.
    In Olla irrigation, your plants get watered at the root, so no water is lost to evaporation. Ollas can save 30% to 70% of the water typically used to grow garden plants, like tomatoes, beans and flowers. Here’s some pictorial proof that Ollas really work!
  2. Do Less Work
    Ollas can liberate you from having to water every day. In fact, I’ve personally found that my Ollas need to be filled only every 3 to 5 days…depending on weather and soil type. I like to say that your Ollas will water your plants so you don’t have to.
  3. Save Money
    Here in Portland, where gardeners often complain about high water bills during the dry summer season, Ollas can reduce water usage, and in turn lower water bills. Here’s a great map showing relative water rates across the U.S., the Pacific Northwest really does have some of the highest water rates in the country.
  4. Healthier Plants
    Ollas water at the root level. And healthier roots translates to healthier plants. I’ve also found that having a water reservoir right there, ready to release water whenever the plants need it means that lettuces don’t bolt as quickly and root vegetables are less prone to cracking. In addition, watering at the root means I’m not getting the leaves wet, which in turn reduces the amount of mildew on vegetables like Zucchini.
  5. Non-toxic
    Ollas are made of 100% natural Tecate clay, and they contain no paint or glaze. Ollas are free from the BPA found in plastics.
  6. Easy to Install
    If you can dig a hole you can install an Olla. I have a tendency to reconfigure my garden beds. I can pull an existing Olla out of the ground in about 5 minutes, and install it in a new spot within 15 minutes. Now I will admit that my garden soil is “dig-able”, but I’ve helped a number of people put Ollas into their gardens and they have all been amazed at how easy it is.
  7. Low maintenance
    Ollas have no moving parts, so they are virtually maintenance free. With a drip system there are lots of potential points of failure; the timers can break, the batteries can lose their charge, the hose might leak or the emitters might clog. Ollas aren’t susceptible  to any of those problems. But be warned: If you live in an area that regularly gets hard freezes you may want to lift your Ollas from the ground prior to winter. It’s not hard to do (see item #6.)
  8. Fewer Weeds
    I actually had a hard time believing this claim when I first started using Ollas. But it’s true! When you use an Olla to water at the root level (no top watering please), the topsoil dries out. With the soil surface dry, weeds don’t have a chance to germinate. You’ll still have to pull the larger weeds that have root systems, but the weeds hiding in your soil as seeds won’t have a chance to return to your garden.
  9. Fertilize 
    You can add an organic liquid fertilizer directly to an Olla to slowly feed the surrounding plants. Be sure that the fertilizer truly is a liquid, because you don’t want any particulate matter to clog the porous clay.
  10. Rainwater Collection
    Ollas use water efficiently. So that stash of rainwater you collected in the rainy season might actually last you through the long, hot summer.
  11. Water When You Want To
    There are so many rules when it comes to watering your garden. Here are just a few…Don’t water at night, because it encourages mildew…Don’t water just before a rain event, because it wastes water…Don’t under water your plants…Don’t over water your plants. Ollas get rid of all of those problems. You can water at night, because when you fill an Olla you won’t get the leaves wet. You can water just before a rain event, because if the ground is wet, the Olla won’t release the water it holds. And as long as you are using the Olla, it is almost impossible to under water or over water your plants, because the plants themselves determine when the Ollas will release water.

Two Sizes of Ollas

Ollas work well in a variety of gardens. You can use the large-sized Ollas in square foot gardens, raised planters, large containers or directly in the ground. Each of the large Ollas holds about 2 gallons of water, and can irrigate up to 18″ in all directions (think of a 36″ diameter circle, with one 2-gallon Olla right in the center). Actually an 18″ radius is only the official rating, I’ve found that Ollas do a great job of keeping my 4′ x 4′ beds watered (that translates to a 24″ radius).

And now, you can use our new 1-quart Ollas to irrigate your potted plants. These smaller Ollas are ideal for pots measuring 22″ to 24″ in diameter.

I sell Dripping Springs Ollas direct to the public. To find the most current price, as well as how to order and where to pick up your Ollas, please visit the Buy page.

Watch the Demo

Lori Haynes from Dripping Springs Ollas demos clay pot irrigation.