Effective use of Olla irrigation

July 6, 2021

Use of low-fuel clay ceramic pots (pans) an ancient technique of effective irrigation of plants. First, in China and North Africa, the technique was applied to arid areas of the world more than 4,000 years ago. Using olla (pronounced oh-yahs) can save the gardener time, energy and water. Olla users report that lush plants grow in their vegetable gardens with higher productivity. Plants irrigated in this way do not go through stress cycles due to water and can continue to live and produce. Ollas can be a relatively inexpensive way to maximize garden performance while minimizing overwatering, runoff, and water loss.


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The principle is simple. A clay pot is buried and only the opening at the top is visible above the ground surface. They are then filled with water. The porous walls of the ole allow water to enter the soil when needed. Because the pores in the clay pot are small, water does not flow freely out of the pot. Suction is created by the moisture stress of the soil as well as the roots of the plant. When the soil is dry, the water inside the ole is released faster when it is “pulled out” by the roots of the soil. Similarly, if there are recent saturating rains, the ole water will remain until the surrounding soil dries. Therefore, olla irrigation is extremely water efficient and prevents excessive evaporation and water runoff.

The roots of the plants are also better. It promotes deep watering and dense root growth, which facilitates more efficient uptake of nutrients and water. At the end of the growing season, dig into your ole and see how the be-efficiency works. It will be a dense plant root mat. Compare places where no shears were used and the difference is clear.

In the case of ollas, the soil and roots do not go through extreme drying and wetting cycles, which is particularly beneficial in preventing bitter-tasting greens, which is a challenge for dry horticulture. Constant water prevents the formation of cracks in tomatoes or melons, which occur when the plants receive plenty and then little water. In addition, with the shoulder, the soil surface remains relatively dry in the gardens, which can prevent the growth of weeds and help minimize some unwanted insect populations.

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Use of terracotta flower pots in a tomato container. Photo courtesy of Laura Neff.


Olla watering is most effective for plants with a fibrous root system, such as pumpkin, melon, watermelon, tomato and chile. The ollas can also be used on plants with relatively shallow roots, such as lettuce and herbs. But let’s not forget the shape of the ole and where the water will be. Thinner-necked, large round olives infiltrate much of the water under the roots of these plants, so initial surface irrigation may be required until they solidify.

It is not an effective technique with cereals and legumes due to the coverage required. Higher rates of use are also difficult to sue due to cost. However, the water cost savings are worth it if you grow a few plants on a small farm and installing the olas with a drip irrigation tape saves the refilling work.

Ollas can also be used with perennial landscapes such as young trees, vines or bushes. However, some roots of woody vegetation can break the clay. If you need to fill the pan more often, a crack is suspected.


  • Place it to leave 1-2 inches above the surface to prevent dirt and ground cover from washing. Carefully wrap the soil around the be. Water is not distributed in the air pockets and the roots do not grow in the air pockets.
  • Place your shoulders at least every 2-3 feet in your garden for maximum effect. Larger two-gallon shoulder pads can be placed 3-4 feet apart.

    Photo by Kate Stone (@katiefrancestone)

  • Check the water level frequently and top up the ole level as needed. The frequency depends on the soil type, the surrounding plant density and the weather. Occasionally, it may need to be recharged every 7 or more days, or as often as every other day.
  • Always hold a rock, plate or other cover over the ole hole. This minimizes evaporation and prevents mosquitoes from multiplying.
  • Use scissors on lightly sandy or coarse textured ground. Soils with a high clay content do not drain well.
  • If the ground is very deep, you may want to place a washer or drainage tray in the bottom of the hole where the bee should be placed. This prevents water leakage while promoting leakage.
  • Plant seeds a few inches from the ole opening. Irrigate the entire area and possibly surface water until the seeds germinate if it does not adhere to the top two inches of moisture.
  • Find out where your olives are buried. Outline the opening with rocks, a pin flag, or other means to prevent someone from stepping on the olla.
  • If you live in an area with hard frosts, dig your shoulder every winter to prevent cracking underground.
  • Liquid fertilizer can be added to the creature to slowly release nutrients into the soil. Make sure it is really in liquid form so as not to block the pores of the clay.


There are many different types of beers available for purchase, and there are many ways to make your own shelves from clay or store terracotta flower pots. Consider your location, cost, and how often you are able and willing to recharge your Italians, and how long you want to keep your Italians when considering what type to use. There are advantages and disadvantages to different types of ole systems.

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Olla bottles are very efficient, cylindrical shears. Glazed tops are excellent at preventing crushing and evaporation. The mold is perfect for use in large containers, but also works well in recessed or raised beds. Olla Balls are clay emitters that use gravity food from a reservoir such as a five-liter bucket or rainwater collection barrel. Users of olla ball irrigation kits testify to water efficiency and increased productivity in gardens. It really offers the most efficient irrigation system with relatively no maintenance. If it is equipped with a rainwater drainage system, there is essentially no need to refill them to be substantially maintenance-free, except to repair damaged or broken lines. These products are manufactured by Cutting Edge Ceramics in Tucson, Arizona.

Photo Credit: @houseofollas


It is easy and cheap to make your own shelves from terracotta flower pots. You will only need two flower pots, an opening lid, a strong waterproof glue (such as Gorilla glue) and a waterproof silicone sealant. The process can be done in a few simple steps, but requires complete drying overnight before planting in the garden.

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Do you want to print this information to share with others? Please download this condensed 2-page publication.

This article was originally published on May 13, 2016 and is reprinted with permission. The author of the article is Melissa Kruse-Peeples, Native Seeds / SEARCH (NS / S) Education Program Coordinator. Founded in 1983, NS / S, a nonprofit seed protection organization based in Tucson, Arizona, works to collect and preserve endangered conventional seeds. Their mission is to find, protect, and preserve the seeds of the people of the Southwest West so that these plants growing on dry soil will benefit all peoples and feed the changing world.

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