Ollas Clay Pot Irrigation


Yesterday I drove to San Juan Capistrano to visit an Ecology Center to learn about the benefits of using Ollas clay pots for flower beds and container irrigation. The center offers a variety of classes about eco friendly gardening and I though it would be beneficial to learn of different waya to keep the soil moist without having to constantly water.   Since southern California gets so little annual rainfall water conservation and keeping plants alive is always a tricky balancing act. I totally agree with cutting back on water usage, but at the same time hate to see all my plants wilt away under the hot sun. 


A good way to conserve water is to plant native plants that are drought tolerant. The center has a lot of interesting cacti and flowering bushes. The area is so inviting that while walking through I had a young cat follow me all over the place as well. 

Clay pot watering soil

Clay pot watering soil

The Ollas clay pot  (pronounced oh-yah) is a handmade terra cotta clay pot used as an ancient method of drip irrigation for container gardening or ground applications.

The general rule of thumb when selecting an olla for a particular pot or space, is to keep in mind that the water seeps out approximately the radius of the olla; the larger the space, the bigger the olla you will need! 

How to use an Olla

1. Bury the Olla in soil leaving the neck exposed.
2. Plant seeds or plants within 2” – 5” radius based on olla size.
3. Fill the Olla with water and watch as the surrounding soil gets moist over time. 

The water slowly seeps through the unglazed porous clay, directly irrigating roots that will encircle the jar to absorb leaking moisture.

Ollas virtually eliminate the runoff and evaporation common in modern irrigation systems, allowing the plant to absorb nearly 100 percent of water. In places with water conservation ordinances, ollas can help maintain a steady flow of water to plants because they also reduce the frequency of watering.  Ancient agrarian cultures living in or near desert regions have used olla irrigation methods for millennia. Thought to have originated in Northern Africa and brought to the Americas by the conquistadors, research has also found ollas used in China over 4000 years ago.


I am totally in love with this idea and was surprised to see how well the clay pot worked in that small flower box.  The question was raised about weather the opening should be covered with a small lid or rock to keep mosquito larva out. To be honest, no one knew the answer to that one, so I will report back and let you know how my clay pot is doing.

If you live close to San Juan Capistrano you can pick up your own Olla clay pot at the Ecology Center or you can order your Olla clay pot on-line here . My earthworms just got delivered and I am heading outside to put them into my worm composting bins. 


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