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Irrigate Your Garden And Conserve Water With Ollas Clay Pots

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Irrigate Your Garden And Conserve Water With Ollas Clay Pots

On June 4th, Gaylord Anton Nelson, founder of Earth Day, the Appalachian Trail, the Outdoor Recreation Acquisition Program, plus the author of several pieces of environmental legislation, would have been 99 years old. Nelson’s contributions to helping save our Earth are unsurpassed.

Nelson is honored for his personal vision. He said, “Suddenly, the idea occurred to me — why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment? At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric.” No instant messaging, no email blast, yet the response was electric. That’s how important it was back in 1969, as it is today.

We all have a moral obligation, one person at a time, to do what we can to make a difference in our environment. No contribution is too small. No act of generosity to the Earth goes unnoticed, including taking steps to conserve one of Earth’s most precious gifts — water.

The most common ways to conserve water are to repair dripping faucets, brush your teeth without the water running, fix hose connections, reuse water, etc. But let’s look at a way to conserve water in your garden — clay pot irrigation, an ancient practice which is hailed as “the most efficient irrigation system known to man,” according to Geoff Lawton, head of the The Permaculture Research Institute.

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Clay pot irrigation can be traced back thousands of years, to several countries, but China has a written history of using clay pots — also called ollas — in their gardens. The concept is ridiculously simple: bury an unglazed olla in the ground, neck deep, put water in it, and put plants around it. What is referred to as soil moisture tension will occur. As the soil outside the olla dries out, water from inside the olla is pulled through the porous wall to replenish the dry soil. Your plants are watered automatically using only the water they need. If it rains, and the soil has enough moisture, no more water will be pulled through the walls. This supply-and-demand system saves up to 70% in water use in gardens, raised beds, and containers. Because of the design of the olla, there is no water runoff and no measurable evaporation (be sure to cover over the top of the olla with a rock, plate or get an olla with a lid).

Because soil moisture tension creates an environment where roots get slow, even watering around the clock, the root base grows larger, producing a healthier plant.

Ollas come in a variety of sizes. The larger the olla, the less often you have to fill it up, and the larger the circle of water around the olla. For example, a 2 gallon olla will water a 3-foot diameter circle for 3 to 5 days. That works well with a 4 x 4 garden or raised bed. Smaller ollas will water less, but may be better suited for tight spots and average sized containers.

To meet another environmental mark, ollas are organic, being made from clay. They leave no plastic residue in the earth for the next generation to worry about. Even if forgotten and left in the ground for years (which we know is possible from archeological digs), ollas are great neighbors to the environment and earthworms alike.

An olla is a gift to the earth, that keeps on giving. How? Consider that ollas are off the grid, so the only energy used is you, pulling the hose to the olla, and what little is needed to get the water from its source. However, if you use rain barrels, we can narrow the energy use down to just you, putting the hose in the neck of the olla!

Ollas have great attributes, but in my humble opinion, the best is where they are used, and my favorite is teaching gardens. It’s one thing to personally learn about water conservation, which naturally leads to growing healthy food. It’s another to actually teach it. So to all those volunteer gardeners out there who think up ideas, frame up gardens, and rev up our children in schools and community gardens, thank you. The ripple effect you have on our youth will shape their health, which in turn will shape the health of our Earth. I call that ultimate recycling. What a wonderful gift to give on Earth Day, our Day, or any day!

sent in by customer

Ron Finley's teaching day in Los Angeles


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1 John { 09.22.17 at 10:36 pm }

I experimented with DIY ollas this summer and found that they work extremely well. I highly recommend them. I wrote about it here.

There are different styles you can make and you can even use drip irrigation tubing along with a gravity fed water tank to keep them filled. In my containers the plants would attach their roots to the olla taking in the water it needs without me having top water and loose water out of the bottom of the container. I was only using 1 liter of water which kept the soil moist for about 1 week in early summer. I did have to fill more frequently when temps approached 90-107 degrees.

2 R. Brown { 04.19.16 at 4:46 pm }

Just got the answer from
Will my OLLA freeze?
If you live in a climate that has hard freezes, you should remove the OLLA in the winter.

3 R. Brown { 04.19.16 at 4:40 pm }

This sounds like just the “technology” I’ve been seeking. One question I didn’t see answered above: Do I have to dig them out in winter when the ground freezes?

4 Diane Labrecque { 06.13.15 at 9:34 pm }

Where in Ottawa Ontario can I find an ollas and looking forward to try one !
Thank you.

5 Janice Alfrey { 06.13.15 at 9:22 am }

How do they hold up in cold climates? Do they have to be removed and stored in a freeze free location in the winter?

6 Deanna R. Jones { 05.22.15 at 6:01 pm }

Thanks for posting this! It’s really interesting how clay pots can be used to irrigate a vegetable garden. I’m amazed that it’s been used thousands of years ago in China and other countries to irrigate their gardens. I’m surprised that I haven’t heard of this irrigation method before now. It seems like it kind of works like drip irrigation, only using clay pots, is that right? I bet that this method must be more sustainable for the environment since it doesn’t use rubber or plastic tubes like drip irrigation does.

7 Mary Kathryn Dunston { 05.07.15 at 8:48 pm }

I’m glad you like ollas, thank you. Lori Haynes designed our OLLA, and she did a stellar job! As to your comment about survival means, you make a valid point, we will always need water. I’m married to a 35 year veteran Marine and I know that we can last just 3 days without water. As our country has grown, and our food supply has increased, we have given little attention to water. A gentle reminder…the dust bowl was just outside our life time, so cycles do repeat. Being mindful of natural resources is never a waste of time, so thank you for reminding us!

8 Lisa Bridges { 05.07.15 at 7:08 pm }

What? I have never really been a history buff, but thanks to your research , I’m hooked.
I think it’s really sad that the years of wasting water has caused one of our survival means to slowly deplete our natural resources.

9 Mary Kathryn Dunston { 04.24.15 at 10:16 pm }

Yes, it is more efficient than a drip water system because there is no evaporation or run off of the water with an olla. Also, Ollas water below the surface, so there are less weeds.

10 Emkaybee { 04.22.15 at 9:02 pm }

Is this considered more water-efficient than a drip watering system?

11 Mary Kathryn Dunston { 04.22.15 at 6:59 pm }

Thanks so much for the great feedback. Some FYI for those of you with crafty minds. The homemade ollas do work, but the clay is not as porous as a traditional olla, due to the composition of the clay, plus, the way the store pots are fired makes this less porous. Also, homemade ollas have silicon or some sealant, which is an issue for organic minds.
Ollas work by soil moisture tension, which is basically the capillary effect. The ollas give out water as the plants need it, never over or under watering a plant. This has been tested and proven by independent studies around the world, so we can safely say we know how ollas work. Ollas do not work on gravity, like the milk jug with holes.
Providing water for our plants is a must do thing, so any system that helps is better than the poor plants wilting and dying. I say use what you have, but use the best thing you can get your hands on!
Thanks Linda Mae for passing the web site on.
Also, if you look on, you can access the site/locator map and find a retailer near you. If there isn’t one near you, suggest your favorite nursery to Dripping Springs Ollas, they are always looking for new retailers.
Happy Gardening!

12 What do you do about the drain hole in the bottom of the olla? { 04.22.15 at 6:11 pm }

This sounds like a wonderful idea I would like to try.

13 Joni { 04.22.15 at 2:40 pm }

I make my own using either soda bottles, water bottles or reuse the pots I get at the nursery when I buy plants – my dwarf blue plumbago plants were wonderful in the triple digit heat last summer because it waters the plant’s root system much better. I wouldn’t be without them now.

14 linda mae { 04.22.15 at 1:34 pm }

Before they became a ‘thing’ she was on it! Watch this informative video!!!

15 Deb Bowerman { 04.22.15 at 11:07 am }

thanks Amanda for the great link, I’ll be sure to use it

16 Amanda { 04.22.15 at 10:53 am }

If you aren’t able to find ollas in your area, here is a link to a website explaining how to make cheap and easy ones.

17 Deb Bowerman { 04.22.15 at 10:16 am }

such a great idea 🙂 where would I find Ollas in the Peterborough Ontario area
I’m in just need to find them and start spreading the word

18 Mary { 04.22.15 at 9:36 am }

Where in London, ontario can I find these

19 Billie { 04.22.15 at 9:27 am }

This is awesome – cant wait to try it.

20 Mary Kathryn Dunston { 04.21.15 at 9:29 pm }

I’m glad you like your ollas, Kay! Have any pictures you’d like to share?

21 Mary Kathryn Dunston { 04.21.15 at 9:28 pm }

Hi Susan,
The nursery is Mason House Gardens, 3520 Durham Rd #1 (Brock Rd), RR#4, Uxbridge, Ontario, Phone (905)649-3532,
If you have an troubles, just email me at
Thank you for your interest!

22 Kay. kimball { 04.20.15 at 5:41 pm }

Great article! I love my Ollas!

23 Susan Bolla { 04.20.15 at 12:30 pm }

Where in Ontario, Canada can I find these?

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