Water-Saving Garden Technique: Using Ollas

"What's an olla?" An olla (pronounced "oy-yah") is a terra-cotta bottle or pumpkin shaped pot. Ollas used for watering are buried neck-deep into soil, and then filled with water and capped. Plants near the olla will soak up the water that the terra cotta releases slowly. Gardening with ollas saves water, and plants love the slow, constant soaking at their roots. Ollas were brought to the U.S. Southwest by Spanish settlers, and the locals took up the practice of watering with ollas as well.

As drought conditions worsen in some parts of the U.S. (including where we live), watering with ollas would be a good way to help conserve this precious resource. If I can't afford to purchase them outright, I plan to try making my own for the garden beds this Fall.

Articles on how to use ollas:
Santa Fe Master Gardeners Assoc.
East Central Ministries
Urban Homestead
Continental Drift

Buy (or make your own) ollas:
East Central Ministries
Peddlers Wagon
Dave's Garden (make your own)
Santa Fe Master Gardeners Assoc. (make your own)

[Picture from Peddlers Wagon, which is a garden shop run by the good people at Urban Homestead]


  1. That is so cool, thanks for posting it. Up here in Vt. there's plenty of water but being from the droughtlands originally, I save water on principle. I'm reflecting on this - could it work in VT?

  2. The price of ollas put me off at first. I live Austin, and I found clay jars (not quite the proper shape but workable) at Hobby Lobby for about $6. I used some old 5-inch regular clay pots (read free) for tops. I'm only using them in my carrots and okra at the moment (test run), but they seem to be working. Yay.


    1. It is quite easy to make an oya. Two #4 terra cotta pots per oya, a water-proof silicone or acrylic adhesive, some masking tap, and a cork or water-proof cover for the bottom of each oya.

      1. Seal the hole of one pot and ensure it is water-tight
      2. Place the water-proof adhesive around the widest top edge of both pots
      3. Invert the top of one pot on the one that is sealed and on the bottom
      4. Tape vertically to allow the adhesive to set
      5. Allow to set for 24 hours or so
      6. Test the newly handmade oya's water-holding capability by filling the top hole with enough water to fill past the two joined pot edges. When the water holds, it is ready to use.
      6. Bury with the oya with the sealed pot on the bottom until about 1.5-2 inches is left exposed, so it can be seen (one doesn't want to damage the oyas!), filled, and properly planted around.
      7. Fill with water and cover the watering opening with a small stone, which keeps out insects and animals

      It should hold water and dispense it slowly over about 5-7 days. Some gardeners locate oyas throughout their garden, because they measurably conserve water and hydrate the plants around each oya. I got this info from the resource links from this article and from: http://permaculturenews.org/2010/09/16/ollas-unglazed-clay-pots-for-garden-irrigation/ and http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1434/

      Thanks for the great article and resources. Enjoy the oyas.

  3. This is a fabulous idea! Thanks for posting. I live near Austin, and my garden is getting bigger and bigger each season. I'm trying to do parts of it more or less, in the dry farming method -- low irrigation, widely spaced plants. I'll definitely try this. I wonder if ollas would work for fertigation? And I wonder if Fiesta Market might have some ollas? I bought a small one for making hot chocolate there a few years ago.


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