6 Steps For Ollas and Clay Pot Irrigation in Organic Gardening

Are you looking for an efficient and cost-effective way to water your organic garden? Look no further than olla irrigation, an ancient clay pot irrigation method that has been used for thousands of years. With proper placement, ollas can conserve water and improve the overall quality of your produce. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using ollas in your organic gardening practices.


Ollas (pronounced “oh yahs”) are an ancient mode of irrigation that originated over 4000 years ago in China and North Africa. Clay pot irrigation was described in writing then but was most likely used in gardens centuries before that. The basic premise is the water would leach slowly from the clay pot and reach a plant’s roots. Today, Ollas are all the rage, especially in dry, arid places where the need for efficient ways to conserve and save water is crucial.

How to Use Olla Irrigation

Olla irrigation is most effective for plants with fibrous root systems like squash, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, and chilies. It can also be used for shallow-rooted crops like lettuce and herbs. However, keep in mind the shape of the olla and where the water will sit. Large round ollas with a thinner neck will seep most of the water below the roots. It is not as efficient technique to use with grains and legumes because of the coverage necessary. Nonetheless, water cost savings might make it worth it for some crops.

Tips for Crops with Shallow Root Systems

For crops with shallow root systems like herbs and lettuce, it is important to keep the shape of the olla in mind. Large, round ollas with a thinner neck will seep most of the water below the roots of these crops, so initial surface watering may be necessary until they get established. Plant seeds a few inches from the olla opening and water the entire area. If your olla is not keeping the top two inches moist, consider surface watering until the seeds germinate. Always keep a rock plate or other cover over the olla opening to prevent evaporation and mosquito breeding.

Unsuitable Crops

While olla irrigation is an effective method for many crops, it may not be suitable for all. Crops with taproot systems, such as carrots and radishes, may not benefit from olla irrigation as the water would not reach their deep roots. Similarly, ollas may not be ideal for crops that require constant moisture, such as rice or cranberries.

Installing Ollas in Your Garden

To properly install ollas in your garden, follow these simple steps:

  1. Decide where you want to place your ollas and dig holes deep enough to accommodate the pot.
  2. Place the olla in the center of the hole, leaving the top exposed above the soil surface.

    When installing ollas, it is important to remember to bury them leaving 1-2 inches above the surface to prevent dirt and mulch from washing inside. Additionally, water will not disperse in air pockets and roots will not grow in air pockets. Following these instructions will help ensure that your ollas are installed properly and functioning efficiently.
  1. Backfill around the olla with soil and pack gently to ensure it is secure in place.
  2. Fill the olla with water until it reaches the top and cover the opening with a rock plate or cover to prevent evaporation and mosquito breeding.
  3. Check the water level frequently and refill as needed.

    It is important to check the water level in your olla pots frequently and refill as needed. This ensures that your plants have a consistent water supply and prevents the pots from drying out. Keeping a rock plate or cover over the opening can help prevent evaporation and mosquito breeding. By taking these simple steps, you can enjoy the water-saving and efficient benefits of olla irrigation in your organic garden. 
  1. Place ollas at least 2-3 feet apart in your garden for maximum impact. For larger ollas with a two-gallon capacity, place them up to 3-4 feet apart.

Ollas in Specific Types of Soil

When it comes to using ollas in specific types of soil, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Ollas work best in loamy soil or clayey soil with good moisture retention. Sandy soil may cause the water to drain too quickly from the olla, resulting in less effective irrigation. Additionally, make sure to pack the soil around the olla tightly to prevent air pockets.

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