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5 Reasons to Try Olla Watering Vessels (Plus, 6 to Buy)

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5 Reasons to Try Olla Watering Vessels (Plus, 6 to Buy)

August 1, 2023

The first time we spotted an olla (pronounced oh-ya) watering vessel, we were immediately intrigued. An ancient method of irrigation, watering via an olla involves burying an unglazed clay vessel (the olla) in the earth in your garden and filling it with water. The water slowly seeps out of the porous clay into the surrounding soil, providing continuous moisture to the nearby plants. 

Olla irrigation is making a comeback as summers get hotter, and also as more gardeners have taken an interest in growing their own food, says Josh McWilliams the co-founder of GrowOya, a 10-year-old company that makes modern-day ollas. McWilliams read about olla irrigation when researching ways to water his vegetable beds while working as a chef and raising two young kids. “I wasn’t looking for a solution for my 30-acre field, I was looking to support gardening as part of a busy lifestyle,” he says. “I wanted to be able to go away for a weekend, but drip irrigation didn’t make sense for one or two beds.” At the time, McWilliams couldn’t find any ollas to buy, so he found a partner and started making them and selling them at farmers markets in Vancouver. GrowOya has sold hundreds of thousands of them since.

Above: GrowOya’s olla. To use, bury the vessel but leave the hole exposed so you can refill it easily with water.

A raised bed is an ideal place to use ollas. McWilliams notes that they work best with plants with creeping vs. tap roots. You can still use them, but you’ll need to be strategic where you place your carrots and parsnips.

If you’re intrigued by this low-fi, eco-friendly method of watering read on for five reasons to love this ancient practice, and six ollas you can buy:

1. Olla watering is low-tech.

If you can dig a hole, you can install this irrigation. Olla watering is the epitome of low-tech, which is especially appealing to anyone with a small garden bed for whom drip irrigation would be overly ambitious. And being low-tech, it is also relatively affordable.

2. It’s also super-efficient.

Not only are ollas a low-effort style of watering, they are a very efficient one: Watering below the soil reduces evaporation. The non-profit organization Ecology Action tested five 5-gallon ollas in a 100-square-foot garden plot and found that 1.25 gallons of water per olla seeped into the soil every four days. Olla watering can also encourage roots to grow deeper, making for more drought-resilient plants. 

3. Ollas are inherently plastic-free.

Almost all modern irrigation systems, including water-saving drip irrigation systems, rely on PVC pipe and drip lines that do not biodegrade but must be replaced with some regularity as they wear out.

4. You can DIY an olla.

Monica Chavez, the content creator behind House of Esperanza, made her DIY ollas out of two simple terracotta pots, which she sealed together with a non-toxic water-based glue.  

5. An olla can babysit your plants.

Perhaps best of all, watering via ollas gives you a free pass for a weekend (or even a week away) without having to beg your neighbors to water your plants. Fill them up before you go and your plants will stay hydrated; larger ollas can go up to 7 days without filling.

Olla Vessels to Buy

 Above: The Garden Oya™ Watering Pot starts at \$34.95 at Growoya.com and comes in three sizes.
Above: The Garden Oya™ Watering Pot starts at $34.95 at Growoya.com and comes in three sizes.
 Above: The Traditional Vase Terracotta Garden Hydrator holds \13 cups of water and, unlike some ollas, does not need to be taken out in the winter; \$60 at Garrett Wade.
Above: The Traditional Vase Terracotta Garden Hydrator holds 13 cups of water and, unlike some ollas, does not need to be taken out in the winter; $60 at Garrett Wade.
The Large Olla Watering Pot has a capacity of \2.9 gallons; \$55.95 at Territorial Seed.
Above: The Large Olla Watering Pot has a capacity of 2.9 gallons; $55.95 at Territorial Seed.
 Above: The Extra Mini Terracotta Olla with Blue/Green Lid is \$\18.99 on Etsy.com
Above: The Extra Mini Terracotta Olla with Blue/Green Lid is $18.99 on Etsy.com
Above: The Medium Teardrop-Shaped Terracotta Container Plant Hydrator is best used for planters or raised beds; $48 at GarrettWade.com
 Above: The Terracotta Irrigation Cones are sized for houseplants and keeps them hydrated for up to a week; \$40 for a set of 3 (currently on sale for \$\29.95) at Terrain.
Above: The Terracotta Irrigation Cones are sized for houseplants and keeps them hydrated for up to a week; $40 for a set of 3 (currently on sale for $29.95) at Terrain.

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Frequently asked questions

What are olla watering vessels?

Olla watering vessels are unglazed clay pots that are buried in the ground and filled with water. They work on the principle of providing slow and efficient irrigation directly to plant roots.

How do olla watering vessels work?

Olla watering vessels work by gradually releasing water into the surrounding soil through the porous clay walls. This allows plants to absorb water as needed, reducing water wastage through evaporation and runoff.

What are the benefits of using olla watering vessels?

Using olla watering vessels offers several benefits, such as minimizing water waste, reducing weed growth, preventing soil erosion, and promoting healthy root development. They also help in conserving water by delivering it directly to plant roots.

Which plants can benefit from olla watering vessels?

Olla watering vessels are suitable for a wide range of plants, including vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even container plants. They are particularly beneficial for plants that have deep roots or require consistent moisture levels.

How do I install olla watering vessels?

To install olla watering vessels, dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the vessel entirely. Place the olla in the hole and fill it up with water. Then cover the olla with soil, leaving only the neck exposed. Finally, plant your desired plants around the olla.

Do olla watering vessels require any maintenance?

Olla watering vessels require minimal maintenance. Regularly check the water level in the olla and refill it as needed. Clean the olla occasionally to remove any debris or blockages from the water delivery system. Additionally, monitor the soil moisture levels to ensure your plants are receiving adequate hydration.

Where can I buy olla watering vessels?

Olla watering vessels are available in garden centers, nurseries, and online stores that specialize in gardening supplies. Some popular online marketplaces like Amazon also offer a variety of olla watering vessels to choose from.

Are there any alternatives to olla watering vessels?

While olla watering vessels are an effective watering solution, there are alternative methods available. For example, drip irrigation systems and self-watering containers provide similar benefits. It ultimately depends on your preferences and the specific needs of your plants.

Can I use olla watering vessels in cold climates?

Yes, you can use olla watering vessels in cold climates. However, it's essential to remove water from the ollas and store them indoors during freezing temperatures to prevent damage. Once the danger of frost has passed, you can reinstall the olla watering vessels in your garden.

Are olla watering vessels eco-friendly?

Yes, olla watering vessels are considered eco-friendly. They help conserve water by reducing evaporation and runoff, and they require no electricity or complicated setups. Additionally, since they are made of clay, they are biodegradable and do not contribute to environmental pollution.

Product summary  

Compostable Pots

Olla Large

$55.95 USD from Territorial Seed Company

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