Save Water: Use An Olla

April 29, 2015 | By | Comments (14)

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It turns out that the most efficient watering system originates in ancient China.

Our June issue features an olla (pronounced oy-yah)—an unglazed clay pot—up to its neck into a planting bed. I checked in with Lori Haynes of Dripping Springs Ollas to learn more.

Q: Where does the concept of an olla come from?

A: The Fan Sheng-chih Shu (the first agricultural extension book) describes the use of buried clay pot irrigation in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is likely buried clay pot irrigation had been used for many decades or centuries before this description was published. Current practices remain much the same.

This paper argues that irrigation with an olla is more efficient than even a drip system.

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A sunken olla irrigates a bed of lettuce.


Q: How far will the water reach?

A: The spacing of the clay pots depends on the crop and size of the pot. In general they will be 9 feet apart for vine crops and 3 to 5 feet apart for corn and other plants that grow up more than out.

I suggest that people plant within a 36 inch diameter.  Depending on the type of crop this can mean 4 large plants at the edge of several smaller within.

Q: Can I use it in a container?

A: They work wonderful in containers!  Our current model, designed with the in-ground or raised beds in mind, requires a large container but soon we’ll have a couple of smaller sizes.

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Q: How’d you get bit by the olla bug?

A: We built a house a few years ago and decided to go with rainwater collection as our only source of water out of an interest in water conservation.  That meant very little to no water for irrigation if we wanted to shower.

I was researching irrigation methods for my vegetable garden and found clay pot irrigation but could not find a source, which led to talking to local potters, etc.  During my research I realized the wider need for ollas—primarily for the water conservation aspect. I started looking at larger factories and found a wonderful place in Tecate, Mexico that agreed to work with me.

My motivation is for people to connect with the environment, be mindful of water usage, and grown some healthy food. We have donated 100’s of OLLAS to school and community gardens and have shared hundreds of ollas with Ron Finley from Los Angeles.

Watch Lori explain how to use an olla below, and find out how to get your own here.


  1. greenworks trimmer

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    March 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm
  2. The secret gardens of SFO (yes, the airport), part 2 | A blog by Sunset

    […] nursery. They look so handsome in this tight strip. Also—this entire bed is irrigated with ollas! See them? Photo by Johanna […]

    August 11, 2015 at 8:00 am
  3. Jennifer Lee

    Did you know there’s another method to save water efficiently? Ever heard of a greywater recycling system? Now you have!

    Easy, simple, affordable and safe. What a wonderful total solution to save water, save money and save the environment by going green.

    July 15, 2015 at 4:43 pm
    • LS

      Thank you for sharing this info! Just we need here in drought plagued Tx. Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 23:43:32 +0000 To:

      July 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm
  4. How to use an olla to water your garden | A blog by Sunset

    […] been talking about ollas for the last few months in our efforts to find more efficient methods or watering.  If […]

    July 14, 2015 at 9:00 am
  5. 5 ways to keep houseplants watered on vacation | A blog by Sunset

    […] of these unglazed clay cotta pots beneath the soil, leaving the neck of the olla exposed above soil level. Fill with water and place the lid on the olla to prevent evaporation. As […]

    July 13, 2015 at 8:00 am
  6. Corinne Civish

    How to make your own affordable Ollas. Nice ideas here.

    May 31, 2015 at 1:48 pm
  7. Nicole

    They’re available for shipping cross-country here (as well as local pickup in the SF Bay Area:

    May 28, 2015 at 3:27 pm
  8. pat

    But they cost $29 each at my nursery and I can’t afford that! Is there anyplace to get them for less?

    May 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm
  9. Michael

    I bet if you off rain water in California you would die from thirst within a year.

    May 27, 2015 at 10:54 am
  10. blazeaglory

    Nice!! Im getting many of these for my back yard!

    May 19, 2015 at 12:52 pm
  11. LS Lauer

    where can I order an olla?

    May 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm
  12. Easiest way to slow-irrigate with gray water | A blog by Sunset

    […] are more fashionable slow-water delivery systems of course. Take this pretty pottery olla for example. And here’s more info about the basics of a real gray watsunseer system. But for […]

    May 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm
  13. mo1016

    Reblogged this on Water For Brazil.

    April 30, 2015 at 8:22 am

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