DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water #gardeningtips #diygarden
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How to make DIY Ollas: Low Tech Self-Watering Systems for Plants

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How to make inexpensive ollas using terracotta pots. A clever way to keep plants watered in both the greenhouse and outdoors. Slow-release watering around growing plants

Using an Olla is a great way to keep plants watered, especially in dry regions and in the height of summer. The way they work is by slowly releasing water directly to plant roots under the ground. This saves a lot of water since very little of it is lost to evaporation on the soil’s surface. Being slow-release it also means that you water your plants less.

Although you can purchase purpose-built Ollas, making your own using terracotta pots is both easy and inexpensive. In the video and instructions below I show two ways that you can convert ordinary plant pots into low-tech watering solutions for your own garden.

Materials Needed for this Project

The first way is very easy but much more of a hack than the second. The more permanent solution involves sealing the bottom of your pots with concrete. For this project you’ll need:

DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water.

An Ancient Way to keep Plants Watered

I don’t think anyone really knows how long ollas have been used to water plants. Being made from simple unglazed pots, they could have been around since the invention of pottery. Known more commonly throughout the American south-west, ollas are used to keep plants alive in arid climates. They’re useful in any growing climate though, especially in the hotter months.

The way they work is simple. Terracotta is porous and when a pot is filled with water, the moisture wicks through the terracotta. If you leave the pot in the open air you can see moisture beading up on the surface of the pot. It does the same thing when buried, keeping the soil around the pot moist and perfect for growing plants.

DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water.

The Easy DIY Olla

If you buy ollas ready made for the garden, they can be beautiful items but also very pricey. Always on the look out for a low-cost solution, I’ve thought up two different ways to create my own using ordinary terracotta plant pots and saucers.

The first way is by plugging up the hole at the bottom of the pot with BlueTak — I used a generic white mounting putty as you can see in the photo below. There’s a piece stuck to the pot from the inside, and another from the outside. If I wanted to, I could remove the putty and reuse this pot as a planter in the future. This type of putty is non-toxic and safe around edible plants.

It’s also been suggested over on my YouTube channel to use a cork in the hole.

DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water.
Putty seals the hole at the bottom

A More Permanent DIY Olla

The second way to make your own olla is to fill the bottom of your pot with about an inch of concrete. You make concrete by mixing one part of cement with two parts sand, and just enough water to get it moist but not sloppy. For a single olla you need about 1/2″ cup of cement and 1 cup of sand.

Pour the concrete into the pot, making sure to plug up the hole with a bit of putty first, and let it harden for 24 hours. If you wet the terracotta pot beforehand, it can create a better seal. I also opted to put a piece of paper underneath while my pot dried, just in case some of it leaked out.

DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water.
Concrete seals the bottom in this more permanent solution

How to use Ollas

When your ollas are complete, bury them into the ground where your plants will be growing. Put them in all the way up to the rim and then fill the pots with water. Put the saucer on top as a lid and then refill with water when needed.

My ollas are in the greenhouse and they leak out about an inch of water per day. You can tell that they’re working if the soil around them looks more moist than the surrounding soil. Eventually, plant roots will find the source of the water and will grow around and into the exterior of the pots.

DIY Olla Watering Pots -- a low-tech solution that keeps plants watered in dry conditions. Also saves time and water.

29 Comments

    1. Yes, if you’re worried about that, and your area has freezing temperatures in winter, it’s best to store them in a shed or at least outdoors raised off the ground.

  1. I just started with option 1 yesterday in middle Tennessee, raised bed. An 8 quart pot with the infomercial waterproof tape that I have a leftover roll of. It is within a foot of 4 small tomatoes and a squash plant. It may overtax the olla but the water held overnight. I watered yesterday before trying the olla and our soil is still a little damp from extensive rain and lower than normal night lows and daytime highs this spring so I expect wicking to be a little slow for a few days. Exciting experiment. Now if I can just figure out hydroponics for some lettuces and greens in our little Aldi bought greenhouse.

  2. We have done this with our raised beds for the last couple years. The ollas work great. I use a bigger size with tomatoes and larger vines and smaller ones distributed through beds for things like strawberries. I still water at the surface level many times in our hot summers and I have some recessed plastic pots with holes near tomatoes for deep watering once a week or so. But it’s really nice to know that they have a consistent, slow release option to keep them from drying out.

    I’m thinking in the future I might run rope or nonwoven tote bag material out of them to enhance the wicking effect. Have you ever tried this?

    1. So good to hear! With ollas, the idea is that the plant roots latch onto the sides of the terracotta and draw water directly through it. No wicking through fibers is necessary :)

  3. Will liquid fertilizer leach through the pot. I use a kelp base fertilizer for some of my veggies. Thank you!

    1. Terracotta pots normally have a drainage hole in the bottom, so without something to plug this hole all the water would quickly drain out the bottom instead of slowly seeping through the clay.

    2. To stop the olla from sweating through the bottom. You want the roots to reach the water through the sides of the olla.

    1. It doesn’t water the soil in that way since only the inch or so around the pot will be moist. Plant roots will seek out the moisture and eventually latch onto the terracotta pot. Place an olla about a foot from each of the plants you want to keep hydrated.

  4. Can I get clay pots anywhere? Or do I need to make sure that I purchase them from specific places? I want to make sure I know if some have lead, or something. And, are terra cotta pots generally unfinished? Sorry if these are silly questions. Thank you. Your post is great, and very helpful!

    1. I hope you found some terracotta pots!
      If by chance you haven’t, they can be found in a multitude of places.
      -Walmart or Target Garden Centers
      -Craft Stores ie:
      •Michael’s
      •Hobby Lobby
      •JoAnn’s
      -Any local Nurseries
      I hope this helps you and any others that may see your question.

  5. Thanks so much for this video. I’m doing this tomorrow. We are on level 4 water restrictions in NSW, Australia due to drought and can’t use hoses at all now. No rain in sight either. Thanks again.

  6. You may have to soak the whole thing in water first. I don’t know why, but terracotta sometimes needs to have water thoroughly permeating it before it can wick efficiently. Other times it doesn’t. Who knows! Happy gardening!

  7. I have an old Terra gotta pot that I used a few years ago, and then after the season I stopped using it. I decided to put it to use again, but I can’t tell if the soil is absorbing anything. I feel around the pot but it feels dry and the soil around it is not really wet. I know it’s not glazed. It is because the pot is old?

  8. I love this. Very nice and classy.

    I was thinking about using wine bottles, since I recently discovered how plant nannies work. Do you think I could just put some putty in the wine bottle and poke a hole through it? It would be a botella instead of an olla!! :)

    Thanks for your help!

    1. It’s less about the area and more about the plants. You should aim to have your pot within reach of the roots of 1-2 [tomato] plants. They’ll grow onto its surface underground and drink directly from the pot.

  9. What a wonderful idea. I love it. The lids can be removed during a rain to collect rain water and being even more conservative. I’m excited to make my own and get them in the garden. Thank you for sharing this fantastic idea.

  10. I make my olla’s out of two terra-cotta pots siliconed rim to rim and fill them through the hole on top. I just silicone a small tile in the bottom hole to seal it. Then cover the top with a saucer to keep the dirt out.

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