What Is An Olla: Learn About Olla Watering Systems

By Amy Grant

If you are a cook familiar with southwestern cuisine, speak Spanish, or are a fanatic crossword puzzle player, you may have run across the word “olla.” You do none of these things? Ok, what is an olla then? Read on for some interesting historical info pertinent to today’s environmentally friendly trends.

What is an Olla?

Did I confound you with the above last statement? Let me clarify. An olla is an unglazed clay pot used in Latin America for cooking but it’s not only that. These earthenware urns were also used as olla watering systems.

The conquistadors brought olla irrigation techniques to the American Southwest where it was used by Native Americans and Hispanics. With the advancement of irrigation systems, olla watering systems fell out of favor. Today, where “everything old is new again,” self-watering olla pots are coming back into vogue and with good reason.

Benefits of Using Olla Irrigation Techniques


What is so great about self-watering olla pots? They are incredibly water efficient irrigation systems and couldn’t be simpler to use. Forget trying to lay out your drip line and attach all those feeders in the proper place. Okay, maybe don’t forget it entirely. Using an olla watering system is optimal for container gardens and for smaller garden spaces. Each olla can filter out water to one to three plants depending upon their size.

To use an olla, simply fill it with water and bury it near the plant/plants, leaving the top unburied so you can refill it. It is wise to cover the olla top so it doesn’t become a mosquito breeding ground.

Slowly, the water will seep from the urn, directly irrigating the roots. This keeps the surface dirt dry, hence, less likely to foster weeds and reduces the amount of water usage in general by eliminating runoff and evaporation.

This type of watering system can be beneficial to everyone but especially to folks who face watering restrictions. It’s also great for anyone heading out on a vacation or just plain too busy to water regularly. Using an olla for irrigation is especially handy when container gardening since, as we all know, pots tend to dry out rapidly. The olla should be refilled once to twice a week and should last for years.

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