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DIY Olla: Simple Self-Watering With Clay Pots [2023]

Super Simple DIY Self-Watering Garden Techniques With Terracotta Clay Pots

Are you tired of constantly monitoring and watering your garden or planters? Or maybe you’re like me and habitually overwater or underwater every plant you come in contact with (just because you grew up on a farm doesn’t mean you inherited that green thumb, and that’s OKAY)! Look no further than self-watering with clay pots (also known as Ollas), an ancient irrigation technique that is simple and effective.

Clay Pot Irrigation can save you time and effort while ensuring your plants receive the right amount of water around the clock. In this article, we will explore the benefits of using terracotta clay pots for self-watering, provide a step-by-step guide on how to set up your own self-watering system, discuss maintenance tips, and answer frequently asked questions.

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What are Ollas and how do they work?

Ollas, also known as self-watering clay pots, are ceramic or terracotta pots designed to maintain a steady supply of water to plants without the need for constant intervention. This technique has been used for centuries in various parts of the world, particularly in dry regions, to keep plants hydrated even in the scorching heat.

Ollas work by burying the clay pot in the soil, leaving just the neck of the pot exposed above ground. The porous nature of the ceramic material allows water to seep out slowly, creating a moist environment around the roots of the plants.

The rate of water loss depends on the humidity and temperature of the soil, which means that the ollas can adapt to changing conditions to deliver just the right amount of moisture. Moreover, since the water is released underground, there is less evaporation and the risk of fungal growth is minimized. 

Ollas are an efficient and eco-friendly way to keep a garden watered, as they reduce water waste and eliminate the need for constant manual irrigation. With ollas, gardens can flourish and thrive without the need for constant attention or wasted resources. Ollas can be bought from many garden stores or alternatively, DIY ollas can be made with a basic terracotta pot and lid – this is what we will be focusing on more below.

Benefits of Self-Watering With Clay Pots

Self-watering systems offer numerous advantages for gardeners and plant enthusiasts alike. When using terracotta pots, these benefits are further enhanced. Here are some key advantages of self-watering with clay pots:

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Water Efficiency 

Clay pots have excellent water-retaining properties, allowing them to slowly release moisture to the surrounding soil. This reduces water wastage and ensures that plants receive water only when needed, preventing overwatering.

Consistent Moisture Levels

By using a self-watering system, you create a reservoir of water beneath the plant’s roots. This reservoir supplies a steady amount of moisture, preventing dry spells and water stress. As a result, plants can thrive and maintain their health and vitality.

Reduced Maintenance

With traditional watering methods, you might find yourself constantly checking and watering your plants. Self-watering systems free up your time by automating the watering process. This is particularly useful when you go on vacation or have a busy schedule.

Healthy Root Development

When water is consistently available, plants can develop strong and healthy root systems. The gradual release of moisture from the clay pots encourages roots to grow deeper, leading to more resilient and drought-tolerant plants.

How to Set Up a DIY Self-Watering System with Clay Pots

Setting up a DIY self-watering system with clay pots is a straightforward process. Here is what you will need to begin:

Material List

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  1. Select Your Pots

Opt for high-quality, unglazed clay (terracotta) pots. It is crucial to select pots that have not been glazed, painted, treated with wax, or sealed. This is because clay pots are highly porous and this method relies on their natural porosity to allow moisture to pass through from the inside to the outside of the pot.

The size of the pot should be determined based on the specific requirements of your plants and the available space in your garden or planter; however, for reference, we used 8” pots for our garden.

  1. Prepare the Reservoir

Dig a hole in the ground where you will bury the clay pot. This reservoir will hold the water that will gradually be absorbed by the plant’s roots. 

  1. Plug the Drain Hole

There are several effective methods you can use to accomplish this. If you prefer a cost-saving approach, consider using painter’s tape to cover the drain hole from the outside of the pot. Once the outside of the hole is taped off, fill it in with waterproof caulk. Allow the caulk to cure for a minimum of 24 hours, although longer is preferable.

It is important to note that premature testing may result in leaks, as the inside of the caulk may still be wet, even if the outside feels dry (ask me how my inpatient self knows this). For added assurance, consider applying a small amount of gorilla sealant on top of the caulk to ensure complete coverage. If time is of the essence, you can also find tapered rubber stoppers at most home improvement stores that work well for plugging the drain hole.

Ensure you measure the size of the hole in order to choose the correct stopper size, as drain hole sizes will vary by clay pot size. For instance, my 8” pots had a 1″ drain hole, so I went with a #5 stopper measuring approximately 1 ⅛” by ⅞”. Alternatively, if available, you could also use wine corks as a convenient option for plugging the drain holes.

  1. Bury the Clay Pot

Position the clay pot in the reservoir with the drainage hole at the bottom (sealed or plugged). Ensure that a section of the pot remains above the ground level, allowing for convenient access.

  1. Measure the Distance that Moisture Travels

Once the buried clay pot is in place, fill it with water and let the surrounding soil moisten overnight. This will help you gauge the extent to which moisture travels from the pot into the surrounding soil. By observing how far the moisture reaches, you can determine the optimal placement of your plants in relation to the pot. In soils that drain quickly, it may be necessary to plant your vegetation closer to the pots to ensure they receive sufficient water.

  1. Replace the Lid

Once you have filled the clay pot with water, it’s time to cover it to prevent excessive evaporation. Placing a saucer on top of the pot is an effective way to retain moisture. The saucer acts as a lid, creating a barrier that helps to reduce water loss through evaporation.

To enhance the functionality of the lid, you may consider drilling a hole in the center. This optional step allows rainwater to pass through the lid and directly into the pot, supplementing the water supply. When it rains, the hole enables natural irrigation, replenishing the reservoir and providing additional hydration for your plants. Drilling a hole in the lid is a straightforward process. Use a power drill with a suitable drill bit for the material of the saucer lid, typically a masonry or ceramic drill bit.

  1. Plant Your Vegetation

Once you’ve established how far apart to bury your pots and how close the plants need to be you can plant your desired flowers, herbs, or vegetables directly into the soil surrounding the clay pot. Ensure proper spacing and soil preparation according to the plant’s requirements.

  1. Fill the Reservoir

Pour water into the reservoir until it reaches the desired level. Remember to monitor the water levels in the reservoir and refill as needed to ensure a consistent supply for your plants. By replacing the lid, whether with or without a drilled hole, you can maintain a self-watering system that efficiently provides moisture to your garden or planter.

Maintaining Your Self-Watering System

To keep your self-watering system in optimal condition, follow these maintenance tips:

1. Monitor Water Levels

Regularly check the water level in the reservoir and refill it as needed. During hot summer months, you may need to replenish the water more frequently.

2. Adjust for Seasonal Changes

Depending on the climate and season, you may need to modify the frequency and amount of water you add to the reservoir. Consider factors such as rainfall and temperature fluctuations.

3. Inspect Drainage Holes

Occasionally, check the drainage holes in the clay pot to ensure they are not clogged with debris or roots. Clear any obstructions to maintain proper water flow and prevent waterlogging.

4. Prune and Trim

Regularly prune and trim your plants to promote healthy growth and prevent overcrowding. This allows for better air circulation and prevents the development of diseases or pests that thrive in damp environments.

5. Fertilize as Needed

While self-watering systems provide consistent moisture, plants still require nutrients for optimal growth. Follow a regular fertilization schedule based on the specific needs of your plants to ensure they receive essential nourishment.

6. Clean and Maintain the Clay Pots

Over time, the clay pots may accumulate mineral deposits or algae. Clean them with a mild solution of water and vinegar to remove any residue. Rinse thoroughly before reusing.

Why Use Terracotta Clay Pots?

Clay pots have been used for centuries, and for good reason. They offer unique advantages that make them a popular choice among gardeners and plant enthusiasts. From their historical significance to their practical benefits, clay pots have stood the test of time. Let’s explore why using clay pots is not only a nod to tradition but also a wise choice for your plants.

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Historical Significance of Clay Pots:

Clay pots have a rich history dating back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used clay pots extensively for various purposes, including cooking, storage, and cultivation. The use of clay pots in gardening can be traced back to ancient times when people realized the benefits of clay’s porous nature, which allowed for proper water retention and airflow to plant roots.

Practical Benefits of Clay Pots:

1. Breathability: Clay pots are porous, allowing air to circulate through the walls of the pot. This promotes better root respiration and prevents waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. The breathability of clay pots ensures a healthy environment for plants.

2. Water Retention: Clay pots have excellent water retention properties. They absorb water from the soil and gradually release it to the plant’s roots, providing a consistent moisture level. This helps prevent both under and overwatering, ensuring optimal plant health.

3. Insulation: Clay pots provide natural insulation, protecting plant roots from extreme temperature fluctuations. They act as a buffer, keeping the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather, creating a more stable environment for plant growth.

4. Aesthetics: Clay pots have a rustic and timeless appeal, adding charm and character to any garden or indoor space. They come in various shapes and sizes, allowing for creative arrangements and enhancing the visual appeal of your plants.

5. Environmentally Friendly: Clay pots are made from natural materials and are biodegradable. They are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic pots and contribute to sustainable gardening practices.

Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply appreciate the practical benefits of clay pots, using them in your gardening adventures is a smart choice. The historical significance and practical advantages, such as breathability, water retention, insulation, aesthetics, and environmental friendliness, make clay pots a preferred option for many gardeners. Embrace the traditions of the past and harness the benefits of clay pots to create a thriving and beautiful garden.

What is the Difference between an Unglazed Ceramic Pot and a Terracotta Pot?

An unglazed ceramic pot and a terracotta pot are similar in some aspects but have a few differences:

1. Material: Terracotta pots are made from clay that is baked at a relatively low temperature, typically around 900 to 1000 degrees Celsius. The clay used for terracotta pots is often rich in iron and has a reddish-brown color. On the other hand, unglazed ceramic pots can be made from various types of clay and are fired at higher temperatures, typically above 1000 degrees Celsius.

2. Porosity: Terracotta pots are highly porous due to the nature of the clay used and the lower firing temperature. This means they have good breathability and allow for better airflow and moisture exchange between the potting soil and the surrounding environment.

Unglazed ceramic pots, depending on the type of clay used and the firing temperature, can vary in porosity. Some unglazed ceramic pots may be less porous and have lower breathability compared to terracotta pots.

3. Appearance: Terracotta pots have a distinct reddish-brown color, which is a result of the iron content in the clay. They often have a rustic and earthy look. Unglazed ceramic pots can come in a variety of colors and finishes, depending on the type of clay and firing techniques used. They can have a more refined and polished appearance.

4. Water retention: Due to its high porosity, terracotta pots tend to dry out faster compared to unglazed ceramic pots. This can be beneficial for plants that prefer drier conditions or for those that are prone to overwatering. Unglazed ceramic pots, depending on their porosity, may retain moisture for a longer duration.

Both terracotta pots and unglazed ceramic pots have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on the specific needs of your plants and personal preferences. Consider factors such as the water requirements of your plants, the climate you live in, and the aesthetic appeal you desire when selecting between the two.

Can you Use this Self-Watering Technique on Indoor Plants?

Yes, you can definitely use a DIY self-watering clay pot technique on your indoor plants. One popular method involves using terracotta self-watering stakes along with a water or wine bottle to create a self-watering system.

Here’s how you can set it up:

1. Select a terracotta self-watering stakes: Terracotta stakes are specifically designed to slowly release water into the soil. They usually have a cone-shaped or cylindrical structure with pores or openings that allow water to seep through.

Here are great Self-Watering Terracotta Stakes

You can absolutely add these to your Gift Idea List for your garden-loving mom and dad this year.

2. Prepare the pot: Choose a suitable pot for your indoor plant. It should be large enough to accommodate the self-watering spike and have drainage holes at the bottom.

3. Insert the self-watering spike: Place the spike in the center of the pot, pushing it deep into the soil. Make sure the spike is stable and secure.

4. Prepare the water or wine bottle: Take a clean plastic or glass water or wine bottle and fill it with water. You can also mix liquid fertilizer with water if desired. Screw the cap on tightly.

5. Connect the bottle to the spike: Invert the bottle and insert the neck of the bottle into the opening of the self-watering spike. The spike should have a snug fit with the bottle’s neck.

6. Place the assembly in the pot: Carefully position the bottle and spike assembly into the pot, ensuring that the spike is fully inserted into the soil. The bottle should be stable and upright.

7. Monitor the water level: As the soil dries out, it will draw water from the bottle through the spike. Monitor the water level in the bottle and refill it as needed to maintain a constant water supply.

This DIY self-watering clay pot technique provides a consistent water source for your indoor plants, ensuring they receive adequate moisture without the risk of overwatering. It can be a convenient solution, especially if you’re away from home for an extended period or have plants with specific watering needs.

Remember to adjust the watering frequency and bottle size based on your plant’s requirements and environmental conditions. Regularly check the soil moisture to ensure it’s appropriate for your plant’s health and adjust the watering accordingly.

FAQs about Self-Watering with Clay Pots

Q: Can I use any type of clay pot for self-watering?

A: It is recommended to use unglazed, unwaxed, unpainted terracotta pots as they have excellent porous properties. Other clay pots may not retain moisture as effectively.

Q: How often should I refill the water reservoir?

A: The frequency of refilling depends on various factors, including plant water requirements, weather conditions, and pot size. Monitor the water levels regularly, especially during hot and dry periods.

Q: Will self-watering systems eliminate the need for regular watering?

A: While self-watering systems reduce the frequency of watering, it is still important to monitor the moisture levels in the soil and adjust watering accordingly. Factors such as plant type, weather, and season will influence watering needs.

Q: Can I use self-watering systems for all types of plants?

A: Self-watering systems are suitable for a wide range of plants, including flowers, herbs, and vegetables. However, some plants may have specific water requirements, so it’s important to research their needs before implementing a self-watering system.


In conclusion, self-watering with clay pots provides an efficient and convenient way to maintain a healthy garden or planter. The benefits of using terracotta pots, such as water efficiency, consistent moisture levels, reduced maintenance, and healthy root development, make this method a popular choice among gardeners.

By following the step-by-step guide for setup and implementing proper maintenance practices, you can enjoy the advantages of a self-watering system while ensuring the flourishing growth of your plants.

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