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Underground Terra Cotta Watering Pots — The Grow Network Community
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Underground Terra Cotta Watering Pots

greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭
edited July 2020 in DIY Tutorials

I live in an area where the water is especially high in iron. (Just as a side joke, the first time I did the whites load of laundry when I moved in here, all the whites came out orange. ...I moved from the city and ended up in the country on well water... I couldn't figure out what I did wrong. And to top it off, the orange wouldn't come out when I did them again with bleach that time. If anything, they were worse.)

So drip irrigation is out with well water since the garage and outdoor spigots are not hooked up to any kind of filtration system. The iron builds up and blocks all the holes, no more drips.

So after 4 years trying to come up with a watering solution, last year I stumbled on Oyas (some companies Ollas). All they are is unglazed terra cotta containers you bury in your garden (leaving the top hole above ground) so you can fill them with water once or twice a week. As your soil gets dry, by osmosis the soil draws the water out of the Oya.

I did it in several areas of my garden the first year and it worked great. So I figured each year I will add some more to other areas.

The problem though now is I have 26 of these things. The end of last year I had 12, I bought a few new ones late last Fall and then more early this Spring. I still need 7 more to finish off my existing garden beds.

So as I mentioned these are terra cotta. If they are wet and freeze obviously they can crack. So since I live in a four seasons climate I always dig them up, clean them, dry them out and store for the winter. That was easy the first year when I had four. The second year was up to twelve.

So all the digging to bury and then dig them all to get them back up to clean and dry out is really the downside to this method of watering. In a nutshell it is very time consuming.

So has anyone ever tried any method in their experience how terra cotta could stay underground and still survive the cold months of the year? I was thinking of taking maybe two or three of them this Fall and leave them in. Cover them with an insulating material and add some straw and see if they would survive until next Spring.

Anyone have any other ideas? Or maybe someone with outdoor watering systems for the livestock, how do you keep your water from freezing during the cold weather?


  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin

    I heard of these in a Summit. They are the most ingenious thing.

    If I paid for some, I would personally dig them up every year.

    We put floating heaters in our large livestock watering tanks. For others that don't have electricity access, we haul water by the 5 gallon pails full. For small livestock, we knock out the ice & fill pail by pail. Nothing keeps the water open here in the dead of winter for those.

  • Marjory WildcraftMarjory Wildcraft ✭✭✭ Posts: 1,043 admin

    @greyfurball where are you located again? I used them quite successfully in Texas, and while we had hard freezes, they weren't that hard. I simply left them in the ground.

    The work of digging them up sounds overwhelming to me... plus the problem of all the disturbance to the soil microbiology.

    I think covering them with a nice thick mulch, and then snow on top of that is a great insulator too, would work.

    They are a really good system.

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft

    I live in southeastern Pennsylvania so some winters we do have temps often in the single digits. So yes, our soil does completely freeze hard most winters.

    And yes, you are correct, all of the digging to bury and then digging to remove etc. etc. it does affect my soil each year negatively. The beds where I don't have them have more biology than the areas where I did place my Oyas.

    So I'm pretty confident I can keep it insulated enough above ground but I'm just unsure about my chances underground once the soil does freeze hard. Do you think if I place a good insulating layer above each one that is going to be enough to keep them protected underground also?

    I always grow a winter kill cover crop each year but I was thinking if I chopped and dropped this before the coldest part of the season sets in and then use another insulating layer on top of that, maybe I could keep them intact by the next Spring season.

    I was hoping maybe someone else living in a Northern climate had solved this problem for their livestock if they used underground water tanks.

    Otherwise I guess I'll just have to make a test run this year and see what happens.

  • chimboodle04chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    So I have seen people do something similar with large, sturdy plastic jugs ( not flimsy milk jugs - something stronger and larger). They poked small holes all through the sides and buried them as you would an Oya. The water would then still seep into the surrounding area (I'm sure not as well and regulated as it would with an Oya), but it might be worth a try! It would sure be less expensive to replace if it didnt make it through winter.

  • Gail HGail H Posts: 359 ✭✭✭✭

    @greyfurball Yes, having them freeze and crack is an expensive problem. I put one in my strawberry bed and it did wonderful things for it until it broke.

    I saw another idea somewhere that I would like to try. It requires a terra cotta flowerpot with a matching saucer. It would be easy to install in a new bed, but a bit more challenging in an established one. Take the flowerpot and put something in the drainage hole to act as a wick. I have an old cotton jersey sheet with holes that I will try. Draw a bit of the fabric into the flower pot and knot it. Lay your wick down your planting row and cover it with soil. Put the flowerpot in a hole at the end of the row; the lip of the pot should be just above the surface of the soil. Fill with water and put the saucer on top. I think it would be easy to bail the water out before a freeze and with the lid on, no more water would accumulate. Plus, the shape of the flowerpot would probably cause ice to rise if there was a freeze as opposed to cracking the sides. If you wanted it to be more Olla-like, you could just plug the drainage whole in the pot with a cork.

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gail H and @chimboodle04 and @Marjory Wildcraft and @LaurieLovesLearning

    Just in case anyone else wishes to try these, especially if you live in a warmer climate where the winter freeze is not so cold, I did figure out a cheaper way to do these without the high cost per piece.

    Instead of buying the Oya, I bought 2 pieces UNGLAZED terra cotta flower pots. As we know, they come in all different sizes so purchase the size which is needed if you are doing a whole garden bed or just one single plant. Then I bought a tube of waterproof silicone sealer and stuck the one (which goes underground) right side up and the second pot upside down right on top of the bottom one. Put a cork in the hole on the bottom pot and just bury as much as you want under ground. (The more you bury the longer the water lasts - a lot of evaporation in really hot temps if you leave a lot of pot above the soil line.)

    Doing it this way cuts the cost considerably per piece unless you are buying those humongous planters. They don't make a whole lot of sense anyway because until you bury it, you have used up most of your garden bed.

    @Gail H yes I can see how your method would work also but it is only good for that one row. The cotton fabric is not going to allow a lot of moisture to spread out over too much of the bed. The one advantage the Oya has therefore is the largest pot waters a 4-5 foot square bed. So for those who have raised beds these work perfect. Place your pot in the center of the 4X4 bed and the whole bed gets moisture.

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭


    I can't think of anything which is larger and sturdier than a milk jug except the 3-4-5 gallon buckets which are packed for commercial use.

    And yes, I do use the 5 gallon buckets now in each of my beds but they are my worm farm bins. Instead of one big bin this year I placed one or two (depends on the size of the bed) 5 gallon buckets spaced with holes in the sides. The worms can crawl in and out of the bucket but they must come back into the bucket to feed. And while they are feeding they are making me some beautiful worm poop for each bed.

    So sometimes I laugh because between my worm buckets and my watering buckets it looks like I am growing nothing but supplies.

    But I can't complain because this method has really worked wonders for this years garden so far.

  • chimboodle04chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    @greyfurball I want to say that it was one of those large water jugs... I will try to find a pic :) That's a great idea with the worms! I wonder if letting the worms break down a bucket full and then filling the resulting castings with water to make a tea would work to leach it out into the surrounding soil then to fertilize??? Just thinking outloud here - wouldn't want to drown any worms though!

    Here is what I believe they used, or something similar... My husband buys one for his classroom - I think he only pays five bucks or so... (sorry the pic is so huge - can't figure out how to get it smaller....!)

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭

    @chimboodle04 Yes, I remember those. Never even thought of that since I don't buy bottled water for a work location.

    And the only thing I was thinking, the downside to your method, you just brought it up. Having the bottle leak continuously, the soil is going to be very wet around the area of the bottle. And you just said it, don't want the worms to drown in all that wet soil.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 443 ✭✭✭✭

    Well, well, well. I typed "poop" into the search bar as I wanted to respond to an article and look what it came up with.

    It's such a wonderful feeling to find amazing things you didn't even know you were looking for.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin
    edited July 2020

    I had heard of using pots & lids in this way. I did wonder how to plug the hole. A cork makes sense! 😄 So simple.

    @frogvalley What a search term to use. 🤣 What a find!

  • KimWilsonKimWilson Posts: 198 ✭✭✭

    I have a question: It is my experience that unglazed terra cotta disintegrates over time with exposure to water. Is this a factor in this type of watering system?

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭


    Yes Kim the unglazed do disintegrate faster than the glazed but the whole purpose of using these containers is for the ability of them to sweat, thus transfer the moisture inside to the outside of the pot. A glazed container will not let the moisture out as well, thus you aren't filling it very often but you aren't watering your plants either.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 443 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2020

    Well, it won't help you turn water into wine, but I found this very interesting article that is along the lines of the buried pot.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,632 admin

    @frogvalley I think you forgot the link. 😉 Could you post it for us please?

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