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I did a lot of research for this guide as traditionally, I have never watered my orchids with ice cubes, however, I have used ice packs on my outdoor pots in summer to great effect. The thing is, I still don’t know if you should water an orchid with ice cubes and if there is a real benefit. I’ve spent 20 years refining my watering techniques which I talked about here on how and when to water orchids.
So this is what I’ve learnt, but im still trailing it myself. There are many different opinions – from master gardens, expert orchid growers and general gardeners like myself. It all boils down to three different viewpoints:
YES. It’s good for the orchid.
NO. It harms the orchid.
WHATEVER. It makes no difference.
I present the main arguments for each position here, and you can make up your own mind about this widely-argued question. But first:
Why would you want to water an orchid with ice cubes anyway?
The release of water from the ice cubes that you put into the orchid potting mix is supposed to mimic the slow flow of water dripping down from the plant’s leaves. As orchids are plants that grow on trees and rocks in the tropical rainforest, they receive their water trickling down from the leaves.
The intent with the ice cube method is to make it as simple as possible to look after your orchid plant. What I did notice was that you had less water drain straight through the compost like you do if your water the compost from above. I use a water bottle or leave them to soak in a tray of water for 15 minutes usually.
YES. It’s good for the orchid
Mimicking the natural watering of the orchid is said to cause it less stress in its new domestic environment.
Using an ice cube also prevents you from overwatering your orchid as it’s a prescribed amount of water at one time. On the other hand, if an ice cube is not enough water, you run the risk of under-watering the plant.
Interestingly, a study at the Ohio State University and the University of Georgia watered 24 Phalaenopsis orchids in the normal way and another 24 with the ice cube method. All the 48 orchids had the same flower length-of-life and the same display life. The leaf and root health of the ice-cube watered plants was not negatively affected in this research study. Even the roots that directly touched the ice were not in contact with it long enough to be harmed.
How to water your orchid with an ice cube
Place three ice cubes on the top of the orchid potting mix once a week. As the ice cubes melt, the soil mix and the roots absorb the water. With this amount of water there may not be any excess water to drain away. But check anyway to be sure that the plant doesn’t become waterlogged.
Look at the orchid’s roots. If they look silvery, then they need more water. In addition, if the leaves are dull green and wrinkled, the plant is under-watered. Roots that are bright green are doing well and receiving enough water.
NO. It harms the orchid
Linking back to the ice cube study from Ohio State University, other experts do agree that contact with ice cubes doesn’t decrease the display life of the orchid flowers. However, they argue that it does have a negative effect on the overall lifetime and quality of the orchid plant. It also decreases the chance of the orchid reblooming.
The drop in temperature (3˚C or so) when you add the cold ice cubes to the potting mix doesn’t promote the orchid’s best health in its roots or leaves. The temperature doesn’t bounce back to the surrounding temperature for around five hours. It’s up to you to determine if your orchid can handle this change in the warmth of its environment.
Another downside to the ice cube watering method is that it only hydrates a small area. The water stays around the ice cube shape and goes down into the potting mix from there. What about the soil in the rest of the pot? In the regular watering method you make sure to soak all the potting medium and then drain the excess away.
And much of this water may end up being in the absorbent bark or moss that’s in your potting mix rather than making its way into the roots of the plant.
WHATEVER. It makes no difference
Many people’s opinions are of this type. That watering an orchid with ice cubes doesn’t really harm the plant. And that it’s a good way to ensure a pre-determined amount of water reaches your plant. If you have a tendency to overwater your plants, the ice cube method may stop you from creating a waterlogged environment for your prized orchid plant.