Watering Orchids with Ice Cubes Is Really a Thing—Here's How to Do It

This research-backed method will make overwatering a thing of the past.

Giving your houseplants the right amount of moisture can seem like a guessing game, and it's even more challenging when that houseplant is a delicate-looking orchid. When trying to keep your orchids' elegant, butterfly-like blooms going, you might be tempted to be overly exuberant when it comes to watering. However, too much moisture is among the most common reasons indoor orchids meet their demise. You may have heard that one solution to avoid overwatering is to use ice cubes to water your orchids. But, does this actually work? And won't the cold hurt these tropical plants? Here's what the research says, and how you can use this surprising technique to keep your orchids perfectly hydrated.

potted orchid

BHG / Juli Lopez-Castillo

Why Ice Cubes Work for Orchids

The concept of watering orchids with ice cubes may seem counterintuitive because plants from tropical regions generally don't do well with freezing temperatures. However, the Just Add Ice Orchids brand found that using ice cubes to water orchids causes no harm and makes caring for these plants a little easier.

"Ensuring orchids get just the right amount of water, without over or underwatering is the biggest challenge for orchid plant parents," says Marcel Boonekamp, director of growing for Just Add Ice. Boonekamp and the team developed the three-ice-cube-watering method to give gardeners a measurable and ultra-simple way to water orchids.

Marcel Boonekamp, Just Add Ice

Ensuring orchids get just the right amount of water, without over or underwatering is the biggest challenge for orchid plant parents.

—Marcel Boonekamp, Just Add Ice

Researchers at The Ohio State University and the University of Georgia have done studies to definitively answer the question: can I water my orchid with ice cubes? They set up an experiment comparing moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) watered with three ice cubes once a week to a control group watered with the equivalent amount of water weekly. Both groups of orchids showed similar results for the overall health of the plants, indicating that ice cubes are an effective and safe way to water orchids. Although the trial only included moth orchids, it's possible to water other types of orchids with ice, too.

flowers on an orchid

BHG / Juli Lopez-Castillo

How to Water Orchids with Ice

Rather than drenching your orchid's pot, then allowing excess water to drain out, simply place three ice cubes on top of the orchid media (usually bark chips or sphagnum moss), making sure to avoid contact with the leaves or roots poking out of the pot. As the ice cubes melt, the roots and media will absorb the water. (There usually isn't any excess water draining out after ice cube watering.) The cold won't hurt your plant because the ice melts relatively quickly. The researchers found that the temperature of the bark media only dropped a few degrees while the cubes melted, not enough to harm the roots.

Of course, the amount of water your orchids need can vary based on room temperature, light, humidity, and the type of growing media (moss holds onto moisture longer than bark chips). The recommendation from the university studies is to start with three ice cubes a week and keep an eye on your plant to see if this seems like enough water. Taking a peek at the roots is an easy way to tell. "Roots that are silvery need moisture, whereas roots that are vibrant green are fully hydrated," says Boonekamp. Another cue is the leaves. Under-watered plants will have wrinkled, dull green, limp leaves.

Although it is difficult to overwater orchids with the ice cube method, it's a good idea to check the media before adding your three cubes. Poke a finger about an inch down into the bark or moss. If you feel dampness, don't water yet. Wait a few days and check again.

ice cubes on top of orchid

BHG / Juli Lopez-Castillo

Ice for Other Houseplants?

Most plants can be watered with ice cubes, but it is not always practical. The Just Add Ice brand extended the ice watering trials to anthurium, money tree, and several types of bonsai and found that using ice is an easy and effective technique for watering these plants, too.

Some large, established houseplants require more water than orchids, however, making it cumbersome to water with ice. Stick to using your watering can for big houseplants. Two tips for houseplant watering success: only water if the soil is dry to the touch and allow excess water to drain out of the root zone after watering. A boggy root zone brings on root rot and invites pests.

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  1. South, Kaylee et al. "Ice Cube Irrigation of Potted Phalaenopsis Orchids in Bark Media Does Not Decrease Display Life." HortScience, vol. 52, no. 9, 2017, pp. 1271-1277, doi:10.21273/HORTSCI12212-17

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