In garden centers and box stores, you’ll often see orchids with a label suggesting to water them with ice cubes. Just add 3 ice cubes once a week, they say. Or one or two for smaller orchids.
This is a great idea … for the merchant who came up with it, because cold water will gradually kill the orchid’s roots, ensuring that the plant will die several months later, even if it seems all right while it blooms. And then you’re forced to buy another one.
Thus the home gardener cries victory at first—“I tried it and it works!”—only to be disappointed afterwards. “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, but my orchid is dead!” Rarely does he associate the death of the plant 6, 12 or 18 months later with the watering technique he’s been using.
The “ice orchid” you bought is most likely a Phalaenopsis and it’s of tropical origin. Tropical plants, by definition, never have to deal with ice or even cold temperatures. Normally, it should always be watered with tepid water. (Actually, I can’t think of one plant that should be watered with ice water!)
Also, melted ice cubes never completely humidify the plant’s entire root system and leaves many roots completely dry. This results in non-stop water stress for the plant. It would really appreciate thorough waterings rather than icy sprinklings. It always amazes me that an orchid that stressed will keep on blooming, yet very often it does, even for months at a time.
How Professionals Water Orchids
It is interesting to note that the garden centers and box stores that sell these “ice orchids” actually water them with tepid water until they’re sold, never with ice cubes. If you doubt that, go to one of the stores and watch them.
I also find it interesting that the very growers who recommend watering orchids with ice cubes never water their orchids with ice cubes either. They usually inundate pots with tepid water. It’s very much a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.
How Should I Water an Orchid?
Here’s a simple way to water orchids.
Although you may not have noticed this, orchids these days are almost always sold double-potted: there is a “grow pot” (often transparent) with numerous drainage holes inside a cachepot without drainage holes. You need to know that to properly water an orchid.
To water your orchid, remove the grow pot from the cachepot and set it to soak for 10, 20, 30 minutes, even an hour, in a sink or bucket of tepid water (never ice water!). That will allow the roots to absorb the moisture they need. Now let the pot drain well, then drop it back into the cachepot.
Congratulations! That’s how you water an orchid! And it couldn’t be simpler!
That’s a tougher question.
The same orchid may dry out quickly under some conditions yet stay moist for weeks in others. And conditions in your home change according to the seasons. Yet you want it to never get more than slightly dry. So just touch the growing medium. If it feels moist, don’t water. If it feels dry, do water.
Sometimes orchids need weekly waterings, but under other circumstances, only once every two or even three weeks. You’ll have to be the judge of that!