The growing trend of using ice cubes to water plants is quickly making its way to home gardens around the world. More and more people claim that the practice is effective on their plants, such as orchids. However, is this watering method suitable for a Christmas cactus?
You should not water a Christmas cactus with ice cubes. Although this succulent is more tolerant of extra moisture and lower temperatures than its other cacti relatives, cold water can harm its roots.
This article will go through some important factors to consider regarding the risks of using ice cubes to water this plant. I will also discuss the watering requirements of a Christmas cactus. Read on to learn more!
Risks of Using Ice Cubes to Water a Christmas Cactus
Some plant enthusiasts on social media post photos and proof that using ice cubes to water their plants is a practical, convenient, and neat alternative to using tepid water. While it may work in the short term, this practice is likely to have negative results in the long run that are not as widely documented and reported.
Before believing anecdotal claims on social media regarding the effectiveness of using ice cubes to water your plant, you must first understand the science that proves otherwise.
Below are some risks that come with using ice cubes to water a Christmas cactus:
Cold Water Can Cause Root Shock
Christmas cacti, regardless of the name, are actually tropical plants. Exposing the roots to cold water from melting ice cubes can cause root and cold shock. Moreover, the cold coming from the ice so close to the plant can mimic a cold draft that may harm your Christmas cactus.
Most cacti, including Christmas cacti, cannot absorb cold water. Although your Christmas cactus seems fine after absorbing cold water from melting ice, extended exposure to the cold can damage the plant’s root and leaf tissues.
Extremely Low Temperatures Can Prevent Flowering
This succulent needs a lower temperature for its flowers to bloom in winter. However, the temperature should be around 61 °F (16 °C). Temperatures below 50 °F (10 °C) can be counterproductive. Flower buds may fail to bloom, die, and fall off.
Another vital piece of information to remember is that Christmas cacti grow well in a substrate rich in organic matter. They feed off the nutrients from the soil to produce their characteristic winter blooms. However, most water-soluble nutrients may not undergo chemical reactions in ice-cold water.
Moreover, soil enzymes and some helpful microorganisms may become dormant at low temperatures and fail to facilitate the chemical reactions necessary to transform some substances into nutrients that the plant’s roots can readily absorb.
Ice Cubes Can Keep the Soil Moist Longer
Ideally, you should water your Christmas cactus thoroughly when the upper third or half of the soil is dry. There is no need to provide a steady supply of moisture from ice cubes.
Moreover, most cacti may not absorb cold water. As a result, putting ice cubes on the soil will provide more moisture than necessary for your succulents.
Although using ice cubes might work for other plants, succulents tend to absorb tepid water more quickly and live off the remaining moisture in their leaves. If you place ice cubes on the soil, the Christmas cactus will absorb the water when it becomes warm enough.
However, it may take a while for the ice water to become safe enough for the cactus to consume, leaving the cold water to sit in the soil longer. The gradual but continuous introduction of unusable moisture as the ice melts can negatively affect the plant roots’ moisture absorption pattern and increase the risk of root rot.
In addition, when the temperatures are high in summer, the ice cubes may melt faster. So depending on the number of ice cubes you put on the soil, it may lead to more moisture than your Christmas cactus needs.
Alternatively, the cold moisture may drain out of the pot even before the cactus can absorb it, resulting in under-watering.
Watering Requirements of a Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti are low-maintenance plants. Like with many other succulents, you don’t have to water your Christmas cactus very often. However, this type of cactus is less drought-tolerant than typical succulents.
You have to pay attention to its watering requirements for better chances of seeing its beautiful blooms in winter.
There are four key areas to pay attention to when caring for a Christmas cactus:
- Water temperature
- Soil moisture
- Water quality
Learn more about these essential requirements below:
Compared to most of its cacti relatives, a Christmas cactus can tolerate lower environmental temperatures and less sunlight. However, it does not do well with cold water. A good rule of thumb when watering any succulents, including the Christmas cactus, is to use water at room temperature or 62-72 °F (17-22 °C).
During autumn and winter, the frequency of watering is significantly reduced. Nonetheless, you have to ensure that the water is at optimal temperature.
When using tap water, boil it to eliminate the chlorine and other contaminants. Wait for the water to cool down enough to feed your Christmas cactus and other indoor plants.
Although it can store a remarkable amount of moisture in its leaves, a Christmas cactus needs a humid environment to thrive. Ideally, it should be kept in a room with around 50-60% humidity for optimum growth.
In their native environment, Christmas cacti are epiphytes. Rather than sucking water from the ground through their roots, they feed on the moisture from the environment. That’s why it’s essential to keep this type of plant in a humid room.
If the humidity in your room is below 50%, you can bring it up for the Christmas cactus by placing the pot on top of a tray with pebbles and water. Just be sure that the soil in the pot is not in contact with the water’s surface, as it might absorb excess moisture.
As discussed, a Christmas cactus is less tolerant to arid conditions than other succulents. However, this plant can still benefit from a period of low soil moisture.
In warm seasons, you should water your plant only once every two weeks. You can reduce the frequency to once every three weeks during the cold season, starting in the middle of the fall. However, this frequency can significantly vary depending on the temperature and humidity in your area.
To know precisely when you should water your plant, you can check the moisture level in the soil. You can use a moisture meter or simply check it with your fingers. If the top ⅓ or half of your soil is dry, it is time to water your plant thoroughly.
Stop watering when you notice water droplets leaking out of the drainage holes. Pour out the excess water that accumulates on the saucer.
It is best to use distilled or purified water on your Christmas cactus. The fleshy leaves are sensitive to chlorine, calcium, or magnesium that may be present in tap water. Constant exposure to these elements may leave some marks or scars on the leaves.
Moreover, the infrequent watering schedule cannot wash away or leach the unnecessary or harmful substances in the soil quickly enough to prevent serious damage to your plant.
If you don’t have access to distilled or purified water, you can collect tap water ahead of your watering schedule. Let the water sit for at least 24 hours before feeding it to your Christmas cactus.
Also, be careful to use only the water on the top half of the container as the bottom half may contain some harmful sediments.
A Christmas cactus is unlike its other cacti relatives in that it is more adaptable to the cold and less tolerant to dry conditions. However, it shares common traits with other succulents on a cellular level through an inability to tolerate cold water and the potential damage it can cause to their tissues.
Although using ice cubes to water your plant seems like an interesting and beneficial alternative to your regular watering routine, study it well to avoid risking your precious plants. Besides, the watering requirements of Christmas cactuses are not difficult enough to require an alternative.