Bromeliads are a family of over 3,000 species, and over a thousand of them can be grown as houseplants. Different types of bromeliads have different water requirements, and this can make some home gardeners wonder if they can water their bromeliads with ice cubes.
You cannot water bromeliads with ice cubes, regardless of the genera or species that you have. Some bromeliad genera have leaf tanks that store water, while others have shallow root systems. These features make it unnecessary and even harmful to water them with ice cubes.
To better understand why watering them with ice cubes can be detrimental to bromeliads, it is best to know the basic features of various bromeliad species commonly grown at home. Read on for more details!
Why Using Ice Cubes Can Be Bad for Bromeliads
With over 1,000 species and hybrids of bromeliads kept as houseplants, it may be possible to find some that can benefit from receiving water from ice cubes. However, there aren’t enough studies to support the benefits ice cubes can offer this plant family.
On the other hand, there are plenty of studies that may justify why you shouldn’t use ice cubes to water your plants.
Here are some reasons why you may want to reconsider before trying the ice cube method on your bromeliads:
Many Common Species Are Tank-Type
Many bromeliad species in rainforests collect and store rainwater in a cup-like reservoir formed by large, sturdy bottom leaves, giving them the moniker ‘tank’ bromeliads. The plant’s leaves consume part of this water, while the rest is stored for later use.
As a result, these bromeliads do not depend too much on their roots for moisture absorption. Even when grown indoors as houseplants, tank bromeliads retain this trait.
That’s why it’s best to fill the ‘tank’ with enough tepid water (how much depends on the size of your plant) at the get-go. You can also replace the tank’s contents weekly as you water the soil to prevent insect or pest infestation and contamination due to stagnant water.
Placing ice cubes in the pot will provide unnecessary moisture to the soil. Depending on how quickly the substrate can drain such moisture, it may water-log the soil and cause root rot. Either way, tank bromeliads do not need ice cubes as a water source.
If you are thinking about putting ice cubes in the tank instead of water for slower and regulated moisture release, you may want to think again. The ice and the cold water can cause irreparable damage to the leaves.
Moreover, the plant can’t absorb cold water – and it takes far too much time to warm the water enough to be safe for the plant.
Most Bromeliads Have Short and Shallow Root Systems
Ideally, when using ice cubes, you should keep them away from the stems and leaves of the plant to prevent water spots on the surface of the foliage. This also means putting the ice cubes along the edges of the pot for plants with short stems or low-lying leaves.
Most terrestrial bromeliads prefer shallow and wider pots because they have short and shallow roots. The short roots may not be able to access the water from the melting ice cubes from the pot’s edges as it may drain well before it reaches the roots.
In addition, they also have short stems setting the crowns close to the soil. The characteristic foliage of Cryptanthus or Earth Star bromeliads spread over the soil, making it challenging to find enough space to set the ice cubes at a safe distance from the leaves while efficiently providing the roots access to moisture.
Thus, it is better not to use ice cubes to water bromeliad species with short, shallow roots and low-lying or sprawling foliage.
They Are Tropical Plants That Typically Cannot Survive Winter
Bromeliads are perennials that grow best in tropical or temperate regions. For areas with four seasons and exceptionally cold winters, it is best to keep bromeliads indoors during the cold season.
Ideally, you should keep your bromeliads in a room or an area with temperatures ranging from 60-90 °F (15.6-32 °C). Some bromeliads may survive temperatures as low as 20 °F (-6.7 °C), while others may suffer damage or even die at temperatures below 40 °F (4.4 °C).
In addition, many cold-hardy bromeliad species tend to go into dormancy when temperatures drop below optimal levels. They will require less water during this time, and adding ice cubes to your pot or hanging basket will kill your plants.
It is important to understand what kind of bromeliad you have. It will help you determine how cold-hardy your plant is and decide whether using ice cubes to water it will be a good idea.
You should also consider the risk of inducing an untimely or off-season dormancy due to the false environmental signals the plant gets from the cold water and air from melting ice.
Epiphytic Species Do Not Need Moisture From the Soil
Bromeliads are typically divided into two types: terrestrial and epiphytic. Epiphytic bromeliad species like the Tillandsia can be grown in soil when kept as houseplants, but they would still get their moisture from the surrounding air, not the substrate.
Even if you put ice cubes on the substrate, epiphytic bromeliads will still absorb moisture and vapor from the air through their leaves and specialized roots.
Also, it is unlikely for your ice cubes to turn into water vapor indoors to be useful to your bromeliads. The ice is more likely to melt into a liquid than become vapor that epiphytic plants can absorb.
The best thing to do to provide moisture to epiphytic bromeliads is to increase the humidity in the room. Daily misting may be necessary on exceptionally dry days. You may also set up a humidifier to help your plant get the moisture it needs to thrive.
Keep the humidity level around your terrestrial and epiphytic bromeliads between 40 and 60% to keep them happy and healthy.
They Cannot Thrive in Water-Logged Soil
Long-term use of ice cubes on bromeliads can be harmful since constant moisture in the soil coming from quickly melting ice cubes in the summer may result in soil compaction. The soil will no longer be porous enough to let air in or let the excess water drain out.
Although most bromeliad species require sandy and well-draining substrates, home gardeners using predominantly loamy soil for their terrestrial bromeliads may encounter this problem in the long run.
Moreover, since tank bromeliads store water in their tanks, the roots tend to absorb less moisture from the soil, leaving the soil excessively wet. Bromeliad roots are sensitive to overwatering as they cannot absorb and utilize water quickly enough.
Therefore, it is important to know and meet your plant’s substrate requirements if you intend to use a new watering technique like the ice cube method.
These Plants Like Moderate Amounts of Fertilizer
Most bromeliad species grown at home require a monthly feeding of half-strength fertilizers from spring to fall. Top-watering these plants every week helps leach out excess fertilizer salts to protect the plant from fertilizer burn. Water from melting ice cubes may not be strong enough to flush out the salts.
Additionally, cold water can prevent the occurrence of heat-dependent chemical reactions that can help break down fertilizers into forms readily available for plant consumption. As a result, the fertilizer salts remain unused and accumulate on the soil’s surface at dangerous levels.
These excess salts will draw out moisture from the plant’s roots, stem, or foliage, leaving the plant under-watered.
There is nothing wrong with trying new gardening techniques, especially if they are convenient and meet your plants’ needs. It is even better if the method can make your plants healthier and result in a better yield.
Using ice cubes to water plants can seem like an attractive alternative watering method. However, like any other gardening technique, you must approach it cautiously. You need to understand what kind of plant you have, determine its watering requirements, and decide whether or not it is really worth it to take a risk on a new method.