Icy confessions



Few people know that I am a reformed serial killer.



While posing as a mild-mannered wife and mother, I regularly tortured and murdered plants, then buried the evidence. I can’t blame any childhood trauma. My mother had a green thumb, not gangrenous green, but more of a pale, pale sea green. I believe it was on her right hand. I never saw her harm a plant.



I regularly checked my thumbs when I was growing up, wondering if one of them would turn green. It never happened. In spite of that, I was drawn to plants. In my free time I wandered into adult garden shops and stalked plants. Most of the patrons, like my mother, had green thumbs. Invariably I wore gloves. In the winter I used the excuse of the cold; in the summer, I lied and said I suffered from scabies. I always chose a healthy, green plant. After I brought it home, I would whisper promises to it of a happy, fruitful life in my care. I always tried to make it comfortable before I killed it. I couldn’t help myself.



A few years ago, one of my daughters got a potted orchid plant as a gift. The uninitiated call it a Moth orchid; scientists, who use Latin like a secret handshake, call it Phalaenopsis; and orchid growers often shorten that to Phal (rhymes with “pal” but with an “f” sound).



When my daughter got her own apartment, she left the plant in my care. Somehow it has survived, and not only survived but thrived. All I ever do is give it three ice cubes a week. Yes, ice cubes. On orchids.



Does that make me sound like a cold person? If you are an orchid grower/lover you may be ready to throw potting soil at me. But please don’t get your roots all in a tangle. In spite of what you might think, I am not torturing the plant. Last year after it bloomed for several months, I repotted it, and this year it bloomed again. The plant loves me; it’s my Phal pal. Trust me, it is cool with the ice cubes.


If you go to forums for orchid lovers you will discover that by raising my “deformed overcloned” orchid I am on my way to misinforming 50,000 imaginary readers that using ice cubes on orchids is acceptable behavior. Why? Because I am a blooming idiot, a pawn of orchid sellers, a dupe of Martha Stewart, and a person likely to give boiling water to my imaginary dog and cat. I dug through several forums searching in vain for any mention that I was also a troll, the highest form of disparagement on most forums, but didn’t unearth a single mention.



Real orchid growers don’t think much of people like me, as you can see from the comments below. (Note: No spellings were harmed in the replanting of these comments.)



I would never ever in a million years water them with ice. Although I can see this as a great way to get people to buy them and then subsequently kill them so they buy more.


Now that I’ve done some research it seems like the whole ice idea is a crock and actually harmful for my phal.


Yes, that is the single worst piece of cultural advice I’ve ever heard, and unfortunately it is well entrenched ‘common wisdom’. I think it is Martha Stewart’s fault, and she should be locked up again if only for that.


Thank goodness that this absurd advice is not seen on tags here in Europe. They write other idiot things, but not that bad.


…these phals will look like deformed overcloned throw-aways. I am always rather disgusted when I see them. I’m not even tempted to buy.


My answer is always ” Tell me… is there any ice dropping from the skys in the jungle where they grow?!


…the double unfortunate thing is that is does work for a few people in certain circumstances ( esp here in hot FL ) and they tell 50,000 other people who believe them…


You wouldn’t give your dog or cat boiling water would you? Then don’t give your tropical plants ice!


I don’t hold hard feelings against these people. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat or boil a dog, there is more than one way to raise an orchid. Ice works for me and mine.


Since I started caring for the orchid, my husband has bought several plants for me. All are doing well. And in the early morning light, when I squench my eyes, and right before I glance away, my right thumb looks pale, pale green. I feel like I’ve turned over a new leaf.

60 thoughts on “Icy confessions

  1. Brilliant! I love your humour!
    Fortunately I am not a danger to plants – however I am a danger to Goldfish.

    As my sons grew up, we had countless goldfish that never made it to their one year fishiversary 😦 Eventually I gave up the idea of having a calming soothing fish tank in the house. It was not calming for me – every morning I would rush downstairs to check if their little fishy bodies were swimming of floating! Instead we got a dog – harder to kill (though I haven’t tried the boiling water) fortunately he is heading towards his eleven year doggiversary!


    • I like your humor, too. I’ve never harmed a goldfish, but I have watched my own children drown one. I think they overfed it, it bloated, sunk, and floated to the top. A story to make even Neptune weep.

      You sound like you do well with dogs. Eleven dog years are like 77 human years, right?

  2. Impressive. As a co-serial killer of plants, I can relate. The joke in the family is my lack of plant parenting. I have two of the same “easy to care for” green plants in my home. I try to remember to water them. I have kept them from death’s door several times now. The orchid in my house is a very realistic looking artificial one. It works so much better for me. And the plant.

    • I have a strict schedule now for my plants. Once a week and no more. The orchids get the ice and the other plants get water. I often count to ten as I pour in the water. For some reason, I count off sometimes when I do things. (Please don’t tell my therapist.)

  3. Julie Catherine

    I can draw them and write about them, but I just can’t keep those green things alive (unless they’re about to walk out of my fridge)! I accepted long ago that I simply have a black thumb. But the red and white silk flowers in the lovely white milk jug vase in the corner of my livingroom are blooming beautifully – all year! 🙂

  4. I have used ice on indoor and outdoor plants, although not as their water regimen. The thing is, the roots don’t receive ice; they receive water that had to get up to 32 degrees F in order to BE water, and then warmed up some more as it filtered through the weather-warmed soil. And they get the water drop by drop, not in some hose-inspired rush. When theater patrons have left the refreshment stand’s ice bucket half-full, or when there’s ice left in the ice-water pitcher after dinner, that ice goes on plants–outside around the theater, or inside on the larger potted plants. As long as the ice doesn’t come into direct contact with the stems, the plants seem to be perfectly happy. Your orchid likes it as a regular diet, and I say, give it what it likes!

    • What a clever way to recycle the ice. I’ve never used it on other plants. The orchid that I have is called a Just Add Ice orchid, so it may not work for all varieties.

  5. Margie

    I’ve never heard of watering plants with ice cubes, but I think it makes sense. The water will slowly trickle into the soil and it certainly won’t be too cold by the time it makes the descent. And it is less messy than using a drippy water pitcher.
    You could add a bit of fertilizer to the water before you freeze it.
    Did you know that there is a website called justaddiceorchids?

    • I have been to that website; they have a lot of advice. Also, I read that some people do put a bit of fertilizer in the water before they freeze it. I am hesitant to do so because my husband would be sure to mistakenly use it and he’s already almost 6′ 2″.

  6. Be careful! I have ten green fingers and probably a toe or two – and my umbrella plant (in your bottom pic) is over 6 feet tall! Use your new powers sparingly! Ice makes sense in a way : orchids like to be damp but not soggy, and ice takes its time. I wouldn’t here, but then it is bleedin’ chilly in these parts.

    • I actually do have a larger one, but it’s only two and a half feet tall.

      The temperature in the house stays in the upper 60s during our long, cold winters, so even in the coldest months, the orchid doesn’t seem to mind the ice.

  7. Wonderful! Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong with my orchids. I’ve been treating them like they were in a rainforest and liked lots of water.
    Obviously not. When in my living room, from now on, they shall get three ice cubes a week.
    I’ve been killing them with too much water…..
    Who knew that they were really more like a cactus? or a bromeliad….. where less water is better…
    Thank you for this (apparently Horrible) advice. 🙂 My next orchid will thank you as well.

    • If you know the type of orchid, it might be good to google first. It may not take to ice like these Just Add Ice orchids. My daughter has a friend that gives her orchids water from the sump pump once a week. They look great.

      I suspect there are a thousand ways to make them bloom; it’s just a matter of finding one that works for you and the orchid.

  8. As it never rains inside our house and the watering can hides forgotten under the kitchen sink, we no longer bring potential murder victims under our roof. Except for three violets. These are for my mom, who, like yours, had a green thumb. She would birth baby violets in our kitchen for all her friends. I do not provide anything remotely resembling proper care for these violets, although am not so cold as to put rocks on them. I have never witnessed her floating spirit tending them, but I think my mother somehow happily haunts the windowsill where they thrive.

    • I am glad to hear that you are having success with your violets. I love them.

      I once grew an African violet, at least for a while. It didn’t do too bad under my benign neglect, but eventually I think it got too much sun.

  9. Imagining you trolling amongst the orchid lovers kinda cracks me up. It’s fascinating to stand outside a world in which people are sharing a heightened devotion to something. The obession to the object binds so tightly, the object itself becomes a kind of diety, a guiding force around which seemingly disparate souls are permitted to unite.

    This post reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Adaptation, with Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep. If you haven’t already seen it, you might like it. It’s about orchids and obsession.

    • Thank you for the film recommendation. I haven’t seen it, but will add it to my list of recommended movies.

      Reading forums full of passionate people is like being a cultural anthropologist. I felt a bit like Margaret Mead.

    • I am so happy to hear that! When I first got this one and read the care directions, I couldn’t believe it. I have always thought of orchids as tropical plants, but according to Wikipedia, they are “also found above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia, and even two species of Nematoceras on Macquarie Island, close to Antarctica.” The one I have is (I’m pretty sure) a hybrid.

  10. I know how to pick up ice cubes. I know how to kill plants. Therefore, I can deduce that I am surely an excellent candidate to give malformed orchid growing a try. I can barely withstand my overabundance of excitement at the prospect pf killing something that is a pretty color, instead of just plain green. I must hastily go in search of my first victim.

    Is having a Phal pal anything like having a pen pal? 🙂

    • Last question first: My Phal pal uses lovely purple stationery to send me notes of happiness all spring long. So yes, it’s like a pen pal.

      When you purchase your orchid, look for the JAI (Just Add Ice) label as I’ve read that some orchids are much more picky about their care.

      • You are so deliciously clever with your Phal pal response. But of course you would find a way to turn my silly words into poetry. That’s why you’re the master, and I am the student. “uses purple stationery to send me notes of happiness all spring long” Lovely, just lovely.

        *and bless you, abundantly, for spelling stationery in the proper way

        I’m not sure which gave me more of a full heart this morning … the lovely poetry you so easily wrangled from my silly question, or the delight at sharing the secret handshake on the word stationery. Have a happy Sunday!

        • You are a master wordsmith in your own right. I love to read your writing.

          I’m glad you recognized the secret handshake. I hope your wearing your decoder ring and secret underwear.

        • I know you are a teacher, so I wouldn’t expect anything less than “stationery” used in the proper sense, but still, I can’t help but feel a little thrill when I see it used appropriately. All those years of suffering through mangled words (and I’m just speaking about the ones I’ve written, of course, never mind the many I’ve read). It is incredibly refreshing when a word gets to dance on the page in shoes that actually fit, for a change.

          Now if only I could learn the proper use of punctuation, I’d be experiencing pure bliss. Those dang quotes and commas and errant apostrophes pester me half to death. Apparently the decoder ring and secret underwear have limited abilities. Perhaps I also need some magic dust, (or another several decades of studying Strunk and White). 🙂

  11. I just may try this. I’m a Phal fan since I bought my first one here in Hawaii twenty years ago. When the gorgeous flower persisted for TWO months, fresh as the day it unfurled from the bud, I hied myself off to the florist who’d sold it to me, I stammered out that I had just achieved a Guiness Book of Records new high score for orchids. Two whole months!!!

    He started to laugh as he explained it could last for another month or more. To my knowledge there is no other flower on earth which stays fresh on the plant for three months! Only the Phalenopsis.

    So far so good …… after the stalk finally withers, I cut the stem between nodes and it will put out another one or two branches before another entirely new shoot appears from the base.

    Wonder what an ice cube or two will do …… Hummmmmm ….. gotta think about it a bit.

    • I had to laugh because I felt the same way when it bloomed last spring. How can you not like a plant that blooms that long?

      If you have had success another way, the ice cube method may not be good for your plant. I have zero expertise about orchids. This one had a tag that provided the care instructions.

  12. Perhaps this is the answer for my black thumb. I need to be a colder person to my plants. I thought that simply ignoring them and their needs was cold enough, but apparently not.

  13. I’m attracted to plant-killers. I search for them on all the back roads and alleys. My mother and sister cast their eyes sideways at me because I never remembered the difference in weeds and gentle young green seedlings. I long for understanding. So glad I’ve found you.

  14. goodoldgirl

    I love violets and all manner of house plants and I have a green thumb!

    I also have two indoor-only cats that just love to eat green plants. As a result, I only have two ficus trees that I grew from sprouts and one lonely orchid that has yet to bloom.

    Ice! Who knew?

    • I was going to start my reply, “Certain body parts bring us more pleasure than others…,” but worried it might be misconstrued. I meant to say that a green thumb can bring a lot of pleasure to you and others.

      How funny that your cats eat up your plants. I hope they don’t have an appetite for your orchid.

  15. I have a friend who grows orchids very successfully, and he tells me that they are much hardier than they are reputed to be. I agree with those who have already advised you to do whatever works… Enjoyed your post, as usual.

  16. I adored this piece, as usual. I learned two new things today:

    1) I am never taking plant-growing advice from you. I, too, love plants to death. Between the two of us, I think we could find a way to over-love an entire nursery’s worth of potted wonders.

    2) In a reversal of point number one, I now have hope that someday I will understand how to keep plants alive without over-loving them. If you can develop a pale-green thumb, maybe my greige thumb will turn colors too.

  17. Thanks for showing us your very compliant orchid plant! Sorry, all of you critics out there, but this kind of bloom display speaks volumes for the Ice Cube Killer method, so I say let the plant have what it obviously loves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s