- How to Care for Your Split Rock Succulent:
- When to Water:
- If grown correctly, Split Rock succulents should only ever have 1 to 2 sets of leaves. Each year a new set of leaves grows up through the center and replaces the ones from last year. When a split rock has too many leaves, it is called “stacking”.
- Pleiospilos nelii cv. Royal Flush
- Soil and Pot Size
- Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an Everlasting Rock
- Lithops Succulent: How To Grow Living Stone Plants
- Information on Lithops
- Lithops Succulent Adaptations
- How to Grow Living Stones Plants
- Lithops Care
- Lithops Overview
- All About Lithops
- Lithops Problems
- Frequently Asked Questions
- ‘Living Stones’ Don’t Just Sit There
- How to take care of Lithops
- How to Grow Lithops
- Growing Living Stones (Lithops) Indoors
- Living Stones Care Tips
- Lithops Plant Overview
- Caring for your Lithops Plant
- Types of Lithops Plant
- Lithop Growing, Care & Cultivation
- A rough watering guide
- Re potting and handling
- Good Soil mix for Lithops
- Shade and Light
How to Care for Your Split Rock Succulent:
Am I the only one who finds it hard to be trapped in the house all day when it’s just so gorgeous outside? As a matter of fact, I can’t even tell you the last time I even turned on my computer! This past weekend we drove the truck down to one of the creeks here on the farm to get some river rocks for our split rock succulents. They needed a little top dressing for their pots because although the white pumice is pretty, I wanted something a little more natural to add to their unique “beauty”.
Mesembs are my favorite out of all the succulents but can also be some of the hardest to care for. If you even LOOK at them wrong, they’ll die. Seriously. (Split rocks are a type of mesemb.) Mimicry plants are true succulents in that they store water and can go many, many months without even a drop. It’s crucial that they have a well draining soil without much in the way of organics (i.e. no peat-based bagged succulent mix) and they do best when planted alone or with other carefully selected mesembs.
Generally speaking, I grow most all of my mesembs in a mixture of 25% Black Gold Cactus Mix, sifted and 75% pumice (I generally use 1/8″ size). I get all of my pumice from General Pumice Products without exception! – it comes in huge 15 pound bags and is the BEST around. General Pumice Products is sifted so it’s all one size and is VERY clean. Other brands tend to be cut so you’re not getting 100% pumice with those.
This little guy is a Pleiospilos nelii aka “Split Rock”. This particular species can be found in beautiful shades of green and purple and both are native to South Africa. They grow in arid desert-like regions that get very little rainfall (like 6″ TOTAL per year!). They love sun so make sure they are in a south-facing window (or grow lights like I have to do) and when summer rolls around, let them get plenty of filtered light outdoors and protect from rain.
The plant blooms in the mid-afternoon and closes its petals by dusk. The flowers will repeat this pattern for a few days and then they will start to dry up and if pollinated, will make a seed pod.
When to Water:
Forget what you know about watering plants with this one. I water only in the spring and early fall when the temperature starts to drop and the days get shorter. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings (see below for info on soil). Hold back water during the hottest weeks of summer and also in the dead of winter. If the old leaves are still present at the end of summer, it may be getting too much water. If the plant rots and dies, it may be getting too much water.
IF YOU JUST TRANSPLANTED YOUR SPLIT ROCK YOU MUST WAIT A WEEK AND THEN WATER – IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT TIME OF YEAR OR HOW MANY LEAVES IT HAS! If you don’t it will just sit there and not do anything. You must encourage it to grow new roots. After the first week’s watering, wait until the soil is fully dry then water again. Wait yet another week and give it a tug. If it feels established in its new home, continue to water as you normally would for that particular time of year.
If grown correctly, Split Rock succulents should only ever have 1 to 2 sets of leaves. Each year a new set of leaves grows up through the center and replaces the ones from last year. When a split rock has too many leaves, it is called “stacking”.
The split rock in the top left of the above image had a third massive set of leaves (due to its previous owner’s negligence) but since I began restricting its water, I enabled the plant to use it’s own water reserves. This allowed the extra set of leaves to dry out and at the same time, the plant pretty much watered itself and even provided its own nutrients too! (You can still see the brown little piece of the leaf that’s still attached to the side of the plant.) Speaking of nutrients, these plants don’t need fertilizer.
However, when in doubt – DON’T WATER.
This photo was taken in summer and this guy is in the process of absorbing his old leaves. He does not need water until the outer set of leaves are dry husks (which should happen by fall).
This photo was taken in fall and you can see the old leaves have completely dried up. I gently removed them but use caution since sometimes they can be difficult to remove and can damage the plant. He is getting full watering until it flows out the bottom hole. I will not water again until it is completely dry.
Once you see some action taking place between the two leaves it should be almost winter and water should be lightened considerably.
It’s January for this fellow and he isn’t getting any water at all since it’s dead of winter. I’ll slowly resume watering in spring to help keep the roots healthy and happy but he can probably go all the way till fall without water if he had to. A good example of how succulent these guys are is to think of a watermelon with all of tiny little “cells” of water on the inside. If you were to cut open a split rock and squeeze it, drops of water would come out!
This pot of split rocks are kinda doing their own thing. The guy on the far left bloomed in October. This plant is actually a Pleiospilos bolusii – you can tell by the longer leaves – so it blooms in fall whereas the Pleiospilos nelii (more common) blooms in spring. The photo of the bloom at the very beginning of this blog post was taken in March and is an example of a Pleiospilos nelii.
Notice most all of them (except for the pain in butt on top) have absorbed their old leaves by the end of summer.
Pleiospilos nelii cv. Royal Flush
The top Royal Flush has a seed pod whereas the one to the right of it is just about to bloom!
Here’s another good example of leaf stacking. The royal flush split rock in the foreground actually has 4 sets of leaves (there are two growing up through the middle) and is how I received it from the seller.
When it arrived, all of the leaves were bright purple but since I started holding off on watering, you can see how it’s starting to lose some of its color on the oldest set (and it’s definitely lost a ton in size!) It shouldn’t take long now for the outer leaves to wither away. As long as the two center leaves are solid, it’s okay for the others to be soft. This is a sign that it’s using its own water – which also means you don’t need to give it any either.
The reason stacking is such a bad thing is a: it’s not natural and b: it eventually leads to rot.
Here are some of the baby plants from the seed pod above! They were planted back in April and this is what they look like in December.
Soil and Pot Size
My favorite soil for lithops and split rocks (and all mesembs for that matter) is a blend of Black Gold Cactus Mix (sifted) with extra pumice added. The ratio is usually 25% Black Gold to 75% pumice. It’s easy and gets the job done. Soil is a very controversial topic but there is one thing I think we can all agree on, avoid Miracle Gro or any other mix that contains sphagnum peat moss.
Since the split rock has such a long tap root, you want their pot to be at least 3.5-4″ deep. Proper drainage is a must so make sure the pot has a hole in the bottom. Don’t ever add a layer of rocks to the bottom of the pot. This does nothing for drainage and only raises the water table which can eventually lead to root rot.
My second favorite soil for mesembs is a completely mineral mix. I’ll hopefully get around to writing about this one soon.
Once they were nestled in their new home, I added some rocks from the creek to “try” to make it look like they are in their natural habitat. In the wild, they can be hard to see since they blend in so well to their surroundings. This is their defense against thirsty predators! (As a matter of fact, the little Pleiospilos nelii on the top of the pot here is the same one at the beginning of the post with the big yellow flower!) The one in the foreground is a photo of the Pleiospilos bolusii mentioned earlier before he absorbed his outer leaves.
They also grow among rocks which is like an extra layer of protection.
Not only do the rocks help them to blend in to their surroundings in their natural habitat, they also protect them somewhat from the blazing sun. As the little split rock blooms, changes leaves, and pretty much does its own little thing, those rocks stay there and offer great protection – just like God.
HE is our rock – our cornerstone – completely unmovable. No matter what happens around us, He will always be there to protect us.
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an Everlasting Rock
Lithops Succulent: How To Grow Living Stone Plants
Lithops plants are often called “living stones” but they also look a bit like cloven hooves. These small, split succulents are native to the deserts of South Africa but they are commonly sold in garden centers and nurseries. Lithops thrive in compacted, sandy soil with little water and blistering hot temperatures. While relatively easy to grow, a little information on lithops will help you learn how to grow living stone plants so that they thrive in your home.
Information on Lithops
There are numerous colorful names for plants in the Lithops genus. Pebble plants, mimicry plants, flowering stones, and of course, living stones are all descriptive monikers for a plant that has a unique form and growth habit.
Lithops are small plants, rarely getting more than an inch above the soil surface and usually with only two leaves. The thick padded leaves represent the cleft in an animal’s foot or just a pair of green to grayish brown stones clustered together.
The plants have no true stem and much of the plant is underground. The resulting
appearance has the double attribute of confusing grazing animals and conserving moisture.
Lithops Succulent Adaptations
Lithops grow in inhospitable areas with limited water and nutrients. Because the majority of the plant’s body is below ground, it has minimal foliar space to gather sun’s energy. As a result, the plant has developed a unique way of enhancing solar collection by means of “windowpanes” on the surface of the leaf. These transparent areas are filled with calcium oxalate, which creates a reflective facet that increases light penetration.
Another fascinating adaptation of lithops is the long life of the seed capsules. Moisture is infrequent in their native habitat, so the seeds can remain viable in the soil for months.
How to Grow Living Stones Plants
Growing living stones in pots is preferred for most but the hottest zones. Lithops need a cactus mix or potting soil with some sand incorporated.
The potting media needs to dry before you add moisture and you must place the pot in as bright an area as possible. Place the plant in a southern facing window for optimum light entry.
Propagation is through division or seed, although seed grown plants take many months to establish and years before they resemble the parent plant. You can find both seeds and starts on the Internet or at succulent nurseries. Adult plants are common at even big box nurseries.
Lithops care is easy as long as you remember what type of climate the plant originates from and mimic those growing conditions.
Be very careful, when growing living stones, not to overwater. These little succulents do not need to be watered in their dormant season, which is fall to spring.
If you wish to encourage flowering, add a diluted cactus fertilizer in spring when you commence watering again.
Lithops plants do not have many pest problems, but they may get scale, moisture gnats and several fungal diseases. Watch for signs of discoloration and evaluate your plant often for immediate treatment.
Have you ever been browsing in the succulent section of a garden center, and discovered a pot with nothing more than a pair of flat-topped rocks in it? If so, you may have discovered the lithops plant, an unusual African genus of succulent.
Sometimes called split rocks or pebble plants, living stone plants are extremely drought-resistant and are widely popular in low-water gardens in desert regions. They can be grown both indoors and outdoors, but outdoor growers should be careful that they don’t get too much water.
The term lithops is both singular and plural, so don’t go searching for a lithop… always look for lithops. But this living stone plant is easy and fun, and definitely something different to mix into your succulent garden!
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Good Products For Growing Lithops:
- Safer Soap
- Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait
Lithops quick care illustration by Seb Westcott.
|Common Name||Lithops, living stones, living stone plant, split rocks, split rock plant, pebble plant, Karas Mountains living stone, Lesliei living stone, Lithops terricolor, Truncate living stone, Salt-dwelling living stone|
|Scientific Name||Lithops aucampiae, Lithops dorotheae, Lithops fulviceps, Lithops hookeri, Lithops karasmontana, Lithops lesliei, Lithops localis, Lithops optica, Lithops pseudotruncatella, Lithops ruschiorum, Lithops salicola, Lithops verruculosa, Lithops viridis and other species|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water||Extremely light to none at all|
|Temperature||65-80 degrees optimal, can take heat to 90-100, do not go below 50 degrees|
|Humidity||Tolerant of short bursts of humidity|
|Soil||Gritty or rocky, extremely well draining sandy soils preferred|
|Fertilizer||None to extremely light high-phosphorous|
|Pests||Spider mites most common. Can also attract thrips, scale insects, mealybugs, aphids, snails, slugs, and root knot nematodes. Mice and other small animals may eat it for its water content.|
|Diseases||Almost none, but can develop rot if overwatered, exposed to cold conditions, or damaged|
All About Lithops
A mixture of lithops plants. Source: .eOLe.
Lithops are fascinating little succulents. The living stone plant is very sensitive to the seasons of the year, but can live for decades. Further, many species flower in the fall, which can be a great burst of light color amidst all the oranges and reds of the season.
Let’s explore the life cycle of the lithops succulent plant in more detail now, and then go over some of the most common varieties.
When one looks at a lithops, all that’s visible above the ground’s surface is usually a pair of fleshy, succulent leaves that look like stones, with a crevice between them. The majority of the plant is beneath the soil surface.
These succulents have window-like cells on the leaf surfaces that allow light deep into the plant to aid in photosynthesis. The main taproot is the most important for the plant’s survival, but a series of finer roots also helps draw in extra nutrition when needed.
Lithops flower in the late autumn or early winter generally, although some species flower in the spring or early summer. A single flower will be pushed up from the crevice between the pair of leaves. However, only plants older than 3 years (and sometimes 5 years) will produce flowers.
The lithops flower is daisy-like in appearance, and depending on the species can be anywhere from a half-inch to an inch and a half in diameter. It can be orange, white, or pale yellow. Some have a scent which is described as spicy-sweet.
These flowers will open in the early afternoon to soak in sunlight and allow for pollination, and then will close in the late afternoon before dusk. As lithops is not self-pollinating, they are reliant on insect pollinators or humans to produce seed.
When the lithops flower fades, the center forms a seed capsule. This capsule does not open unless it’s been moistened, but once it does, rain droplets can cause seeds to bounce out of the capsule and land up to a foot away from the parent plant.
As the lithops seed capsule dries again, it will naturally close to protect any remaining seeds inside. If you are trying to harvest lithops seeds, you can simulate rain by using a dropper to drip water on the seed capsule until it reopens and then remove the fine seeds.
After flowering has concluded, the plant will go dormant. During this time, it starts to form a new body. When it begins to grow again, the new leaf pair will emerge from the crevice between the old leaves.
Over time, the plant will draw its moisture and nutrients from the old leaves, transferring it to the new pair. The older leaves will thin out. Once they’ve become paper-thin and are devoid of their moisture, they can be removed to reveal the new plant body.
Lithops may grow in size by creating two leaf pairs instead of a single pair, and can gradually expand to become a clump of small plants.
Types of Lithops
It’s estimated that there are at least 37 species of lithops, and around 145 varieties. More varieties are regularly discovered or bred by hybridization.
While we’re not going to cover every possible lithops species today, here’s some of the most popular houseplant varieties.
Lithops aucampiae. Source: Dornenwolf
Named after Juanita Aucamp, the woman who discovered this species, Lithops aucampiae originates in South Africa. It naturally grows in sandstone, chert, quartzite and ironstone-based soils, but can be grown in most sandy, extremely well-draining soils.
Most of this species of living stones tends to be in the red to red-brown range colorwise, and they produce bright to pale yellow flowers. It is one of the species which most tolerates occasional incorrect watering, making it extremely popular amongst gardeners.
Lithops dorotheae. Source: LeveL6.de
Another South African species, this one was discovered by Dorothea Huyssteen, leading to its naming. Naturally growing on feldspar, sheared quartz and quartzite, it can adapt to other grit-filled soils as well.
This species has a creamy pale green coloring with a brown or darker green leaf surface, mottled with cream-colored speckles. It produces a yellow flower annually.
Lithops fulviceps. Source: Zruda
Originating in Namibia, lithops fulviceps prefers rocky areas and cold desert regions. It naturally prefers quartzite-heavy environments, although it can live on limestone slopes too.
In coloration, the sides of the leaves are a greyish-green or yellowish hue with orange, brown, green, and sometimes cream-colored mottled upper surfaces. The leaf shapes are very similar to kidney beans as they divide to flower, but form a neat oval when not flowering.
Lithops fulviceps produces a white or yellow flower depending on the cultivar.
Lithops hookeri. Source: dcarvalho
Preferring quartzite and lava rock to grow on with some limestone, lithops hookeri is another South African stone plant. It can grow quite large for a living stone plant with leaf sizes nearing 2″ across at their widest point. Normally growing singly, it can form clumps of up to 10 leaf pairs.
The upper surface of its leaves can range from brownish to red or pink tones, occasionally picking up bits of orange. The sides of the leaves are often a dull grey or greyish-brown, almost terracotta tone. Its flowers are usually bright yellow.
Lithops karasmontana, ‘Karas Mountains Living Stone’
Lithops karasmontana. Source: graftedno1
Depending on species, lithops karasmontana will either mimic the grey and brown hues of local quartzite stones, or will develop a brilliant red-orange upper leaf in some varieties like var. laricheana. The sides are uniformly grey with a tinge of brown.
Its name refers to the Karas Mountains in its native Namibia, but it can also be found in South Africa proper. It produces a brilliant white flower with a yellow center.
Lithops lesliei, “Lesliei Living Stone’
Lithops lesliei var. marine. Source: mcgrayjr
Found naturally in Botswana and parts of South Africa, the lesliei living stone is the only lithops-type plant found in its natural environment. The species is incredibly variable in terms of color, ranging from pale green all the way to a rust or coffee coloration on the leaves.
It often camouflages itself to match the color of the soil around it, making it difficult to see, and it rarely rises more than a couple milimeters above the soil’s surface to further disguise itself. The yellow-flowered plants are often harvested for medicinal use in South Africa.
Lithops localis, ‘Lithops terricolor’
Lithops localis. Source: Harald52
A species which can tolerate poor watering habits, lithops localis tends to be a uniform grey or green-grey color across most of its surface. Speckles of a darker grey hue dapple the flat top of the leaves.
Indigenous to the southern Karoo region of South Africa, it often grows amongst rocks and shading shrubs as a way to disguise itself from animals that might eat it. Its natural environment gets most of its rainfall during the summer months, and thus it tends to flower in the fall.
Lithops optica var. rubra. Source: Dornenwolf
Another Namibian species, lithops optica lives in an area which gets winter rainfall, making it one of the few varieties adapted to winter watering. The most popular variety of this plant is Lithops optica var. rubra, which is purplish-pink across its entire surface.
The thin-petaled flowers tend to be yellow or white and have very slender petals. While the Rubra variety is brilliantly colored, most other optica species plants tend to be grey to grey-brown in coloration, with a very rounded shape.
Lithops pseudotruncatella, ‘Truncate Living Stone’
Lithops psuedotruncatella. Source: munnibee
From southwestern Africa, the truncate living stone is very distinctive. Its exterior leaf walls tend towards an even grey tone, but the upper leaf surfaces are dappled with cream, olive green and rust hues.
One of the few species which is regularly subject to mealybug attack, the truncate living stone is otherwise a sturdy and long-lasting species of lithops. In its natural environment, it often lasts for months without any water at all, simply absorbing moisture from the air around it.
Lithops ruschiorum var. ruschiorum.Source: Dornenwolf
Off-white, grey, or tan in coloration, this particular living stone plant looks very much like a living rock. Some varieties are a pure cream color, where others range between tan or grey with darker stone-like streaking.
Namibia is home to this particular living stone as well, and it lives most often in cold desert or rocky regions in the wild.
Lithops salicola, ‘Salt-Dwelling Living Stone’
Lithops salicola. Source: Dornenwolf
The salt-dwelling living stone takes its name from the mineral-rich environment in which it naturally occurs. It can be found in both Namibia and South Africa, and is somewhat tolerant to incorrect watering practices.
While it can’t tolerate freezes, the grey to grey-green leaves are more tolerant of dry cool temperatures than some. It produces a bright white or yellow flower in the late summer to early fall. This species has been given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
Lithops verruculosa. Source: Wikimedia Commons
One of the more recognizable species, this living stone often develops distinctive red warts on its surface. Different cultivars can take on different colorations ranging from reddish in hue to a gray-green tone with the red warting.
The “Rose of Texas” variety produces pink-tinged flowers, where other verruculosa species produce white or yellow flowers. It originates in South Africa.
Lithops viridis, ‘Green-Rock Plant’
Lithops viridis.Source: Wikimedia Commons
The green-rock plant originates in a very small portion of the Northern Cape area of South Africa, and is extremely uniform in coloration. The sides are greyish-pink, grey-green, or pure grey with an upper surface that is a dark grey-green tone.
Producing yellow flowers with yellow or white centers, lithops viridis is often only seen in cultivation in botanical gardens. The more greenish specimens are some of the most prized, as they look like pale green-grey nubs rising from the gritty soil.
For the most part, lithops are very hands-off. They handle themselves quite well! But there’s a few things about how to care for lithops that you’ll need to know.
In its natural environment, lithops is a full-sun plant. It requires enough sunlight to produce its colorful stone-like display.
However, in gardens or as houseplants, 4-5 hours of direct sunlight per day should be enough to keep your plant happy.
In coastal regions or where the temperatures are cooler, you may be able to leave it in direct sun all day long. Those who live in desert conditions or areas where it reaches excessive heat will want to place their plants where they’ll receive some afternoon shade to cool off.
Not growing your lithops outside? Be sure it gets enough sunlight every day and that you regularly rotate your plant. Etiolation, an elongation or warping of the leaves, can happen if your plant isn’t getting enough sun. It’ll stretch out its leaves to try to get the most light it can.
Color loss can also become a problem if your plant gets too little light. Usually, a south or west-facing window will get your plant enough sunlight to thrive, but you’ll want to regularly turn it so that the whole plant gets some sun.
If your plant is indoors and was in lower-light conditions over the winter months, slowly re-adapt your lithops to longer periods of light in the spring by gradually increasing its full sun exposure. This will prevent scarring or sunburn on the leaves.
Plants which are in warm climates (regions where it doesn’t drop below 50 degrees) can remain outdoors all winter long, and will not need the gradual exposure.
A clump of lithops lesliei starting to flower. Source: Harry-Harms
The South African regions like Namibia where lithops originates from rarely experience frost conditions. This means that the plant itself has never adapted to colder temperatures, and it really, really doesn’t like the cold.
Prevent exposure to frost or freezes, because the cell walls in the thick leaves will rupture if it’s too cold. This will cause your plant to rot and die. Ideally, don’t allow your lithops to remain in conditions below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and never leave it outside below 40 degrees.
While the optimal growing range for lithops is between 65-80 degrees, these desert plants can tolerate temperatures up into the 90’s and 100’s for short periods of time. However, it’s best that they’re exposed to morning sun and afternoon shade in these conditions.
A newly-sprouted lithops seedling just barely appearing above the gravel. Source: Etnojardines
The most difficult part of lithops care is watering, because the plant is from an area of extreme drought. In its natural environment, less than an inch of water in a year is not unknown. Needless to say, the plant has adjusted to a life of water conservation.
Almost the entire plant is devoted to storing water to sustain itself. Those fleshy, rock-like leaves are basically water tanks for the plant’s survival!
Because of this, you need to water according to the time of year, because the plant has distinct seasonal habits that it follows.
Spring and fall are the plant’s normal growing seasons, and the time when it’s most likely to need water. During those seasons, limit your watering to once every ten days or less. Do not water unless the soil has completely dried out to four or five inches below the surface.
If your plant seems happy without water during the spring and fall, then don’t water it. Chances are that it’s getting enough moisture from the humidity in the air. Many species of lithops draw the majority of their moisture from dew or humid air.
Rain exposure should be greatly limited. As I mentioned, these plants are not accustomed to having much water, and too much will cause decay in the plant!
During the summertime, we’re all used to watering our plants more often. However, living stones go dormant during the summer heat, and it’s important to only water it if the plant is becoming wrinkled and looking as though the leaves are drying out.
If you do water during summertime, do it in the early morning, and give it only a tiny bit of water. The smallest amount should provide ample moisture for the leaves to plump back up and the plant to become good as new.
Avoid watering during the winter entirely. Your plant will be in a state of semi-dormancy then as well, although sometimes a flower may linger into the early part of the winter months.
This is a plant which is incredibly easy to overwater. Err on the side of underwatering, and your lithops will be quite happy.
A well-draining, grit-rich cactus blend of potting mix is ideal for most lithops plants. Their natural environment ranges from sand to decomposed granite, and rarely holds on to much water.
Don’t have access to a cactus mix? Don’t panic. You can make your own by mixing 50% potting soil or compost with 50% grit material. Good options include pumice or lava rock, sand, decomposed granite, perlite, or other gritty materials.
Soils that hold too much moisture can cause your lithops to develop root rot or can spur the development of pests that can attack the roots. Since their natural environment is quite harsh, they tolerate poor soil a lot better than rich soils, so err on the side of gritty or sandy mix.
A young lithops seedling, before the leaves have split apart.Source: Picture Zealot
As a general rule, fertilizing your lithops isn’t needed. These plants get almost no fertilizer in their natural environment.
However, some people do offer their living stone plant a little burst of fertilizer just prior to its normal flowering season to encourage blooming. If you opt to do that, use a heavily-diluted cactus fertilizer, one which is low-nitrogen, high-potassium in formulation.
Just like watering, you want to fertilize sparingly if at all. And avoid foliar fertilization, as it can cause sunburn on the leaves.
Most people propagate lithops from seed. To do this, you simply prepare a pot of soil as described above, carefully sprinkle your lithops seed over the surface, and cover with a fine layer of sand. Keep the sand lightly moist until germination occurs, and gradually reduce watering.
However, living stone plants can also be propagated by division.
If you have a cluster of plants, you can carefully remove it from its pot, gently dusting off the soil around the roots. Examine the root and leaf pairs to decide where to cut, then use a sterile razor blade to neatly remove leaf pairs with a good amount of taproot still attached to each.
It’s less-essential to include any of the other finer feeder roots, as these will quickly regrow. But your lithops leaf pairs will require some of the taproot to survive.
Once separated, repot as directed below.
Lithops seedlings splitting into a leaf pair. Source: Picture Zealot
Unless you’re dividing your plant, you may find that repotting is rare. Lithops can live for 40 to 50 years, and it’s not uncommon for someone to have their plant in the same pot for 10-20 years!
The most common reason to repot is to divide the plant. Otherwise, you may want to place their lithops in a larger pot to develop a larger colony of plants.
Regardless of why you’re repotting, you will need a pot that’s deep enough to handle the long taproot. A minimum of 3″ is required, but 5″ or even slightly deeper is better. This allows the taproot to grow without coiling around the pot.
Prepare a well-draining cactus potting soil, and plant your living stone plant with its leaf tops slightly above the soil’s surface. About a half-inch above the soil is fine. Be cautious with the root structure, as the taproot is essential to your plant’s survival.
Once repotted, you can place gravel or rocks around the soil surface to simulate the plant’s natural environment. Avoid transplanting it for at least another 3-4 years, and if it was a division, wait even longer.
Nope! Living stones don’t need pruning. Since only two leaves are visible above the soil level, the plant will take care of itself.
At the most, you may rarely have to remove the papery remnants of older leaves once the plant has reabsorbed all of their moisture and nutrients. Even then, the new leaves will spring up from the older ones, and eventually the older leaves will slough off on their own.
These lithops are experiencing etiolation, an elongating of the leaf pair. Source: cold_penguin1952
On the whole, the majority of problems with the living stone plant come from overwatering. However, a few pests may be tempted by the juicy leaves, and there are a few other issues which might strike your plant. Here’s how to deal with those!
Etiolation is a term which refers to a plant basically stretching and warping to reach sunlight. The living stones are prone to etiolation, and instead of lying flat against the surface of their soil, they will rise above it and bend or twist so that the tops of the leaves are angled to the sun.
If your plant appears to be suffering from etiolation, it needs more consistent light. Gradually reintroduce your plant to more light, trying to ensure that the entire plant gets regular light. During its next dormancy cycle, the new growth should form against the soil level again.
Dessication or wrinkling of the leaves can occur when your plant gets thirsty. If it starts to develop a raisin-like surface, you need to give your plant a drink, and it should re-plump itself up within a day or two.
Scrapes to the leaf surfaces can cause brownish or whitish scars that look very similar to a scratch on human skin. These scars will remain until the plant has developed a new leaf pair, and then those leaves will wither away as the old leaves’ moisture is reabsorbed into the plant.
Most pests are likely to ignore lithops the majority of the time. However, a handful can act to damage your plant if the opportunity presents itself.
Spider mites are the most likely problem of lithops growers. Most often they will live in the crevice between leaves, or hidden between an old leaf and a new one. They cause white spots of scar tissue on the plant’s surface, and they thrive in dry environments.
If you encounter spider mites on your plant, consider using a product like Mite-X along the sides and in the center crevice of the plant. The mites rarely attack the upper surface of the leaves, so this should be enough to protect it. A fine mist is all that’s required, don’t soak the plant!
There are a few other pests that can attack your plant, but these are opportunistic pests. They prefer other plants as a general rule, but if your living stones make an appealing target, they may strike. Here’s a short list:
- Thrips. If your pebble plants are shedding older leaves, thrips can live between the older thinning leaves and new ones. They can cause dark scarring to the newer leaves. Use an insecticidal soap like Safer Soap to eliminate these.
- Scale Insects or Mealybugs. Mealybugs are a form of scale insect, and both regular scale and mealybugs will attack many cacti and succulents. Gently scrape them off if found, and apply Safer Soap to the plant’s exposed surfaces.
- Aphids. Cactus aphids may be lured to your lithops and its juicy leaves. Again, Safer Soap should eliminate these pests.
- Snails and Slugs. If growing your living stones outdoors, snails and slugs may cause damage to the leaves. Use a bait such as Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait to draw them away from your succulent garden.
- Root Knot Nematodes. While these often will not cause severe damage, the microscopic soil-dwellers can make the roots of your lithops warp and twist. They often do not survive well in drier soils, so use a well-draining, grit-rich soil to keep them at bay.
- Mice. Surprisingly, mice find lithops to be attractive food sources, and they can chew away large portions of your plants if you’re not careful. Use good mouse traps to keep them out of your house, and consider placing a fine mesh cloche over potted outdoor specimens.
Generally, the only pest that most people will ever see on their lithops is spider mites, because the optimal conditions for other pests aren’t usually met. But in the rare circumstance that other pests appear, now you know how to deal with them!
A clump or cluster of lithops plants. Source: Reggie1
The vast majority of plant diseases have little to no impact on lithops. Since they grow in sandier soils, they are not subject to most soilborne fungal diseases, and they do not typically develop powdery mildew or other above-ground fungal diseases.
However, they are susceptible to rots caused by overwatering or damage to the leaves. An excess of water can cause the fleshy leaves to swell and crack or burst, leaving them open to bacterial infection. Scrapes or cuts on the leaves can also leave them at risk.
Generally, as long as you are careful about not scratching your plants and limit your watering to only when it’s most necessary, you will not experience any plant diseases.
As I mentioned earlier, cold temperatures at 40 degrees or less can also cause your lithops to rot. This is a slightly different form of rot, and is caused by the water-filled cells of the plant bursting inside the plant’s skin. Avoid exposing your plant to colder temperatures to prevent this.
Frequently Asked Questions
These lithops are forming new leaf pairs and shedding the old ones. Source: Ezequiel Coelho
Q: What is Blue Witchford Lithops?
A: There are a number of unusually-colored plant seeds sold online (often from China), and Blue Witchford lithops is one of those. In most cases, these are fakes.
In the case of “Blue Witchford lithops”, it’s believed that the images shown online of it are heavily photoshopped, and in fact they aren’t even of a lithops plant at all – they’re images of pinguicula esseriana that have been colorized blue to sell seeds.
Unfortunately, scams like this are becoming extremely common online. Purchase your seeds from reliable seed companies, not from a random seller on eBay or Amazon. This will prevent you from being disappointed later.
Q: Are lithops poisonous?
A: There are reports of people in Namibia chewing on lithops to extract their moisture, and the ASPCA has them marked down as non-toxic to dogs or cats. So the plant itself may not be toxic.
Whether or not it tastes good may be a different matter. The flowers themselves can smell spicy-sweet, but there are few reports as to the flavor of the leaves, suggesting it’s not an ideal food source. Still, they should not be poisonous.
Any chemicals which are used on lithops may be poisonous themselves, so if you have sprayed your plant with a chemical pesticide, be cautious around your pets.
Finally, if there’s ever any concerns, it’s best to check in with your doctor or your veterinarian. Better to be safe than sorry!
Ready to grow your own pebble plants and living stones? These succulent beauties are not only long-lived, but super-easy to care for once you’ve mastered the technique! Do you have a favorite living stone plant? Share your stories in the comments below!
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‘Living Stones’ Don’t Just Sit There
“Living stones, I presume?”
If you are looking at the plants known botanically as Lithops, you presume correctly.
Nicknamed because of their incredible resemblance to the small rocks and pebbles among which they are generally found, these fascinating plants capture the imagination of indoor gardeners whose taste runs to the more interesting and exotic.
What are Lithops?
Technically, they are succulents that consist of two opposite leaves which, through evolution, have become thickened, fused together along the outer edges and foreshortened, so as to form a body that looks like an inverted cone, tapering down to the point of junction with the root and with a fissure across the top, dividing it into two more or less equal halves, or lobes.
For our purposes, they are a slow-growing succulent perennial that look like a pebble or a stone and usually blend invisibly with the environment. Lithops will live for several decades if properly cultivated, and once a year they will produce breathtaking flowers in yellow, white, pink or salmon.
Lithops are generally only an inch or two across and have beautiful, distinctive markings. There are hundreds of varieties among the species, most of which have been identified, named and numbered by Desmond T. Cole of South Africa, a Lithops lover who, with his wife, Naureen, has spent more than 40 years collecting Lithops from more than 400 native habitats.
I know there are lots of you who are already Lithops fanciers. In a recent column, a reader asked for a source for “living stones.” I suggested checking the yellow pages for cactus and succulent nurseries.
That response drew an extraordinary amount of mail from people recommending sources, and two of the sources were included in virtually every list.
One of them is Living Stones, a nursery in Tucson, Ariz., that has the largest commercial collection of Lithops in the United States.
Gene Joseph and his wife, Jane Evans, started Living Stones as a cactus and succulent nursery in 1985. Their particular interest is Lithops and, in 1987, they were able to purchase an internationally known collection. They have built their own collection from there and have about 150 varieties of 36 species; their catalog offers 100 varieties.
How popular are Lithops?
According to Steven Brack, owner of Mesa Garden in Belen, N.M., there are several thousand avid collectors in the United States.
“I mean people who know the names of each and every one of their plants,” said Brack, whose 21-year-old cactus and succulent nursery is home to 12 greenhouses on five acres. “And in most cases” Brack added, ” the location from which it originally came.”
Among the most avid of collectors are Jim and Roberta Hanna of Lakewood. The Hannas have hundreds of plants, both indoors and out. Jim Hanna, a warehouseman, was a houseplant grower before he and his wife became involved with Lithops.
What was it about these living stones that so intrigued the Hannas, who have been serious collectors for the last 12 years?
“They’re very interesting plants, the way they camouflage themselves to look like part of their environment,” Jim Hanna said. “And when they burst into bloom–their shining period is June through August–they’re something to see.”
Caring for Lithops is tricky, the experts said.
Plant them in a cactus mix with lots of drainage. “A good mix could contain up to 50% pumice mixed with fir bark and peat moss,” said Brack. As for fertilizing, Joseph recommends a very light feeding once or twice a year.
Indoors, they need to be grown in a bright, sunny window, preferably a southern exposure. And if you want to ensure blooming, they should be grown under lights.
And Joseph, Brack and Hanna all stressed one thing: During their dormant season, October through February, Lithops must not be over-watered.
“The thing is,” Joseph said, “they give you no warning that you’re over-watering. One day they look fine; the next day, Lithops soup.”
“You’re probably best off not watering them at all during that period,” Hanna said.
One of the best ways to display your Lithops is to make a dish garden with your “living stones” planted among similar-looking rocks. Children especially love these little gardens.
Another fascinating feature about Lithops is the way they regenerate themselves each year, adding a new “leaf” each season until, with luck, they can grow into a clump of 10, even 20 heads.
“Basically,” said Jim Hanna, “they eat themselves. They ingest the older leaves, which nourish the new ones. That’s how they become a clump: One leaf dies, two come up.”
If you’d like to see a great selection of Lithops on display and on sale, go to the Huntington Botanical Garden plant sale today.
If you’d like a catalog from Living Stones, the address is Living Stones Nursery, 2936 N. Stone Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705. The telephone number is (520) 628-8773. The catalog is $2, which is applicable to any purchase.
For a free catalog from Mesa Garden, write to P.O. Box 72, Belen, NM 87002.
How to take care of Lithops
Those succulents that you thought looked like rocks? They are called Lithops (or Living stones), a genus of succulents native to southern Africa. Older Lithops form clumps of colourful pebbles in their pot, which makes them ideal as an accent piece in your garden. As small and slow-growing plants, they are relatively easy to care for, especially once you get a hang of the routine. In this article, you will find some basic knowledge to take good care of your Lithops.
Light & Temperature
Lithops have adapted to tolerate harsh sunlight in their native environment. Thus, the best way to care for them would be to provide 4-5 hours of early sunlight, and partial shade in the afternoon. A sunny south or east window is an ideal place for your Lithops. Remember, insufficient sunlight can cause elongated leaves and lost patterns.
As Lithops have the capacity to store water for months in their leaves, overwatering can lead to puffy plants, and even to their demise. Underwatering, however, can result in stunted plants. The trick is to water only when the soil is thoroughly dry (test by inserting a wooden skewer into the soil, and check if it’s moist when removed).
When Lithops are growing new leaves, it’s best to leave them and not water until the old pair of leaves are completely dried up and withered.
Lithops Succulent Living Stone |
It is best for Lithops to be planted in cactus mix or fast-draining potting soil. Sand, pebbles, or other gritty materials can also be added to help with soil drainage.
Lithops, like any other plants in general, should only be repotted if there are problems (soggy soil) or if the plants outgrow their container. If you want to repot the plants anyway, only repot when its growing season starts (usually around the month of May). Lithops’s roots must be sufficiently developed (at least 2 years) before any re-potting is done.
GROWING NEW LEAVES
Normally, the process of growing new leaves happen after blooming period. After the plant flowers, it will go into dormant for a while to prepare for the new growth. The plants will absorb the nutrients from old leaves and eventually the new pairs of leaves will make their way through the fissure of the old ones.
In some cases, your Lithops might grow their new leaves without flowering. Most of the time, it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason but it can partly because the Lithops are at early years of their growing cycle.
One way to tell if your Lithops is growing new leaves is checking its leaves. If they feel squishy and soft to the touch, it is likely that the outer leaves are at shredding stage. You will soon find new leaves emerging. During this period, do not water your Lithops untill the old leaves completely wither.
HOW TO PROPAGATE LITHOPS
Lithops’ propagation comes from seeds or division of existing plants. However, since they are slow-growing plants, divisions don’t usually develop for several years. Because of this, Lithops are often grown from seeds, which take months to establish, and years to fully grown.
This is the most popular way to grow Lithops. Simply prepare a pot of soil like mentioned above (fast-draining mixed with gritty materials). Lightly sprinkle Lithops seeds over the surface, and cover with a thin fine layer of sand. Keep this layer lightly moist until germination occurs, then gradually reduce watering.
Lithops Plant |
This method should only be performed when there is a visible division on the plant itself. Carefully pick Lithops out of the pot, and gently dust off the soil around the roots. Examine the roots and the leaf pairs to decide on a cut, making sure that each leaf will have a sufficient amount of taproot attached.
Repot each of them in a pot that is deep enough for the taproot to grow without having to coil around the pot, with the same mix of soil.
Lithops have flowers! The flowers are daisy like in white, yellow, and orange shades. They often bloom around late fall and early winter. Similar to a shamrock, Lithops flowers open early on sunny days, and then close later in the day. If you have a cluster of Lithops, the blooming flower formation can cover the whole plant, hiding the small stone-like parts beneath them.
See more about How to take care of Christmas Cactus
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How to Grow Lithops
Plants can be obtained but they can only be shipped between certain countries and in some cases between states after rigorous inspection and the issuing of certificates to state their freedom from insects and diseases.
These xerophytes are relatively easy to grow but somewhat finicky with soil, temperature, time and amount of watering.
Once you get a handle on the basic requirements, growing them will quickly become an obsession.
Lithops grow well in shallow containers in a controlled climate environment such as a greenhouse.
Special care has to be taken to allow them to adjust to changing light levels by moving them incrementally. If they are suddenly exposed to extremely bright light it can severely damage them and possibly kill them.
Lithops prefer a soil mixture that is made up of sandy gravel (e.g. 2 parts sand: 1 part clay loam: 1 part gravel). Add bone meal (phosphorus, like powdered dried chicken bones) and dolomitic lime (calcium, magnesium).
See how these amazing plants change with the seasons
Good air circulation is essential, so ventilation or a fan should be used, especially if the greenhouse or room tends to get overheated.
They won’t need direct sun all day and should in fact be protected from the direct sun from noon onwards.
They will prefer a bright filtered light such as that under shade cloth or behind a sheer curtain, or under grow lights.
Water rarely during the late autumn and early winter months as with most succulent plants. Don’t water more often than once every two to four weeks.
When you do water, thoroughly drench them to completely soak the soil. Then allow the soil to dry out completely.
The best time to water is in the morning so the soil surface can evaporate during the day and dry out the upper levels of soil.
My preference is to use tepid rainwater, as this won’t shock the roots, and also won’t leave calcium deposit on the surface of the plant.
Avoid using water from a water softening unit or municipal water with chlorine in it as this could kill your plants. Some well water also will have minerals in which although unsightly won’t harm them.
It’s important not to keep the soil wet. This will kill your Lithops, and quite possibly is the main cause of losing these otherwise very hardy plants.
How to Grow Lithops from Seed
Once the plants start to bloom by splitting open to allow a daisy like flower to emerge, you can pollinate the flowers by hand with a small paintbrush.
Each plant is self sterile, so pollen from two or more different plants must be used. Store the seed after the capsule ripens in a cool place where it will be viable for several years.
Germinating Lithops seed is easy. Sow the seed during the warmer summer months when it will germinate quickly. The seedlings are very small for a long time, so the quicker they can start to grow the better.
Sow the seed evenly in sandy free-draining soil with little or no organic matter in it, and cover with a very thin layer of fine sand. This layer acts to support the young seedling after germination.
With such fine seed, it is best to water with a very fine spray or you can dunk the pot into a shallow tray of water to allow capillary action to moisten the whole soil column without disturbing the seeds.
Keep the seed pots in a warm bright place, and cover with a sheet of glass or cling wrap to keep the humidity high until the seeds germinate. I’ve found antique glass cloches are a nice look on the terracotta pots that I prefer.
Find out more about seed propagation here.
Take the cover off and shake off any large drops of condensation to prevent rotting.
Protect from mice and other vermin, which find the succulent little seedlings hard to resist – I use salvaged bird cages or gerbil cages, and cover the plant pots with those.
Once the seeds germinate, within three weeks, the seedlings will develop into tiny copies of their parents, although their true colours won’t show for a few months to a year. After the seeds germinate, don’t water from below as this can rot the tiny roots.
Once the seedlings are a few months old allow them to dry out between waterings, and this will make them search out deeper layers of soil to obtain moisture.
Transplant the tiny plants once they’re big enough to handle at around a year old, and expect to see them start to bloom in turn at about three to four years.
Sometimes some of the seeds won’t germinate right away, and seedlings emerge a long time later. This is important as you shouldn’t discard the seed pots until you know for sure that all the seed has germinated.
For more information on how to grow Lithops see this interesting blog.
Home> Plant Guides> How to Grow Lithops
Lithops 101 – A crash course in: Lithops care needs, growing cycles, and why you need to know them BOTH to keep them alive.
Learn more about Lithops and other Mesembs along with tons of helpful information to keeping your succulents happy in my eBook ‘The Succulent Manual: A guide to care and repair for all climates’
Lithops, Līthops, Split Rocks, Butt Plants… whatever you like to call them, they’re easily one of Earth’s weirdest plants making them highly popular with succulent lovers.
They’re also popular for dying. A lot. In fact, I bet we’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never killed a Lithops unless they’ve just never had one before and that doesn’t count. I know I took at least three victims before I really ‘got’ them and learned to respect how little they needed me to survive.
Due to our vastly different climates and growing situations, whether indoor or out, arid or tropical, and everything in between, it’s virtually impossible to give universal advice on general succulent care, let alone Lithops. Would you believe me if I told you watering them once a month can be too much? It’s true, and it can mean the death of a Lithops if watered at the wrong time.
But these little weirdos are great at expressing their needs and once we understand their body language and growth cycle, it becomes much easier and less stressful to keep them happy.
Natives of the driest areas of South Africa, they live their low-key lives, or should I say low-leaved, among plains and outcrops where they mimic the rocks common to their location to hide from thirsty critters. And while they’re from the Southern Hemisphere, most Lithops adapt to the seasons where they’re being cultivated.
Once you understand their growing patterns, it’s easier to accept why they need so little water.
Let’s start with their flowering phase. Most Lithops need to be at least 3 years old before they’ll flower. They usually bloom sometime between late summer through fall.
After their flowers fade, they begin growing a new plant beneath the outer leaves, but you can’t see it yet.
Through winter and into early spring, the new plant continues to grow while the outer leaves begin to wrinkle and shrink. The new leaves subsist solely on the water and nutrients from the old leaves, and for this time, the roots are basically put out of service.
When the new growth becomes large enough, the outer leaves begin to split and dry out until the new plant fully emerges. Roots that dried out are replaced by new roots. Depending on the climate, Lithops in hot summer settings may go dormant or partially dormant until it’s time to flower again. This cycle repeats each year, with new growth bursting through the old. Knowing all of this, when you buy a new Lithops and it looks like it’s not flowering or splitting, if you still aren’t sure of which growth stage it’s in, you can look to the season for a clue.
Now let’s get into the care needs for these oddballs. As with most succulents, the most common causes of a Lithops demise are overwatering and inadequate light.
In nature, Lithops have adapted to their harsh conditions by growing with only the very top surface visible above ground. The light needs to be bright in order to reach the chlorophyll safely stored deep down inside the subterranean leaves. While most people don’t pot their Lithops as deeply as they grow in the wild, they will still need at least 3 to 5 hours of bright light, preferably direct, and as many more hours of bright indirect light as you can provide.
If you don’t have a grow light, you’ll want to find the brightest spot you can, away from any rain, but also protected from full sun when it’s hot outside. Remember, morning sun is gentler than afternoon, so east-facing windows and patios are ideal when the light isn’t blocked by other objects.
Lithops etiolate and grow taller when they’re not getting enough light. If this happens to yours, gradually extend its exposure to more light so it can photosynthesize enough to produce a new plant and keep the next generation true to form.
Before we talk about watering Lithops, let’s cover their container and soil requirements.
For such small plants, Lithops can put down some pretty long roots, so it’s important to pot them in a container deep enough to accommodate them. Clay or plastic pots both work as long as they have ample drainage holes and the planting medium is very high draining. I do recommend clay pots for those new to Lithops as a precaution against moisture retention. I use both.
As for soil, Lithops really need a potting medium that dries within 3 days or less. Most commercial plant retailers sell Lithops in the same soil used for non-succulent plants, but this doesn’t mean we should leave them in that dark organic dirt. I honestly suggest having a really high draining soil ready before purchasing any Lithops, and the less organic matter in the mix, the better. I personally use 100% pumice, shale, porous ceramic, or a mix of all three- no brown organic matter whatsover. My climate is terribly humid most of the year and it takes longer for ‘dirt dirt’ to dry than Lithops prefer.
So if you live in a humid location, please believe me when I say investing in a bag of good draining amendment is probably the best and easiest way to keep your Lithops alive and reproducing. There are alternatives to pumice, like shale, Turface, and bonsai soil—even a combination of perlite with a bit of topsoil is better than regular potting soil or whatever this dark stuff some places sell Lithops in is.
Not only does potting in non-organic materials reduce the odds of overwatering or moisture retention, it helps prevent fungi and bacteria, and makes the pot virtually uninhabitable to pests like fungal gnats and root mealybugs. Knock on wood, I’ve never had any issues with pests on my Lithops, and I’ve no doubt my choice of potting medium is key.
If you live in an arid region, or grow indoors with the required light, and you can master the growing cycle of Lithops well enough to know when to avoid watering, then you can get away with more organic material in your mix. Otherwise stick to non-organic as close as you can.
It’s common to see a lot of Lithops planted together in one container. It looks fantastic but this potting situation can become problematic if the Lithops are at different stages of growth, or one is in need of water but its neighbor is fully hydrated. I’d wait until you’re comfortably familiar with the different species and growth cycles before putting them in the same pot, then go for it!
Ventilation is also important in stiflingly hot climates, especially when humid, like Houston. It is mid-May and I’ve already activated my oscillating fan on my porch. When I start to feel like I’m slowing down from the heat, I assume my plants are feeling it too. I have another for when things really start heating up.
Now we’re ready talk about watering Lithops. I covered everything else first because without the right light, soil, and container, any amount of water at any time will probably kill them. Watering at the wrong time in their growth cycle can be the kiss of death for a Lithops, but the odds decrease if everything else is in place.
The best way to tell if your Lithops need water during the time when it’s okay to water, is by observing them. They’ll start wrinkling or puckering, or maybe even appear to be sinking deeper into the pot. If you give them a gentle squeeze, they feel softer than when hydrated.
The tricky part about all of this is they do the same thing when they’re about to shed their old leaves to allow the new growth to come in. That’s why it’s so important to know what stage of growth they’re in before you water them.
All you really need to remember is to only water after the old leaves are dry and stop watering after the flower begins to die. Flowering typically occurs between late summer and the end of fall. New growth occurs during fall and spring, and old leaves dry out between late spring and early to mid-summer. Those are all wide open estimates, but a good rough guide nonetheless.
The main reason you shouldn’t water after flowering and while new growth is forming comes down to the way Lithops utilize water. As I mentioned, the old leaves are the source of nutrition and water for the new plant that forms within.
The roots are basically put on pause for this time. If you water them during this phase, you risk confusing the plant into using water from the roots while it is actively absorbing the old leaves, which can engorge the plant beyond repair. You also risk root rot since the root system’s activity is suspended and the excess moisture surrounds the plant with nowhere to go.
Again, after the old leaves have dried up, you can give your Lithops a deep watering. This will probably be around late spring to early summer, but the timing can vary. Put the pot in a saucer and slowly give it about a 8-16 ounces of water. Wait until it runs through the drainage holes. Dump the saucer. That’s it! Water it again if it shows signs of wrinkling after 3-4 weeks but only enough to run through the drainage holes once.
If a month has passed without your Lithops showing signs of wrinkling during the summer months and you haven’t watered them, you can moisten the top layer of the pot to help give the roots a bit of moisture. There’s a chance it is becoming dormant from the heat or natural cycle, so too much water can cause it to swell and split…and die.
Giving Lithops the right amount of water during the right time will sustain it through its flowering, fruiting, and new growth cycles. This means it can sustain its life and reproduce without being watered for six months or more, especially in humid environments.
These are splitting. The water in the outer leaves is being absorbed by the new growth. Watering these now would interrupt the absorption and the outer leaves will probably rot around the new growth rather than dry up.
Once the old leaves are dry, I’ll give them a deep watering and wait until they show signs of needing another drink. Humidity takes care of part of my job, and I find myself with nothing to do but look at them most of the time.
They’ll probably go dormant at the peak of summer, but will still need a small bit of water to keep the root hairs alive.
Again, mine haven’t flowered but they’re a year older now and the chances are that much higher. If I do get flowers, I’ll water sparingly until the bloom begins to fade and wait until the following spring for the new growth to emerge. With luck, I’ll get to repeat the process yet another year.
Even in the driest climates, watering once or twice a month at most is the norm. If you can respect that fact about this plant, and you can give it enough bright light, then I know you can keep it alive.
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Growing Living Stones (Lithops) Indoors
Botanical Name: Lithops species
Living Stones are flowering succulents that blend into their native environment because they grow in a stemless clump resembling small stones.
Their fleshy, swollen leaves are often green, gray or brown with mottled markings. Although some species may be bright green, red, pink, orange, blue-green or any combination.
They split across the top with big, daisy-like flowers emerging in fall. The flowers don’t last long, but they add a burst of color to the natural stone shades; they may be bright yellow or white, depending on the species.
Once the flowers fade, the leaves will shrivel and a new pair of leaves will push up through the split to replace them.
Lithops may not bloom for the first 2-3 years, so be patient. It is a long-lived plant and is fascinating to watch through its growth cycle.
Give your living stone plant plenty of light. A sunny windowsill is an ideal spot for it. Repotting lithops is only necessary every 5 years or so, when the plants become crowded in the pot. Use a pot 6 in (15 cm) deep because this plant grows long taproots.
Many varieties are available. You’ll find each living stone plant for sale by its species name: Lithops karasmontana has mottled brown markings with white flowers, L. marmorata is grayish-brown with white flowers and L. aucampiae is brown with reddish-brown markings and yellow flowers.
Mix them up for an attractive display. Grow 2 or 3 species in the same pot. Or pot them up in matching containers to group together. Surround them with pebbles for decoration.
Lithops for Sale
Living Stones Care Tips
Origin: South Africa
Height: About 2 inches (5 cm)
Light: Bright light with at least 4 hours of direct sun a day in summer. Put your Lithops plant on a sunny windowsill.
Water: Be careful not to overwater lithops and provide good drainage. This succulent stores moisture and nutrients in its leaves and its roots will rot if kept too wet. Aim to keep soil barely moist from spring through fall, allowing the top half of the soil to dry out between waterings. Do not water after the flowers have faded and the leaves begin to shrivel. Resume watering the following spring.
Humidity: Average room (around 40% relative humidity) or lower.
Temperature: Keep Lithops warm to hot in summer (70°-90°F/21°-32°C). Autumn through spring, cool to average (60°-70°F/16°-21°C). Go ahead and put it outdoors, if you want. Just bring it back inside when the temperature drops. It will tolerate a minimum temperature of 50°F/10°C.
Soil: Cactus potting mix
Fertilizer: Feed once in spring and once in fall with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer, diluted by half.
Propagation: Seeds, or divide clumps in early summer. To sow seeds, sprinkle seeds on top of moistened potting mix and barely cover with additional mix. Use a container with drainage holes. Place container in a warm, sunny window. Mist with water occasionally; seedlings will appear in a few weeks.
- Houseplants A-Z
Lithops plants are very unusual succulents that are unlike any other plant you will find. They are commonly called ‘Living stones’ for obvious reasons, as at first glance they look just like pebbles, and, in fact, this helps to protect them in the wild. In their natural environment in the South African mountains, these clever plants are able to adapt their colors and patterns to mimic the look of the stones around them, allowing them to blend into their habitat in an almost camouflage way, protecting them from getting eaten by animals.
As succulents, they are very low maintenance and easy to care for, needing almost no attention at all other than a spot in bright sunlight and a very occasional watering. They have a lifespan of around half a century and reward us each year with a flower blooming in the fall. This quirky plant has two bulbous leaves that store moisture to enable the plant to survive long periods of drought. The pair of leaves are separated by a slit, and it is from this central slit that an annual flower emerges.
The Lithops also produces one new set of leaves each year. The new leaves grow out from the central slit between the old leaves, and as they mature, the old set of leaves will shrivel up and die. When the old set of leaves appear to be devoid of any moisture, you can remove them. This annual replacement of the leaves means that while the plant does keep growing new life, it never gets much bigger and can, therefore, remain in the same pot for many years, even several decades.
The Lithops plant, which is referred to as Lithops whether you are talking about a singular or plural plant, makes an excellent houseplant but can also survive outside in hot climates. There are many different types, but they are all easily distinguishable as living stones.
Lithops Plant Overview
Lithops Plant Quick Facts
|Origin||South Africa, Namibia, Botswana|
|Scientific Name||Lithops spp.|
|Common Names||Living stone, lithops, split rock plant, pebble plant|
|Light||Full sun with partial shade|
|Humidity||Tolerates humidity, prefers low humidity|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to people and pets|
Caring for your Lithops Plant
In their natural habitat Lithops grow in extreme drought conditions where very little rain falls all year round. Because of this, they have not adapted capabilities to deal with even moderate amounts of water, and so require very little watering when kept in homes or gardens. The Lithops’ whole structure is based around surviving on minimal water. It’s fleshy leaves, which appear more like stones, are filled with moisture to help the plant survive on its own without the need for external water sources.
The watering schedule for your Lithops will vary according to the season. These plants grow during fall and spring, and so these are the times during which they will need some water. Although the Lithops will need moisture during their growing seasons, the amount they need is very minimal. Some Lithops will absorb much of their required moisture from the air around them if it is humid. During the growing seasons, you can add a little water around every two weeks, though pay close attention to the condition of the Lithops and its soil more so than the date. Only add water if the soil has entirely dried out, and add just enough to moisten it slightly; do not saturate it.
Signs that your Lithops needs more water are rare, but they can happen. If the leaves start to wrinkle and look as though they are drying out, then you should add a little water. Don’t panic and overwater the plant to try to correct the wrinkled leaves, even a tiny amount of water should be enough for the leaves to plump back up and the plant to continue growing as normal. During summer, you will not need to water your Lithops at all. This will seem unnatural to many plant growers as our plants typically require more water during the summer heat, but this is not the case for Lithops. The heat of the summer causes them to go dormant, and they will not require any moisture at all during this time.
In winter, the Lithops will enter a state of semi-dormancy, and again will not require any watering at all. Overwatering is the number one way to kill a Lithops plant, so hold back as much as possible when watering to ensure this doesn’t happen. Depriving your plant of water will be much less troublesome than giving it too much water, so always err on the side of caution to prevent the plant from rotting.
If you are keeping Lithops outside in your garden, then it is vital to keep track of rainfall. Dry summers will be an ideal climate to keep Lithops plants outside, but if your local area experiences storms or periods of rain then you will need to bring your Lithops inside to prevent it from getting too much water.
The ideal temperature range for growing Lithops is 65º F- 80º F, which is why Lithops work so well as indoor plants as the average room temperature falls within this range. Lithops cannot tolerate cold temperatures, and so you will need to make sure your home is heated during cooler times of the year, even if you go away on vacation or keep your Lithops in an unused and therefore unheated area of the home.
If temperatures fall below 50º F, there is a high chance your Lithops plant will not survive. If you are growing your Lithops outside, you will need to bring it inside when temperatures drop below 50º F. In its natural environment in South Africa, temperatures remain warm all year round, so these plants have not adjusted to cold conditions and will not tolerate frost. Exposure to frost can damage the leaves beyond repair, even causing them to rupture. Protect your Lithops from this possibility by ensuring they are kept in warm conditions throughout the year.
As they typically grow in the desert, these plants can tolerate extreme heat much more so than cold. They can survive temperatures over 90º F, but in conditions such as this, they would ideally be protected with some afternoon shade.
Lithops need plenty of direct light to thrive and in order to maintain their colored markings. In their natural environment, they would be subject to full sun throughout the day, though just five hours of sun a day will be enough to sustain your Lithops at home. If you are keeping your plant indoors, then place it in a brightly lit window and rotate it occasionally to ensure all parts of the plant are receiving equal amounts of light. If you don’t rotate the Lithops, then it can start trying to reach out in order to get more sun, which results in a misshapen plant.
If your Lithops us kept outside, then the amount of light it gets will depend on the temperature. In very hot conditions, the plant will benefit from some afternoon shade to allow it to cool down, whereas cooler climates, such as those along the coastline, will be able to tolerate full sun for the duration of the day. Plenty of light is essential for Lithops to allow them to remain colorful. A sure sign of a lack of sunlight is if the markings on your plant begin to fade or appear less pronounced.
Lithops can tolerate humidity in small amounts. It absorbs moisture from the air to fulfill its water requirements, but as it needs so little water, consistent high humidity will cause problems for the plant, providing it with too much moisture. As such, it is not an appropriate plant to keep in high humidity rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms.
In their native environment, Lithops grow amongst sand or other natural, gritty materials that do not retain water. They need to be kept in a growing medium which will drain quickly because otherwise will be at risk of sitting amongst unwelcome moisture in the event of rainfall. At home, the best option for soil would be a cactus mix. Alternatively, you could make your own soil mix from materials you already have. Blend half potting soil with half sand or a similar gritty option such as perlite. Infertile soil would always be preferable to rich soil, as fertile soils tend to retain moisture, which goes against the Lithops plants needs.
Lithops do not need to be fertilized and will thrive perfectly well without being fed. When growing in the wild, Lithops have access to very little in the way of nutrients, if any at all, and so are well equipped to function without them. That being said, some people do add a little fertilizer to their Lithops soil just before they are due to bloom in order to help produce bigger and better flowers. If you wish to do this, add a small amount of very diluted cactus fertilizer to the soil prior to flowering. I
f your aim is to encourage blooming, then opt for a fertilizer with a high potassium content. As with watering, err on the side of caution when feeding your Lithops. They are accustomed to surviving with very little care or intervention and can suffer from fertilizer burn very easily. If you are unsure about which fertilizer or how much fertilizer to apply to your Lithops plant, then the safest thing to do would be to not use any at all. Your Lithops plant will be able to thrive even without the addition of fertilizer.
Lithops will happily remain in the same pot for several decades, so repotting is a rare occurrence. The most common reason for repotting is to divide Lithops for propagation or to give them a bigger pot to allow space for clusters of Lithops to grow. If you do decide to repot, be very careful when handling the root system, as the taproot is essential to the plant’s survival. It is the main source of water for the plant, so if it becomes damaged, the Lithops plant will die.
When choosing a pot for your Lithops, the most important thing is having good depth. A minimum depth of 3 or 4 inches is required to allow the taproot to grow vertically and prevent it from growing around the sides of the pot. Use a cactus soil mix or create your own gritty soil mix and fill the pot about two thirds up with this mix, making a hole in the middle that you can lower the Lithops into. Gently tuck the plant into the soil, leaving a gap between the soil and the leaves of the plant which can be filled with pebbles. The pebbles help to recreate the Lithops natural environment. If you are repotting the plant to create more space for clusters to grow, choose a pot that is too wide for the current plant so that you won’t need to repot the cluster further down the line.
Lithops plants can be propagated from seed, or by division. To grow Lithops from seed, prepare a small pot filled with cactus mix and moisten the soil. Set a seed on top and sprinkle a light layer of sand over the top. Set the pot in a bright and warm spot and keep the soil moist but not wet until a seedling appears. Make a water reduction after germination has occurred to prevent the Lithops from being overwhelmed with moisture.
You can propagate by division if you have a number of Lithops growing together. To separate them, remove them carefully from their pot and brush away as much of the soil from the roots as possible, taking care not to harm the root system. Each Lithops plant is reliant on its taproot for survival. You will need to identify which plant belongs to which taproot and separate them accordingly.
Use a sharp tool to divide the plants, being careful to ensure each plant is still attached to its respective taproot. The other smaller roots are less important, as these can reform once the plant has been repotted, but the plant will not be able to survive without its tap oot intact. Once the Lithops have been separated, you can divide them up and plant them in smaller pots in fresh cactus soil.
Types of Lithops Plant
Around 40 species of Lithops have been recognized since the first discovery in 1811 in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, when William Burchell, a traveling artist and collector of historic items, picked the plant up from the ground believing that it was an unusual rock (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford). These are some of the most popular species
This plant, native to South Africa, produces striking yellow flowers. The leaves are quite large compared to other Lithops plants, growing up to two inches across, making them a medium to large species of Lithops. In terms of color, the leaves vary across the top from brown and red hues to pink and orange. The sides of the leaves are much less colorful, in shades of brown and gray. Their patterns vary dramatically depending on provenance, with a selection of irregular lines, grooves, and forks. They prefer to grow on limestone, quartz, and lava rock, typically in the Cape province.
Lithops Salicola – Credit toH. Zell
This is a small species of Lithops with gray-green colored leaves. It produces flowers in early fall that are either white or yellow and measure around two inches across. A recipient of the coveted Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, this Lithops plant is among the easiest to grow because it is more tolerant than its relatives of cooler weather and improper watering. While it cannot tolerate freezing temperatures or consistent overwatering, it will survive occasional drops in temperature and rainfall or accidental overwatering. It is native to South Africa and Namibia and is commonly known as the salt-dwelling living stone because it likes to reside in mineral-rich habitats.
Lithops lesliei – Credit toStan Shebs
This species is found in Botswana and the Northern Cape of South Africa. It is one of the more vibrant Lithops in terms of leaf color, ranging from bright green to deep rusty orange. It is able to hide itself amongst its surroundings by camouflaging itself into the soil. It is almost stemless and sits very low amongst the soil, only protruding a few millimeters, making it even harder to spot. The flower this plant produces is typically yellow, but in some instances will be white.
Lithops Aucampiae – Credit toAmada44
This species is native to South Africa and was named after Juanita Aucamp, who discovered it in 1929 in the Northern Cape. It is a popular Lithops among gardeners because it tolerates overwatering more so than many other Lithops, though you should still try to limit water intake and protect it from rainfall as it will not tolerate continual moist conditions. Its leaves are typically somewhere between red and brown, and its flowers are various shades of yellow (Encyclopedias of Living Forms).
Lithops viridis – Credit toLithopsian
Commonly known as the green rock plant, this is one of the few Lithops that exhibits a fairly uniform coloration. As the name implies, it is mostly green-gray, with a hint of pink around the edges. The flowers it produces are yellow, though they sometimes have a white center. The species is native to the Northern Cape of South Africa.
Lithops optica – Credit to AbuShawka
This species is native to Namibia, which does experience rainfall during winter. As such, these Lithops plants have adapted to tolerating winter watering, and so might be a good option for outdoor planting if you live in a mild climate that does experience light winter rain. There are several varieties of this species, with some exhibiting bright pink and purple leaves, and others having a more dull appearance in shades of gray and brown.
Lithops Dorothea – Credit toAbu Shawka
The vibrant patterns on the leaves of these species might convince you that they are painted rocks. The colors of brown and red atop a cream base provide quite a striking contrast, along with its bright yellow flowers. The species was discovered by its namesake, Dorothea Huyssteen, in South Africa.
Lithops localis – Credit to gartenfreuden
This species is native to the South African Karoo, where it grows amongst shrubs and rocks to hide itself from predators. The leaves are almost entirely a flat dull gray, with some markings in darker shades of gray.
Lithops Verruculosa – Credit toAverater
Originating in South Africa, this Lithops plant is easily distinguishable from the rest due to its unusual warts. These tiny pip-like growths sit on top of the leaves in shades of red, while the leaf underneath can range from pale red to green. Some varieties of this plant produce pink flowers, though most are yellow or white.
Lithops Pseudotruncatella – Credit to lithopsandthings
Native to Southwest Africa, this species of Lithops is one of the few which is susceptible to disease or infestation, as it is commonly the victim of mealybug attacks. The leaves of this plant tend to be a dull gray with markings in cream, brown, and green.
Lithops Karasmontana – Credit toRagnhild&Neil Crawford
This species was named after the Karas Mountains in Namibia where it is found in the wild, although it can also be found in South Africa in the southwestern regions. It is able to camouflage itself amongst the quartzite stones it grows on by mimicking the colors with its leaves. It produces white flowers with yellow centers and has a clump-forming habit (Royal Horticultural Society).
Lithops Fulviceps – Credit to gartenfreuden
This species is native to Namibia, where it enjoys cooler desert temperatures or rocky mountainous areas. The leaves range in color from gray-green to orange-brown, with flowers being yellow or white depending on cultivar.
Lithops Ruschiorum – Credit to Lithopsian
This Lithops strongly resembles natural marble, in shades of pale grey with darker gray or tan colored mottling. It produces yellow flowers and lives amongst the Namibian desserts and mountains.
Watering, amount and timing, is one of the most misunderstood aspects of growing Lithops and I thought now that we are entering the Spring season, it would be a good time to discuss our watering regimes.
A general rule of thumb for mature plants is to never water a turgid Lithops; once the Lithops starts showing a bit of a wrinkly face, it’s time to water. This is why set schedules tend to fail. Watering once a week in the summer is fine, if the Lithops is thirsty; watering once a week in summer is not fine, if the Lithops is not thirsty. It’s important to get to know your Lithops and be able to identify slight changes in its appearance. As for quantity of water, I prefer to give a good soaking when needed rather than a dribble here and there.
Lithops undergo a distinct vegetative and growing season so there are times of the year when I withhold water all together. The following schedule is from Bernd Schlosser’s book “Lithops – Flowering Stones” and has worked well for me. It’s important to note that this schedule is appropriate for those in the Northern Hemisphere and won’t work for Mediterranean climates.
April: Light misting. I think of it as just enough to remove the dust from the leaves.
May: Begin watering very carefully as the new bodies emerge and the old leaves are absorbed.
June – October: This is when you start watching for the wrinkly face and water when needed. Light misting in the evenings is also appreciated, especially after a hot summer day. Don’t mist if the plant is in bloom, however.
November: Waterings now cease so the soil can dry out completely to prepare for the winter resting period. If the plant is in bloom, you can continue to water, but ensure the temperature remains high.
December – March: Withhold water and decrease temperature to put Lithops into their winter resting period.
Another important note is that the above schedule is for mature Lithops. I have found that my one-year old plants are just starting to adapt to this schedule. Seedlings less than a year old really needed to be watered over the winter and didn’t go into a resting period like my mature plants.
Lithop Growing, Care & Cultivation
For the Southern Hemisphere.
When saying what does a plant need to grow well . Its best to study a bit where it comes from or grows endemically.
Lithops home is in SW South Africa, A very dry area of grasslands and rocky hills. They grow from sea level to a thousand meters. The three countries they grow are generally very dry over winter May to September.
Some areas have winter fogs where some Lithops draw some moisture from. Spring and Summer brings some sporadic rain, from October to March. March and April are the flowering time for the majority of this Genus (as the summer heat cools off a bit)
Most succulents have a dormant period. This is often in the dry period. Lithops are the same. So from May to September. They rest and while they rest they start to form a new body inside the old body so over winter it grows and absorbs the outer skin which slowly shrinks till It’s just a fine thin skin remaining.
As the new plant emerges from the splitting old skin in Spring. Often if too much watering occurs during this time the old skin does not shrivel up well and can strangle the newly emerging plant or body.
A rough watering guide
if your mix is open and well drained. A good watering is where the water reaches well down to the root zone avoid just wetting the plant and the first few millimeters of soil.
“Test your pots by weight a light one is dry, now wet one well, and test the weight”
Soon you will know well watered, or not. Lithops can be watered fortnightly well once Spring or November comes through summer till March then taper off for flowering and winter. ( If your mix is well drained)
Another way of testing is if the side of the Lithop body has some desiccation or shriveling, it’s time to water. Or if its fat and tight and hard its full of water. Overwatering these plants is not advised.
Re potting and handling
Re potting can be done every two years or so. Its best done when the new body has emerged from the old skin in Spring. Then you can remove some of the older skins but leave the latest one. Old skins can hide mealy bugs or other pests. Some extra shade is advisable after potting if you are in a hot area as nearly exposed body’s may burn when old skins are removed.
Good Soil mix for Lithops
A good soil mix I have seen is
- 4 Parts washed river sand. (no clay)
- 4 Parts course river sand 3 to 4 mm
- 4 Parts sieved compost
- 1 Part perlite
- 1 Part vermiculite
- 1 Part Coconut fiber
In Australia we do not have much compost so pine bark is the norm so some adjustments need to be made for this can be course and well drained or fine and water retentive. Also pine bark has no food value and it often takes all the nitrogen you may add to break down the bark this is called Nitrogen draw down.
For Lithops I add about half the amount of complete fertilizer that I would give other succulents. I also add Dolomite lime to most of my mixes as it is full of most of the minerals and trace elements a plant needs
Shade and Light
I like a light shade about 30 to 40 % Lithops seem to really look best with good light not too much shade. In nature Lithops often grow on hills, among rocks and grasses, where there is some shelter and respite from the sun some of the day. During winter full sun light is fine.
The best way to grow these little treasures is with the attitude “Less is More” the best collections I have seen have high light little water and very little food and they look great. So Lithops are not suitable for outdoor growing in Southern Australia as the rain comes when they don’t want it