The world is full of beautiful, marvelous animals and plants with remarkable survival adaptations. Lithops are plants that remind us all about the wonders of nature. This amazing plant camouflages itself to look like colored stones. Because of this, Lithops are known as “living stones.”
The Lithops’ fascinating nature has made it a popular house plant. Thankfully these small, beautiful plants are easy to take care of with a few guiding tips. These beautiful, stone-like plants require only a few things to keep in mind for them to live a long and healthy life. Read on to learn more on how to grow and take care of Lithops.
Growing and Caring Tips for Lithops
Once you have your Lithops settled in your home, you will want to ensure they live long and healthy lives. Since Lithops live natively in areas outside of southern Africa, proper care instructions are different from other native plants.
Below are the necessary steps for providing Lithops with the care they need to thrive:
- Choosing the correct container material
- Choosing the correct container size
- Making the appropriate soil mix
- Watering sufficiently
- Providing enough sunlight
- Monitoring temperature
- Minimizing fertilizer
- Trying specific composting
- Checking the soil’s pH levels before planting
Learning proper care is important, and following the guidelines below will help your Lithops live strong, healthy lives.
Choose the Correct Container and Size
Determining your container is the first step to properly taking care of your Lithops. The container should be large enough for the plant to grow and live in for its entire life.
- A container at least 10% larger than the plant will give them plenty of room.
- A pot too large or deep will run the risk of retaining too much water. Lithops require very dry conditions, so this could destroy your plant.
- Too much space will make the succulent appear awkward for its big surroundings.
If you are making an arrangement of succulents, make sure all of the plants in the arrangement come from a similar climate. Also, give them plenty of room to grow and live together. Transition the plants quickly from their holding trays or temporary homes to the one container as quickly and carefully as possible.
Determine the Correct Pot for Your Lithops
Picking the correct type of pot for your Lithops to live in can help ensure a healthy and long life for your plant. The material the pot is made of should mimic the environment the Lithops is native to, which is well-drained and breathable.
When choosing a pot, the most important thing is the drainage hole. The pot must have a way to move water out of the pot to keep the soil from becoming overly wet, which can quickly rot and kill your Lithops. If you fall in love with a particular pot that does not have a drainage hole, look into making your own drainage hole.
The best pot materials for Lithops are below.
Ceramic or terracotta pots are great options for your Lithops because they are breathable and drain well. A variety of ceramic pots, glazed or unglazed, are readily available at most gardening stores.
Ceramic pots absorb sunlight to warm the plants during the day and cool off well at night. However, ceramic pots can absorb so much heat from sunlight that they can burn plants. Be sure to keep an eye on how much sun your Lithops are getting so it does not overheat.
Pot Materials to Avoid
Below are some pot materials that will not work very well for Lithops.
- Metal: Metal can rust over time, which can hurt the plant’s health.
- Wood: Wood containers are unique and stay cool at night and warm during the day, but can also retain water, so be aware of wet soil or rotting.
- Glas: Glass is a beautiful option to display Lithops, but glass pots are breakable and lack drainage. Glass is also not breathable.
- Certain plastic pots
Plastic can be a good option since it is lightweight and durable if you choose your pot carefully. Plastic is not as breathable as ceramic or terracotta, but if you have a drainage hole, it should allow water to properly work its way through the soil.
Choose the Correct Soil Mix
As discussed earlier, Lithops need an easily drainable environment to thrive. Lithops are native to soil conditions that are hot, dry, and airy, so the best way to take care of your Lithops is to prepare soil that mimics these conditions.
Lithops like rocky, sandy soil, typical of southern Africa. Pre-mixed succulent soil products mixed with small pebbles are the easiest way to get started. These are available at most local nurseries, especially if you live in hotter, drier climates, where succulents grow well outside. Some pre-mixed succulent potting soil, also good for Lithops include:
You can also make your own soil. To make good potting soil for Lithops, mix together standard potting soil with a ground-up rocky material such as ground or fine sand, shale, pebbles, ceramic, or grit. Perlite is also a good choice.
Lithops grow in soil that is not nutritious, so avoid soils with an abundance of added nutrients, fertilizer, or even organic materials. These types of soils can be loaded with nutritional components and take longer to dry out. Honestly, Lithops do not need a lot of soil for healthy living since Lithops grow in rocky areas with little nutrient soil.
Water Lithops Appropriately
Two critical factors in caring for Lithops are fast-draining soil and good air movement. Soil should not dry out completely, especially for more than three days. Doing so can cause the root hairs to die off, and the plant will not be able to take in any more water.
Water intake for Lithops varies by the season. The overall watering conventions by season are as follows:
- Make sure your Lithop is watered sparingly. Do not over water, or keep the soil bone dry.
- Water more often in the spring and fall.
- Water sparingly in summer and winter.
In the winter, it is okay to cut back watering, as the Lithop will drink moisture from the old leaves. During the winter, to keep root hairs alive, water less often. If you bring your Lithops in for the winter to live under indoor lights, taper down your watering and monitor the drainage.
In springtime, increase watering for new leaves to take over while the old leaves begin to dry out. Growing will stop during the hotter months of summer, and you can taper off watering, but remember not to let the soil dry out. Pick up watering again in late summer or fall.
Ensure the Correct Amount of Sunlight
However, this does not mean that Lithops need direct heat. Excessive heat will burn your Lithops plant, so monitor the temperature and move the Lithops inside if the temperature is too hot for too long.
If you are displaying your Lithops inside, or if you live in an area with less daylight, there are ways you can compensate for giving your plants the sunlight they need
- Rotate the plant regularly, so the entire plant receives sunlight. This will help the plant not strain for sunlight and help develop its stunning colors all around the plant.
- Provide the plant with artificial light to make up for the lack of natural sunlight.
Because Lithops are native to a warm, dry climate, this direct sunlight is necessary for the plants to survive and thrive.
Provide the Right Temperature
Lithops love warm, dry weather. You can leave Lithop plants outside throughout the year if you live in an area where the temperature does not drop lower than 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- These plants thrive in warmer temperatures but not overly hot areas. Too much heat can burn and kill the plant.
- Carefully monitor the outside temperature, and move your Lithops to the shade if the temperature reaches over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Also, consider monitoring your Lithops more if you live in an area that experiences quick changes in temperatures.
Many areas can receive snow in late spring or a spike in heat in the middle of winter. If you live in these types of climates, closely monitor the plants and change their living areas to keep up with the climate.
Do Not Use Conventional Fertilizer
The nutrients found in most fertilizers are not suitable for Lithops since their native soils contain little nutrients. Most potting soils already contain some type of organic materials, so if you use regular potting soil, be sure to mix in more permeable components. These can include:
If you feel like you need or want to add fertilizer for extra care, you may consider a milder conditioner such as manure tea. Manure tea is an organic fertilizer composed of livestock manure. The manure is cured to remove potentially harmful pathogens and then placed in teabags.
Manure tea is like drinking tea for plants. The tea is steeped in water for a few days and used as your watering solution for the Lithops.
Use Compost Materials Sparingly
If you are planting Lithop seeds, it is okay to add compost to the top layer of soil. Just be sure to keep in mind that compost is not necessary for healthy Lithop growth.
- Top the soil with rocks to simulate the Lithop native living conditions. The compost nutrients will eventually seep through the pot to feed your Lithop plant.
- Compost should not hurt the plant in small amounts, but large amounts of compost could provide too many nutrients and keep the soil from drying.
As with fertilizer, there are ways to utilize compost. You have to be sure you are using this resource in a way that your Lithops will still thrive.
Maintain Proper pH Levels
Most gardeners test the pH level of the soil and see this as an important step before planting. The level of pH indicates the acidity level of the soil. A pH level of 7 is a neutral level, and most plants do well in a range between 5 and ½ to 7. Most succulents, including Lithops, prefer a more acidic soil around a pH level of 6.
If you want to test the pH level of your potting soil before planting, you can purchase test strips at your local nursery. If the soil needs more acidity, add a water solution made of one tablespoon of white vinegar to every five gallons of water. A high level of alkaline is not healthy for your Lithop, so it is helpful to know the pH level of your soil.
There are different kinds of pH testers to choose from:
- Electronic meters
- pH test strips
- Chemical colored dyes that can help you monitor the pH level after it rains if your Lithops plant lives outside.
Rainfall or fertilizers in the potting mix can increase soil acidity, so you will want to check your soil’s pH periodically to ensure it is in the safe zone for your Lithops.
Lithops Are Not High Maintenance
Besides monitoring the soil moisture, if a Lithop is doing well in its living conditions, you can, for the most part, leave it alone. Required maintenance is low and includes the following tasks.
- Routinely checking the Lithops soil for the appropriate moisture level
- Periodically checking pH
- Rotating the plant for sufficient sunlight
You will notice the shedding and growing of their new leaves seasonally. This is the plant’s natural process. Pruning is not needed. To make the Lithop plant look better, you can gently remove the thin shedding layer of the dead leaf. Waiting until this part falls off naturally works well too.
Most Lithops varieties are not prone to disease since they grow in dry sandy soil that does not invite fungus development. Lithops are vulnerable to damage or rotting if they are overwatered. Monitoring the soil’s moisture level and making sure the plant is well-drained is key to keeping them disease-free.
Special Instructions for Lithops Living Outside
If you live in a warm, dry climate and decide it is suitable for Lithops to live outside, monitor the plant’s temperature, sunlight, and rain levels.
- A Lithops plant should not be left in temperatures cooler than 40 degrees or hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods of time.
- Your plant should receive steady sunlight each day. When the days shorten, the minimum sun exposure should be four to five hours. Rotate the plant regularly for even sun exposure if needed.
- Monitor the rain levels. Too much rain can easily leave a Lithop to rot or change the acidity level of the soil.
Even though warm, dry climates mimic the Lithops natural environment, the plant still requires monitoring.
Tips for Caring for Lithops Indoors
Lithops that live indoors are easy to maintain. All you need to remember is to keep your plant watered regularly, ensure the plant is well-drained, and your plant receives plenty of sunlight exposure. Ignoring the Lithops occasionally may be okay for a short time, but you will want to check in on your plant from time to time.
- Keep your Lithop watered in small amounts regularly, but do not over-water the plant. Soil should be well-drained but not overly dry.
- Rotate your Lithop plant regularly if it does not receive sun exposure equally over the plant.
- Lithops are not poisonous, so even though pets and children will probably not find the plant attractive to eat, it will be okay if an accident occurs.
Just like with outdoor Lithops, your indoor Lithops will need direct sunlight, so be sure to keep indoor Lithops in a window that receives plenty of sun.
Steps to Take If Your Lithop Is Not Looking Well
If signals appear that your Lithops is not feeling well, more than likely, it has been overwatered. Retaining too much water is the number one reason a Lithop does not survive. Too much water causes the Lithop to rot quickly. If you move the plant, carefully remove the plant and soil and quickly transition it to a new pot.
It is normal each year for the Lithop leaves to die and make room for new leaf growth. Lithops are typically weak plants with frail roots. If you move your sick Lithop to a new pot, make sure to do it quickly and with care.
Lithops are generally considered weak plants, but with the right conditions and correct care, they can live long and healthy lives. Some other common issues with Lithops include:
- Wrinkling of the leaves, which indicates they need more water. Watering the plant will quickly fix this problem.
- If you notice your Lithops is twisting upwards instead of lying flat, it probably indicates the plant is struggling for sunlight. Simply move the plant to an area that receives more sunlight.
- If there is an accident that causes scrapes to the leaves, the scrape scars can not be removed. The Lithops will eventually grow new leaves during its growing season to replace the scarred leaves.
If you have several types of succulents in one pot, it is possible that one of the plants gets sick, but the others are healthy. Here, you will need to carefully separate them. Sometimes, the plants’ roots get entangled. If this happens, it is very difficult and dangerous for your plant to untangle them. You may be stuck with a dying arrangement.
Protect Lithops from Insects and Pests
Thankfully, Lithops are not very attractive to most insects and pests because they do not offer a lot of nutrition. The most common insect that bothers Lithops is the spider mite.
Spider mites tend to live inside the middle section between the leaves or hide behind old leaves. Spider mites leave white spots on the plant’s surface. An all-natural pesticide, if applied in a small mist, usually fixes the issue.
Another good characteristic of Lithops is that they provide little nutritional value for most insects, so they generally will not be looking to attack your Lithops. If they become infested, here is a list of the other common pests that may be causing you issues.
- Thrips: These pests leave dark scars on new leaves. A mild insecticidal soap should kill most thrips.
- Scale insects/Mealybugs: Remove these by scraping them off the leaves with a gentle hand tool.
- Aphids: Insecticidal soap should remove aphids.
- Snails and slugs: Attract snails and slugs away from Lithops with snail bait or other moving, more appealing plants close by.
- Root-knot nematodes: These pests are microscopic and live near the plant’s roots. As long as your soil is mainly dry and drained well, these pests should not last.
- Mice: The leaves of the Lithops sometimes attract mice. To keep mice from eating the leaves, you can lightly cover the Lithops with breathable mesh or metal caging or use mouse traps.
Infestations are rare and usually do not last long. When they do occur, they can be easily handled with natural pesticides, insecticides, and traps.
Divide Lithops to Grow More
You can divide your Lithops to grow more. However, you will need to wait a few years until you have grown clusters.
- Once you have clusters, delicately remove the Lithops from the pot and cut through the roots.
- Each division should have a root you can reliably replant.
- Plant each in its own pot, leaving room for the root to take hold.
If you decide to replant your Lithops to grow clusters, or you just need a larger space, remove and replant the Lithops quickly and carefully. Go back and follow the initial steps, such as choosing the right container and size.
Once planted, place rocks and gravel on the soil surface to mimic the plant’s native living conditions. If you choose to divide Lithops, it is a good idea to keep replanting to no more than once every three to four years.
Prepare for Lithops to Live Long Lives
Even though Lithops are generally weak plants, they can live up to 40 or 50 years. If their living conditions are set correctly, and they are tended to frequently, Lithops should live long lives.
Several years after planting, Lithops begin to create two pairs of leaves, which then develop into clusters. These clusters can be cut to plant new Lithops, as stated above.
Lithops Blooming Patterns
Most Lithops bloom in late fall or early winter, but some varieties bloom in spring or early summer.
- In a Lithops older than three years, you will typically see one flower that looks like a daisy growing from the inside of the two.
- When this happens, watch the flower bloom in the morning for sunlight and pollination, and close up at night.
Lithops go dormant in the winter and summer. The leaves begin to die, and new leaves form. You will know the plant is growing again when the new leaves begin to appear from the middle section between the old leaves.
After the new leaves emerge, the old leaves begin to die and wither. Once the leaves are very thin, they will fall off, or you can carefully remove them to keep them looking fresh and beautiful.
Choose from Many Common Lithop Varieties
If you live in a warmer climate, local nurseries should have plenty of Lithops plants for you to purchase. If you live in cooler areas where product selection is slim, there are plenty of online websites that sell and ship Lithops.
Though the Lithop is only a recently popular plant, there are still over 37 species of Lithops and about 145 varieties to choose from. It is not helpful to list in detail all of the varieties, but below are several types usually found at local nurseries:
- Lithops aucampiae
- Lithops dorotheae
- Lithops hookeri
- Lithops karasmontana, “Karas Mountains Living Stone”
- Lithops lesliei, “Lesliei Living Stone”
- Lithops ruschiorum
- Lithops viridis, “Green-Rock Plant”
Unfortunately, there are reports of fake Lithop seeds sold online. The product pictures have vividly colored Lithop plants, indicating they are enhanced photos. Be sure to check for reliable sellers with positive reviews who are available by phone to talk through the specific conditions and colors of the plants and seeds you intend to purchase.
Plant Seeds or Buy Fully-Grown Lithops
If you want a quick home décor option, young, already growing Lithops are available and will immediately give you a stunning live plant for your home. If you are up for creating your own arrangement, seeds take longer to grow, but you will have the satisfaction of seeing them grow from the ground up.
- The best time to plant is in fall or spring.
- Your seeds will need sunlight, water, and time to grow.
- It takes around twelve to eighteen months for seeds to germinate.
- Be careful when opening the seed packets because the seeds are very small and look like dust.
If plants are more your style, the main things you need to consider when purchasing Lithops are the dimensions of the arrangement you are interested in and your personal preference on appearance. Talk to the nursery staff about the specific condition of the particular plant before you buy it.
If you choose to buy Lithops online, most websites will show the particular plant or arrangement, so you know the general appearance before purchasing. Contact the seller directly to learn more about how old the plants are, their specific condition, and shipping time and conditions. Make sure you are purchasing from a reputable seller.