Lithops are small plants that grow naturally in extreme desert conditions. They basically have 2 water-filled leaves, and roots coming out of the bottom of that. Once per year they create a new pair of leaves and absorb the previous pair. These are challenging plants, but very rewarding because of the georgeous colors and patterns they can have on the tops of their leaves. Their unique look has earned them the name “Living Stones”. They also stay quite compact so it’s easy to have a large collection in a smaller space.
Different varieties of lithops go through their stages at slightly different times, but this care guide applies to all of them.
Light – Lots of sun, with protection from hot afternoon sun. They can do well indoors on a south facing window sill. If they don’t get enough light they will get elongated and stretched out, and then their next pair of leaves might not be able to grow all the way to the top. In this case the plant has a high chance of death.
Soil – Extremely well draining gritty soil mix, such as Vivid Root Mineral Mix. Many people use the 10% organic matter rule for lithops soil, however I prefer to rely on my trials of which soil mix recipes dry out the fastest. Be sure your mix has a variety of particle sizes, and minimal dust.
Plant your lithops deeply so the top of the leaves is even with the top of the soil. They like to be mostly buried and they shouldn’t stick out too much. It’s best to keep different types of lithops in separate pots, since they might need different amounts of water at different times.
Water – The absolute most common mistake in growing lithops is watering them too much. They really need very little water. If they have a 2nd set of leaves that they are still absorbing, don’t water them until the outer leaves have dried up.
Summer: Only give a small amount of water if they start to look shriveled. Otherwise NO WATER.
Fall: Growing season. Water regularly and let the soil dry out completely and totally before watering again
Winter: Plant has split and new leaves are growing. New leaves will absorb the old leaves. NO WATER until the leaves have completely absorbed.
Spring: Regular watering, starting light and ramping up to a few good drenchings in mid-spring.
*One exception to this is Lithops optica ‘Rubra’ which grows naturally in a more moist coastal area and likes more frequent watering than other lithops.
Temperature – They cannot handle freezing temps, so prefer to stay above 30° F (USDA zone 10b). People in colder climates usually bring their plants inside with grow lights for the winter.
Propagation – These can only be propagated by division or seed. Since they tend to divide extremely slowly, seed is the best method to get more plants. Lithops usually split and create a new set of leaves once per year. Sometimes they create two sets instead of one. Through this process they can slowly form a cluster, which you can divide and separate into individual plants.
Growing from seed is a fun challenge and the baby plants are super adorable. It also gives you access to lots more types of Lithops. Just beware of buying seeds from Amazon and other questionable sources, most of them are fake! A great starting point is the Lithops Seed Mix from Mesa Garden.
Blooms – Mature plants of around 3 years old and up produce either white or yellow blooms in the fall. If the flowers get pollinated they quickly wither and start creating a seed capsule. If they don’t get pollinated the flowers last longer. You can tell if your plant is starting to produce a flower when you see a small gap forming between the leaves, and the tip of the bud starting to push through.
Origin – Lithops grow naturally in Southern Africa.
Mealybugs – Uncommon. Mealybugs much prefer other plants, so it is rare to find them on lithops.
When this rarely happens, it is often only visible on the sides of the plant, not the top. It may or may not stay when the plant splits. Not one of the more exciting plants for variegation 🙂
A plant producing three leaves instead of two is random and rare, and more common in seedlings. Sometimes it is maintained through leaf changes, and sometimes not.