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.
Lithops, or also referred to as pebble plants, are succulents that grow extremely slowly and rarely get more than 1-inch above the soil. They usually only have a pair of leaves, which look more like stones than leaves with a fissure separating them (small gap) and epidermal windows (the small holes on top of the leaves)
1. Light Exposure
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 south or east window with optimum light is an ideal place for your Lithops. Remember, insufficient sunlight can cause elongated leaves and lost patterns.
Although they are sun-lover, intense heat can damage their foliage and cause sunburn. Be sure to place them in less sunny spots or cover them up if you find their containers absorb too much heat in the summer afternoon.
2. Ideal Temperature
Lithops are desert succulents that can tolerate temperatures up to 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they most likely thrive and grow happily when grown in conditions between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, since this plant may easily develop rot, remember to give it some protection from freezing temperatures, or better yet, carry them indoors once the temperature starts dropping below 40 degrees.
3. Water Demands
Since Lithops have the ability to store water for months in their leaves, watering this plant at the wrong time in their growth cycle can lead to its demise.
To walk you through on this one, water your Lithops once every 2 weeks (at most) beginning at the end of summer, where this plant is actively growing. But once the winter season hits, it's best to leave it be and not water at all, as this is when its old leaves will start to die and new ones will begin to grow inside, and watering it during this time of the year could have a negative effect on its growth. This normally happens after their dormant season, which is around spring to early fall. Once the days get shorter and the temperature get cooler in fall, the plants will be active again.
Aside from the watering schedule mentioned above, another way to determine if your Lithops needs to be watered is by closely observing its condition. If you see that the plant starts to wrinkle or pucker, or appears to be sinking deeper into the pot and feels softer than usual when given a gentle squeeze, then it's time to give it a nice drink.
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.
5. Fertilizing Needs
In general, Lithops don't require fertilization to thrive. You may, however, feed it just before its usual blooming season to encourage this plant to produce flowers.
To do this, simply feed your Living Stones with a small amount of heavily diluted cactus fertilizer that is low nitrogen and high in potassium during the Spring season. And make sure not to apply the fertilizer directly to the leaves of the plant as this may burn or damage it.
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.
Lithops Growing New Leaves
Lithops develop new pair of leaves every year. They only have one pair of leaves at a time so the old leaves will die for the new one to emerge. Normally, the process of growing new leaves happen after blooming period. After they flowers, Lithops 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. After a few days, you will soon find new leaves emerging. Otherwise, it could just be underwatering. 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.
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.
You can also watch this video to see some of the tips in action
Most Common Problems
An overwatered Lithops will normally show signs such as;
- Yellow, mushy-looking leaves.This is usually your first indicator that they are getting too much water
- Brown spots or also called edema, will occur when the plant's root system has absorbed more water than it can handle.
- Splitting of leaves. The leaf of your Lithops will adjust and burst open as excess water has nowhere to go.
- Root rot. This can be identified if the soil feels wet and waterlogged, and the roots appear to be brown and mushy.
When you see these signs start to occur, quickly examine your Lithops to identify the problem, remove the damaged roots and clean them with a flush of water. Just make sure to let it dry and disinfect the healthy part of the roots before potting it with a fresh, new soil mix and container. Once done, it’s best to change your watering routine to ensure overwatering will not occur again.
Just like with any other succulents, lack of light exposure may cause Lithops to stretch out or become etiolated. So once you notice that the plant seems to be stretched out, increase its lighting exposure. Just note that fixing a stretch out or etiolated Lithops will take about a few growth cycles for your lithops to return to its normal size.
3. Pests & Disease
Again, overwatering Lithops can lead it to attract pests like Spider mites, thrips, scale insects, mealybugs, aphids, snails, slugs, and root-knot nematodes. Also, mice and other small animals may attempt to eat this plant for its water content.
To know how to treat your Lithops from these pests, you may refer here.
Lithops are considered non-toxic to humans and pets. In fact, there are even some reports saying that African children eat these plants as a means to quench their thirst.
They can, however, be poisonous if chemicals, like pesticide, have been sprayed on them. So it's best to be cautious and place this plant out of your children and pet's reach to be safe.
See more this article to learn about Toxic and Non-toxic succulents for pets
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 grow and care of Christmas Cactus Plant
For Types of Succulents Careguide. Read more information here.
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