Lithops are unique succulents. Also called living stones, for obvious reasons, they grow low to the ground and are easy to miss in the wild. The double leaves that make up lithops look like colorful stones scattered among the sandy, rocky soil they prefer. The unique leaves get their plump shape from the moisture they store inside. This feature allows them to go for extended periods with little water. In fact, some varieties of lithops can survive without water at all, absorbing all of the moisture they need from mist and fog.
Lithops are succulents and need quick-draining soil. Plant them in potting soil specifically marked as fast-draining or cactus mix. Ideally, plant and repot is cute species during their growing season. While the lithops can grow outside, it is a hot weather plant and only hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. It is grown most often as a houseplant.
When considering the size of pot you wish to use for your lithops, think less of the width and more of the depth. Despite their small size, lithops have a taproot that can extend up to 6 inches into the soil. This taproot is what provides nutrients they need to survive, so it needs room to fully develop.
Lithops enjoy exposure to full morning sun and protection from harsh afternoon rays. They generally do well in partial shade as long as they have adequate sunlight. Without sufficient sun, the leaves become elongated and lose their distinctive pattern. Excessive heat, such as placing in a window that receives late afternoon sun, can damage the leaves as well.
Lithops hold water in their leaves, and overwatering will cause the leaves to swell and can kill the plant. It is much more difficult to underwater the plant, but doing so may stunt its growth.
Use a wooden skewer pushed deep into the soil to determine if there is any moisture remaining before watering. If the skewer indicates moisture below the surface, hold off watering.
During the spring and summer, the lithops develops a new set of leaves. While these leaves are developing, it is best not to water the plant at all. The new leaves use moisture from the older set of leaves. Once the old leaves dry up completely, you can resume watering.
Lithops can attract several pests, including thrives, mealybugs, scale, and spider mites. For a light infestation, use a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe the pests off the plant. Lithops are small enough that this normally takes care of any problems. If the problem is widespread, involving several plants or there are pests in the soil as well, spray the plant and soil with soapy water.
These plants are not typically bothered by common diseases, such as powdery mildew. Their preference for sandy, dry soil creates an unwelcome environment for these diseases. The one exception is rot, which can result from overwatering or exposure to cold temperatures. Ensure lithops are not exposed to temperatures below about 40 degrees F, and resist overwatering to help prevent these issues.
Lithops do not need fertilizer; however, applying a diluted solution when watering in the spring is beneficial. If your lithops did not bloom the previous year, this addition can trigger blossom development. Removing the old, wilted set of leaves with scissors or needle-nosed pliers can improve the look of your plant, but if left alone, they will eventually fall off.
It can be tricky to propagate lithops since they only have two leaves. They need both leaves to survive, so removing one is not an option. If you are patient, you can propagate the plant when it develops an additional head. This doesn't happen every year. When it does, remove the plant from the soil, gently separate the roots, and split the plant. Repot the parent plant and the new addition separately.
Lithops are unique little succulents and make an interesting addition to the home. They require little care and do best when left alone. In addition to their unique look year-round, they provide bright flowers in the fall. Whether you are looking to expand your succulent collection or want a plant sure to be a conversation-starter, lithops will meet your needs.
There are several varieties of lithops to choose from. Lithops dorotheae has pale green leaves sprinkled with dark green and cream. It blooms with a yellow flower.
Lithops aucampiae ranges from red to brown and produces flowers that are pale to bright yellow. It is more forgiving than other varieties and makes a good first choice for new succulent gardeners.
Lithops karasmontana can have gray or brown leaves, or even bright orange leaves. The bloom has a yellow center surrounded by white petals.