On the list of plants that not only tolerate but actually prefer a little neglect, Lithops certainly feature in the top spot. These strange succulents are famous for their interesting shapes that awarded them the name Living Stone Plants. They also resemble hooves, or maybe tiny brains, depending on which variety you are dealing with.
Many gardeners find these plants confusing or difficult to care for, largely because their care is so different from other succulent plants. But once you understand their environment and needs, these little plants will become one of the lowest-maintenance (and strangest looking) plants in your succulent garden.
In their natural environments – the open grasslands or rocky areas of southern Africa – lithops get plenty of direct sun throughout the day. Like other succulents, these conditions need to be replicated to ensure healthy growth. Under low light conditions, like those indoors, the compact leaves will stretch towards the nearest light source, known as etiolation. The leaves will also become dull and discoloured. To preserve the shape and colour, ensure your lithops gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Lithops are one of the most drought-friendly plants you can buy. In their native habitats, they are used to receiving little to no water for several months due to lack of rainfall. They are able to survive this way because their impressive leaves store enough water to keep the plant alive.
To mimic these drought-like conditions, your lithops will need tiny amounts of water every couple of weeks, and only during the growing seasons of spring and autumn. In summer and winter, the plants go dormant and don’t need to be watered at all (unless the leaves start to wrinkle, indicating the leaf reservoir is running out of water). A teaspoon of water applied every two weeks is all you need to keep the leaves plump and happy.
Lithops live in sandy, rocky soil with little nutrients – what we gardeners would consider poor quality soil. The soil should be incredibly well-draining and gritty. The less water it holds, the better. Use a cactus potting mix or create your own soil mix using a combination of potting mix, pool sand, gravel, and perlite.
Like true South Africans, lithops cannot stand the cold. When left outdoors in temperatures lower than 10 degrees for extended periods of time, the leaves will begin to die off. If they face any frost, the cell walls of the plant leaves rupture, causing any exposed sections to rot. It is incredibly difficult to save a lithops damaged by the cold, so it’s best to avoid this problem and bring them inside if cold weather is forecast.
Lithops Quick Facts:
- Lithops will flower after 3 to 5 years, once per season. These flowers produce seed pods that explode outwards when exposed to moisture, spreading new seeds around the plant.
- Don’t be alarmed if your leaves appear to be splitting – new leaf pairs emerge from the centre of the plant, drawing moisture from the previous leaf pair until they die off.
- It is best not to fertilize your lithops, as it is very easy to overfertilize and cause damage to the plant. If the plant is not flowering, you can use a heavily diluted cactus fertilizer, but do so sparingly.
- Lithops leaves are fused and directly connected to the roots. Most of the leaf is buried under the soil to protect it from predators and the sun, blending in with the surrounding rocks so well that they are often difficult to spot in the wild. The tops of the leaves are translucent to allow more light to reach the parts of the plant underground.