What are lithop succulents and how can you keep yours alive?

Succulents seem to gain more and more popularity every day. With that comes an increasing awareness of all the many different, unusual, and beautiful succulent species out there. If you’ve heard a friend mention their lithops, or seen a picture online and just need to know what they are, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know about lithops to decide if they’re right for you.

What are lithops?

Lithops, also called living stones, are a type of succulent. They’re typically small, round or oval in shape, and can be all sorts of different shades and patterns of gray, green, brown, and red.

Lithops have an odd shape that is specially developed to survive very hot, dry climates. They are native to South Africa and some surrounding countries, especially in areas that see very little rain. Everything about them is designed to conserve water and to keep from being eaten. They blend in with rocks and pebbles, and are so small that they’re quite hard to find in the wild. The roots are also much larger than the rest of the plant, sometimes running as deep as 6 inches!

Lithops growing in a pot

What are the basic care requirements?

The most important thing for lithops is to make sure you have the right kind of potting material. Remember where lithops come from and the type of environment they’re best suited for. Potting material that is rich in organic material is great for some plants, but lithops will die if planted in it. Pick something that is sandy, rocky, and drains quickly.

Make sure your lithops are getting plenty of sun, but don’t let them burn. Lithops are well adapted to bright sunlight, so placing them in a sunny window that gets a lot of direct light is a good move. If you live somewhere hot, they can even be outdoor plants! However, plants can become sunburnt if transitioned into direct light too suddenly.

If you’re getting your lithops from a store that kept them out of direct light, or if you aren’t certain about their growing conditions, it’s a good idea to transition them slowly. Start them in indirect or diffused light, perhaps with a sheer curtain or shade cloth between them and the light. Then slowly transition them into more light and you should be fine.

Lithops growing in a heart shaped pot

Watering your lithops

Watering your lithops is a tricky part of maintenance, as it is very easy to overwater them. Lithops are unusual in their watering regiment, even by succulent standards. Due to their incredibly specific adaptations, they really do need to stick to the rainy and dry seasons of their home. In winter and summer, do not water them. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important. They’re dormant during these seasons, so watering them is likely to drown them.

In spring and autumn, you can resume watering them, but pay close attention for signs of overwatering. Always test the soil to see if it is dry before watering. At the beginning of autumn, you can tell it’s time to begin watering when a bud starts to form. At the beginning of spring, the old leaves will dry out and new leaves will form, which is your clue to begin watering again.

What are some common problems?

The most common problem with growing lithops is overwatering. Even experienced succulent owners can struggle with this, as lithops are so different from other succulents. When owning your first lithops, it may be nerve-wracking to just leave them untouched for a full two seasons out of the year. It may be tempting to water them, even just a little, to reassure yourself.

Two blooming lithops
Sorokin Evgenii/Shutterstock

That’s how so many first-time lithop growers learn the hard way how easy it is to overwater them, especially during their dormant seasons. However, the upshot of this is that it is a remarkably easy problem to avoid. Don’t water them during their dormant seasons, and, even during growing seasons, when in doubt, don’t water.

Now you’re all caught up on what lithops are and how to help them thrive in your home! Go easy on the water, make sure they get enough sun, plant them in the right kind of material, and you’ll be rewarded with cute little living rocks and lovely flowers!

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