How to water lithops to keep them thriving

Lithops is known as the living stone plant (and occasionally called “split rocks” or “pebble plants”) due to its appearance. They are small, drought-resistant plants that often don’t grow more than an inch above the surface of the soil. Lithops have two thick-padded leaves that resemble both a cleft in a hoof — sometimes earning it the endearing name of “butt plant” — or a couple green to gray stones, depending on the color of the plant. Keeping your lithops alive can be quite a complex task. You may know how to water a succulent, but lithops are rather tricky variety, and its watering schedule requires the utmost attention and care.

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.

How often should you water lithops?

Because they don’t have a stem, a majority of the lithops plant grows underground. This helps the plant retain moisture and means that it doesn’t require constant watering. As with most members of the succulent family, you’ll want to plant your lithops in a pot with good drainage. They’re finicky plants that prefer water during some stages of their yearly growth cycle and dry soil during others. Overwatering is a main cause of lithops (and succulent) death, so it’s worth watching the signs your lithops is giving you in regard to whether it needs water or not.

It’s best with lithops to follow the soak-and-dry method that’s used with other types of succulents. Drench the soil when it’s time to water, then wait until the pot fully dries out before watering again. Lithops like being watered most during late spring and summer, but it may need the occasional watering during the winter. At the height of its growth period in warmer months, you’ll likely find yourself watering once every two weeks. It’s a general rule of thumb to follow, but always make sure the soil is dry before watering to be sure.

Two blooming lithops

How do you know when lithops need water?

When in doubt, it’s best not to water. When it’s ready to be watered, you may see your lithops begin to wrinkle or sink down in the pot. Give your plant a light squeeze. If it’s soft, it’s time to water.

Lithops’ height of its growing cycle is when the weather is warm. Your plant will enter dormancy during the summer, at which time you’ll start to water less and less frequently. You’ll occasionally want to give the lithops a little drink during dormancy if it starts to shrivel. At that point, water so that the top half inch of soil is moist. Otherwise, respect your plant’s space and let it take care of itself. Remember that this plant is good at retaining moisture, so it’s rather self-sufficient when it isn’t actively growing.

At the end of summer, your lithops will start another growth period, at which time you’ll resume watering once every two weeks (at most). This is the time when your lithops will begin to bloom if it’s ready, and you’ll know it’s time to start watering again when you see the leaves begin to separate. This is your lithops preparing for flowering. Once winter hits, you’ll go back to respecting your lithops’ dormancy. Only this time, you’ll stop watering altogether.

Around winter is when the old leaves of your lithops will start to die and the new ones will begin to grow inside. Watering the plant during this period could negatively affect the growth of the new leaves, so do your best to let your lithops sustain itself. It will feel wrong, especially considering the type of care given to other plants, but your lithops will thank you for it.

Can lithops get too much sun?

Lithops adapted in its natural habitat to tolerate harsh sunlight. The best lighting you can provide your plant is four to five hours of early morning light and then partial shade. South and east-facing windows are ideal places for growing lithops. You’ll know when your lithops isn’t receiving optimal sunlight when it starts to lose its patterns and the leaves become elongated. Remember that extreme heat can still cause your lithops to get sunburnt. If this starts to happen, trying moving it to a slightly less sunny area to see how it fares.

Succulents as a whole are different from the standard houseplants we know and care for, and lithops are an especially finicky variety. It may take a few tries to figure out the proper care, so don’t be too discouraged if you lose a lithops or two. Some trial and error may be necessary, but you’ll soon figure out how to properly care for your living stone plant.

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