How to Plant, Grow and Care For Lithops (Living Stone Plants)
Are you looking for a unique succulent to add to your houseplant collection? Also called living stone plants, these succulents can make a statement in any indoor or outdoor garden. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley takes you everything you need to know about living stone plants and their care.
Lipthops go by a few names such as living stone, pebble plant or split rocks. These succulents are tiny and receive their name from its growing habits. They are native to Africa where they have evolved to look like the pebbles and rocks in its native habitat. They are extremely slow growers and barely get above an inch tall.
Many gardeners grow them out of curiosity and their crazy rock-like appearance. They can be grown indoors and outdoors but are more commonly grown as a houseplant. They can be a bit of a challenge to grow because of their heat and sunlight requirements.
Not to mention they have a strict watering schedule which can be challenging to figure out. Providing your Lithops with proper care is important for their success. They can live for many years under the proper growing conditions.
Lithops are one of the cutest succulents but may require a little more patience then others. In this article, we will discuss how to grow and care for Lithops to ensure you get to enjoy this unique succulent for years and years. Let’s dive in!
- 1 About Lithops
- 2 How To Grow
- 3 Maintenance
- 4 Propagation
- 5 Growing From Seed
- 6 Planting
- 7 Repotting
- 8 Problems
- 9 Pests
- 10 Popular Varieties
- 11 Frequently Asked Questions
- 12 Final Thoughts
Lithops Plant Overview
Plant Type Perennial
Genus Lithops spp.
Plant Spacing 2 + Inches
Native Area Africa
Sunlight exposure Full Sun
Plant height 0.5 – 2 inches
Water requirements High
Plant Depth 3 to 5 inches
Hardiness Zone 10-11
Soil Type Sandy, well-draining
Pest Mealy bugs, aphids, spider mites
Diseases Fungal Disease
Living stone plants are a member of the Aizoceae family in the Lithops genus. They are native to South Africa and Namibia. Their natural habitat is in arid, rocky areas and have evolved to look like stone to avoid being eaten by herbivores.
Each plant has a pair of leaves that are squishy and very full looking. They have a fissure separating the two leaves and this is where new growth emerges from in the spring. Lithops have a long, single tap root, making it withstand dryer conditions.
In the fall, a single flower will emerge from the fissure. The flower can be white, yellow or pale orange and is similar in appearance to a daisy. The flowers have a sweet and pleasant fragrance which opens in the afternoon and coles later in the day.
All species of Lithops are very small plants which grow no taller than an inch or two above the soil surface. The only difference between varieties is the leaf color, pattern and flower color. With over 100 different varieties, there are living stone plants to fit any style.
How To Grow
When it comes to basic growth needs for Lithops, you’ll need to meet some basic criteria. It’s important to provide the right amount of sunlight and water. You’ll also want to make sure you have the proper mixture of potting soil, the right temperature, fertilizer, and the right growing environment. Let’s take a deeper look.
Lithops prefer to be planted in locations that receive full sun. This means they should be seeing at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you are growing living stones indoors, place them in a bright location with direct sunlight. Typically, a south facing window will give you the sunlight exposure needed.
The coloring of Lithops is dependent on how much sunlight they are exposed to. Color loss can become problematic with insufficient lighting.
Move your Lithops to a location with more sunlight until you find the right spot and color returns to the plant. If your plants aren’t moved, they cannot complete photosynthesis, will become stunted and die.
Although living stones are sun-lovers, they can experience damage if placed in too harsh of sunlight. Providing afternoon sun may protect your living stone plants from receiving sunburn. Be sure to pay attention to signs of sunburn so you can provide more shade or transplant to a less sunny area.
Lithops like sandy soils that drain water really well. If you are planting indoors or outdoors in containers, use a potting mix designed for succulents and cactus. It’s best to incorporate rocks, pebbles, gravel or other gritty material to your soils if no grit is present.
Lithops need very little soil to thrive and the more course material the better. If you don’t have access to succulent or cactus soil, don’t panic, you can make your own. Mixing half potting soil soil and the other half perlite, pumice, lava rock or gravel, your Lithops will be very happy.
Providing the proper soil will help prevent the development of disease and pests. If soils become too soggy, the plant can develop root rot. Root rot makes the plant more susceptible to pests. The addition of sand and gritty material can help drain water away and prevent soggy soils.
Lithops benefit from seasonal watering that mimics the rainfall they receive in their natural habitat. Avoid watering in the summer and over the winter when the plant is dormant. Spring and fall are the best times to water Lithops because this is when the plant is growing and benefits from waterings.
Living stones are a drought tolerant perennial and store much of their water supply in their leaves. This is how they can go months in the hottest part of the year without any water. When you water, drench the soil to allow water to move deep into the soil. Allow your soils to dry out anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks between waterings.
Do not water unless the soil is completely dried out. Check your soils for moisture by digging around the Lithops. If there’s moisture in the soil, do not water. Check again in a few days and water once moisture isn’t present.
Lithops tolerate intense heat very well but can also survive temperatures as low as 50 F. Ideal room temperatures are anywhere between 65 to 80 F. But they can tolerate even higher temperatures near 90 to 100 F for short periods of time.
They can’t handle harsh winter temperatures and the leaves will rupture if exposed to temperatures below 50 F. They have never had to adapt to color temperatures because they are native to arid, desert like areas of Africa.
Lithops can survive outdoors in hardiness zone 10 and 11 without having to be moved indoors. If you live in zones below 10, you may have to bring them indoors during the winter months or on nights where temperature falls below 50 F. In cooler regions of the United States, placing them outside during the summer can help induce its natural dormancy cycle.
Lithops are native to the dry regions of South Africa and Namibia. They can go long periods of time without water and can handle some intense heat. In their native environment they see less than 20 inches of rainfall per year. Some species see less than 4 inches in their native environment.
They grow in diverse habitats from quartz grit to gravely flats. They enjoy these areas because they have the capability to store water in their leaves for long periods of time.
This is the primary function of the whole plant, to store water. They also have a very long tap root that allows them to access water deep in the soil profile.
Providing living stone plants with a similar environment to their native habitat will allow them to thrive for many years. Dessert regions of the United States are excellent environments for these plants. Other regions can support them with added care. They can develop problems if grown in the wrong environment and will not survive long in poor growing conditions.
These succulents naturally live in nutrient-deficient soils and they aren’t heavy feeders. Some gardeners choose to fertilize just before they are going to bloom. This helps encourage the plant to produce a flower.
If you choose to fertilize, choose a fertilizer that is designed for cactus. You can find a fertilizer online or at your local garden center that is made specifically for cactus and succulents. Do not apply the fertilizer directly to the leaves. This may cause fertilizer burn and will damage or kill the plant.
When it comes to maintenance, Lithops are fairly easy to care for. They don’t require much in the need of pruning, but you’ll need to take some specific steps when it comes to new leaves blossoming, as well as when flowering takes place. Let’s take a deeper look at everything you can expect from a maintenance perspective.
Lithops don’t require any pruning of the leaves but it is helpful to remove dead leaves from the pot or area. The plant naturally drops their leaves from the plant when they are finished.
If you notice the plant won’t let go of the old brown leaves, you can give them a gentle tug. They should come off with a little help and this is all the pruning you will need to do.
Growing New Leaves
Lithops will develop a pair of leaves each year. The plant only has one pair of leaves at a time and old leaves need to die to allow new ones to grow. Typically, the process of new leaf growth happens in the spring. The plant will go into dormancy once it has flowers in the fall and begins storing energy for new leaf growth in the spring.
The old leaves will begin to split at the fissure and eventually new leaves will emerge from the fissure. The fissure is the growing part of the plant and what separates the two leaves. The old leaves will slowly die as the new leaves emerge and eventually fall from the plant.
If the old leaves feel soft and mushy, this is a possible sign new leaves are about to emerge. But keep in mind, this can also be an indication of overwatering.
Within a few days, you should see new leaves emerging from the fissure, pushing the old leaves out of the way. During this time, do not water until the old leaves are completely gone.
Lithops will produce a delicate daisy-like flower towards the fall or early winter just before they go dormant. The flowers are typically white or yellow but can appear a pale orange in some varieties. The flower will open on sunny afternoon days and close late in the afternoon. The flower will emerge from the fissure, similar to how the new leaves emerge.
Some flowers even have a sweet fragrance! They range in size from ½ inch to 1 ½ inch. Lithops are self-sterile and must be pollinated to produce any seed.
Once the flower finishes it produces seed pods and the plant falls dormant. In the spring the plant will awake from dormancy and the new leaves will begin to form.
If your living stone plants are flowering, don’t panic. It can take them up to 3 years to produce a flower. Once your plant is the right age, you should see flowers every year. Check for other factors that could be affecting bloom such as sunlight, water and soil conditions. Proper growing conditions are important for the overall growth, not just flowering.
If you live in warmer climates such as zones 10 and 11, Lithops can be grown outdoors year round. In colder regions, it’s best to bring them indoors during the winter months. Once the temperatures are above 50 F in the spring, you can move them back outdoors.
If you planted in the ground, remove any debris from the plant before they go dormant. This will allow for proper airflow and sunlight exposure. Excess debris around the plant can lead to disease and pest infestations.
Overwintering is pretty simple as long as you bring them in before temperatures get too cold and remove excess debris from around the plant. Like many plants in the winter, they will lay dormant until temperatures begin to rise again in the spring.
It’s important to understand their growth cycle to properly care for them. In their natural climate, they go through two periods of dormancy.
In the summer when soils dry out, living stone plants stop growing and enter a dormant state through the hottest part of the year. Shutting down in the summer during hot periods allows the plant to store energy in cooler months for growth and flowering.
Even if you are growing them indoors, they need to go through this dormant period. You need to let soils dry out in the summer as they would in their native climate.
If you are growing Lithops as a houseplant, moving them outdoors in the summer can aid in inducing the summer dormancy. Do not water during summer dormancy.
The second dormancy is in the fall once the plant has finished flowering. During the winter months, the plant will again stop growing as it stores energy and nutrients for the spring. Watering isn’t necessary during the winter months and could do more damage than good.
Lithops multiply naturally by growing new plants from one original plant. This process takes years as living stone plants are very slow growing. You will have to wait several years before propagation because the plant needs to form a cluster. Once you have a healthy cluster of Lithops, you can begin to propagate.
Propagation is done by division. Propagation should be done in the spring when the plant is actively growing. If they are propagated during summer or winter, you risk killing the plant.
Begin by preparing the containers for each Lithops you plan to remove from the colony. Choose containers that are deep enough for proper growth of the Lithops tap root. Pots that are at least 6 inches deep should be sufficient. Also, ensure the container has proper drainage holes to allow water to drain easily.
Carefully remove them from the pot and gently separate the Lithops you wish to propagate. Go slow so you don’t rip or damage any of the roots. With a clean pair of shears, scissors or knife, cut between each plant. Be sure each of the Lithops you are cutting has a healthy tap root.
Place the cuttings into the containers and cover with potting soil designed for succulents or cactus. Water the soil lightly and provide similar care as you would for established plants. They will need full sun and light water.
Growing From Seed
When Lithops produce flowers in the fall and the flower fades, seed pods will be left behind for you to harvest. Once they develop seed pods, you can remove them with a clean pair of scissors, shears or knife. The process of growing by seed will take a little time and patience.
Once you have gathered the seed pods, you will want to submerge them in water. This will help soften the pods and allow you to get the seeds out more easily. Once the pod opens, use a toothpick or tweezers to remove the seeds from the pod. The seeds will be very small and difficult to handle.
Prepare your containers with potting mix for succulents or cactus and moisten the soil with water. Place the seed on the soil surface and place a thin layer of sand over the seeds. Water the containers just enough to get the sand wet, you don’t want soggy soils.
Place your potted Lithops seeds in a sunny area or under grow lights. Try to keep the seeds between 65 to 80 F. You can place your pots on a heat mat, if necessary. Seedlings can take anywhere from 2 to 5 weeks. The plant is naturally slow growing so seedlings might take longer than expected.
Since they are so small, it might be challenging to find a location where they can stand out. Most pots or containers are great for Lithops as long as they are deep enough and have proper drainage holes. Lithops are very popular to grow in terrariums because of the wide variety of colors and patterns.
If growing indoors, south-facing windows typically provide proper sunlight. Keep in mind that Lithops may have to be removed from window sills during the winter months.
The cold temperatures can leak in through the window seams and damage Lithops. Anywhere in your home that has proper sunlight, temperatures and airflow can support healthy plants.
Lithops can be grown outdoors directly into the ground but because they are so small can easily be covered by taller plants. Growing outdoors in clay pots is great because this allows them to be up off the ground and away from taller plants. Plant Lithops with other succulents with similar growing requirements.
Repotting Lithops is seldomly done since they are such a small plant. Repotting should be done if the plants are taking up the entirety of the pot or appear overcrowded. Many gardeners keep them in their original pots for years. If you take a pup for propagation, this is a great time to repot if you need too.
Eventually, your Lithops colony will need to be transplanted to a slightly larger pot. Remember, Lithops have long taproots so choose a pot that is at least 6 inches deep or more.
Place the plants into the soil so the leaves rest on the soil surface. Add gravel or decorative rocks for a more decorative look. Avoid repotting for at least 3 to 4 years to avoid stress.
Lithops are pretty easy going plants and rarely have issues. But if provided the improper growing conditions can develop problems. Luckily, these problems are treatable and avoidable if caught early enough.
Lithops that are losing their color or their coloring is very pale are telling you they need more sunlight. This is an issue problem to fix and you just need to provide them with more sunlight.
Move them to a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Your Lithops will soon get their color back if placed in a proper spot.
Lithops should have tiny, round leaves that resemble pebbles or rocks. If you notice their leaves are becoming less round and elongated, this is a sign of insufficient lighting.
Simple choose a location that receives more sunlight and your Lithops should return to its cute, round self in no time.
Lithops already have rubbery leaves but if you notice that they are becoming mushy to the touch it’s likely an overwatering issue. Overwatering can also lead to root rot which can bring up more problems such as pests.
Avoid watering during dormancy periods and allow soils to dry before watering. You can increase soil drainage by adding gritty material such as gravel, rocks or pumice.
Wrinkling leaves is an indication that the plant needs to be watered. If your Lithops have developed a raisin-like appearance on the leaf surface, give your plant a drink.
The leaves should plump up back to normal within a day or so. Water enough to moisten the soil and avoid standing water for long periods of time.
Like most plants, Lithops can attract pests as well. Pests are attracted to plants that are already stressed due to some other factor. The best way to protect them from pests is to provide them with ideal growing conditions to prevent stress to the plant. But sometimes pests are unavoidable so here are a few common pests you’ll likely encounter.
Spider mites will spin silk webbing on and between leaves. You might notice the webbing and plant tissue beginning to turn yellow. Eventually dead spots appear on the leaves and over time consume the entire leaf.
Spider mites infest numerous plants so if you identify mites on your Lithops, place the plant in quarantine. There are a number of treatments online to control the spread of spider mites.
Another pest that infests many types of plants and if you find them on your plants, you need to separate them from others. Mealy bugs are difficult to find and hide in the crevices of the plant.
They have tiny white bodies that are difficult to identify with the bare eye. If you notice mealy bugs, remove the plant from others and begin treatment. You can treat mealy bugs at home with isopropyl alcohol.
Scale is closely related to aphids and white flies but can vary a lot in appearance. Scale grows beneath a wax covering that looks similar to a reptile or fish scale.
This scale protects the insect underneath. Chemical control is the most effective way to treat scale. You can find control methods online or at your local garden center.
When Lithops shed their old leaves, thrips can be living between the old leaves and the new emerging leaves. Thrips are slender and very tiny and can range in color from yellow to brown to black.
Damage can appear as streaks, silvery speckles and small white patches on the leaves. Extreme damage can lead to stunted plants and even death.
There are a number of varieties to choose from when growing Lithops. They come in many colors from purple to pink to gray to green. They also come in a variety of different patterns on the leaves. All Lithops are about the same size and may vary by less than an inch in diameter.
This is a very small, nearly stemless succulent that produces a pair of leaves. The leaves can be found in a wide range of colors such as green, pink, orange, gray and brown. The plant only gets to about an inch and half in diameter. The plant produces a yellow, daisy-like flower that is about 2 inches in diameter.
This succulent will produce a pair of wide leaves that can range in colors from pink to gray to almost brown. A distinct feature of this species is the ‘lip smear” on the edge of the fissure. The leaves are thick and fleshy and can be up to 1.2 inches in diameter. This variety produces a white, dairy-like flower between the leaves.
The partly fused leaves of this succulent come in a grayish-green color with a few paler specks throughout. The edges of the leaves can be greenish-yellow or purple and olive green. They are about an inch in diameter. They will produce a yellow flower in late summer and early fall.
With off-white, gray or tan appearance this particular variety looks more like a living rock then most. This variety comes from Namibia where it lives in cold deserts or rocky terrain. They develop a yellow daisy-like flower between the fissure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are living stones plants toxic?
Lithops are non-toxic to humans and pets. They are safe to grow indoors and outdoors around children and pets. There have been some references to children in Africa eating the plant to quench their thirst.
How long do they live?
Lithops are a very long lived perennial that have been known to live for 50 plus years. When provided the proper care, they can thrive for many many years. Water and sunlight are going to play major factors in how long they live.
Can they be grown outdoors?
Yes, but they can’t survive temperatures below 50F. They can be planted outdoors in USDA zones 10 and 11. You can place them outdoors in lower zones during the summer. But be sure to bring them inside before temperatures become too cold. If left outdoors in cooler temperatures, the leaves will rupture and the plant will die.
Is splitting living stone plants normal?
Yes! This is the natural growing habit of the plant. If you notice your Lithops starting to split, this is most likely new leaves forming. The old leaves will be shed from the plant and new leaves will emerge from the fissure of the plant. If your plants are splitting in the middle of the leaves, this can be a sign of overwatering.
Lithops are a unique succulent that are loved for their longevity and unique pebble-like appearance. It’s important to understand their care to have successful and long living plants. Proper sunlight and watering are key to the thriving living stone plants. Plant them indoors or outdoors depending on your zone and enjoy their unique presence for years to come.