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Cultivation and care of Lithops – fundamentals

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When it comes to cultivation, that is gardening and maintenance of Lithops, very little information is available in our language, and what is found is usually superficially written or just copied and translated from a foreign site. In the following lines, I will try to cover all aspects that are crucial components for your plants to be healthy, advanced, and beautiful, with suggestions based on many years of experience in growing Lithops, thus do not be lazy, and read the article until the end.

Table of Contents

Make your plants feel as if they are in their natural habitat

You know the proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." ? It is the same with beginners (in most cases) when they first see Lithops. Imagine this scenario: you've just purchased a few lovely Lithops, you are delighted, happy, and the first thing that comes to mind is: "Oh, let me water them a little, feed them, put them in the sun!!!" How many of you have found yourself in this sentence?

Unfortunately, you make a terrible mistake right at the start, which will turn your flowering stones into gelatinous mush in a matter of days. This is followed by disappointment, probably another attempt with the same mindset, and finally, you give up on them, justifying your decision by claiming how tough it is to nurture them. That is why I like to say, "Lithops is usually killed by all that love at first sight." Fortunately, the truth is rather different; Lithops are low-maintenance plants that perfectly represent nature's beauty!

So let's get started with some practical advice. First and foremost, you must understand that all plants, including Lithops, seek to enjoy the living conditions found in their natural home, which is the deserts of South Africa and Namibia. The basic characteristics that should guide us when it comes to their cultivation are the climatic conditions that characterize their habitat. From our perspective, the climate in their habitat is extremely harsh during the summer, with cold mornings and hot days with little rainfall, while the winters are warm and dry, with no rainfall and temperatures that can drop to below zero.

Lithops tucked between pebbles with their look fitting perfectly into the environment to hide and protect themselves from natural enemies, a skill known as mimicry in plants.

Lithops normally hide and grow in the mild shade between bushes, boulders, or rocks from the strong African sun, where the breeze cools them day and night, for living in the direct sunlight is a misconception. By comparison, the area inhabited by Lithops is larger than Southeast Europe, so you should be aware that the climate is not completely the same everywhere.

Several South African species receive up to 50 liters of rain per square meter during the summer, whereas some Namibian species residing along the Atlantic Ocean (such as Lithops optica, Lithops ruschiorum, etc.) live almost entirely on dew and mist without any raindrop throughout the year.

In short, from the above we can conclude that Lithops prefer strong light but not direct sun, ventilated space and very moderate watering during the growing season, which we will talk about later, as well as other aspects of cultivation.

Annual growth cycle and watering of Lithops

Although much can be written on this topic, I will try to present the annual growth cycle of Lithops as briefly as possible.

Like all plants, Lithops, have their annual life cycle: growth, flowering, and dormancy; which can be separated into spring, summer, autumn, and winter vegetation cycles. What distinguishes them from most succulents is that every year they replace their pair of old leaves with a new pair, so the people may call them "living stone" because of that. Every spring, a new plant with one or more pairs of leaves emerges from an old plant, similar to the phoenix, depending on the age of the plant, thus they can have one or more "heads," as we often refer to a pair of leaves.

After the Lithops bloom in the fall, which is the period from September to the end of October or the beginning of November (except for a few species that are exceptions), the plants enter the so-called winter vacation. During this period, approximately, from November to April, we leave them in a cool, bright, and ventilated room where the winter temperature will average around 5°C on the coldest days. If you are lucky, you have a greenhouse, then they stay where they are with other cacti and succulents without disturbing.

After flowering, which can take up to ten days, if the flowers are pollinated, a capsule with seeds will start to form, and it will take about 8 months for the seeds to mature. At this point, we absolutely stop watering until spring, that is, until the new pair of leaves are fully developed and only the memory of the old remains in the form of a dried membrane-like burnt paper. It's important to remember that there will be no watering during this time! It's important to remember that there will be no watering during this time!

The period when new life is born at Lithops is winter, a long and tedious season that most of us despise. Despite the fact that our Lithops appear to be decreasing at first glance, a new plant is beginning to develop deep within the old leaves. Much like a child's fetus, it starts as a millimeter ball that grows bigger and bigger every day, drawing nutrients and water from the old leaves until a gap appears on the old pair of leaves and a new plant emerges. Do not be tempted to water it though, it will take a few more months until the new plant is fully formed and absorbs the old leaves.

Uzgajanje i nega Lithopsa
The process of coating Lithops is almost complete - a new pair of leaves has almost completely absorbed the old leaves.

There is no exact date or month when this will occur; however, depending on the season and weather conditions, it could occur anywhere between mid-April and early June. Don't be alarmed; if the winter was mild and clear, Lithops normally change around late April or early May, however, there can be oscillations in their growth cycle, as I mentioned.

The natural start of the Lithops vegetation is in the middle of spring, with the development of new leaves. The first, gentle watering will follow, and it should be just enough, moderate - so that the water penetrates about 1 cm into the depth of the substrate, encouraging the formation of new, capillary roots that actually absorb water and nutrients, whereas the central tail root serves no purpose other than to keep them stable in the ground.

The capillary roots have mostly dried up throughout the winter, and they must be regenerated. Regeneration is really quick, and after two to three weeks of gentle nighttime waterings or, better yet, spraying , you will find that the plants respond by acquiring mass. It's a fantastic indication, signaling that our plants have awoken and are ready to go on a new annual growth cycle.

From waking up until the end of June or mid-July (the so-called spring peak of growth), I water the plants at intervals of two to three weeks, but only after the substrate has dried between waterings. When I water them, I water them thoroughly, making sure that the water reaches all sections of the pot and that the excess drains out at the end.

I usually water them at dusk or early in the morning, so that the plants have enough time to absorb the required amount of water, and again for the substrate to dry as soon as possible. If you have a suitable substrate for Lithops, the pot should dry completely within 3 to 4 days if the days are warm and without rain, so avoid watering Lithopse in bad, rainy, and humid weather.

If you're not sure if you should water your Lithops or not, it is best you wait until you see horizontal, transverse wrinkles on the plant's body. If the wrinkles appear just during the day, this is normal because they protect the plants from the sun and dehydration, but if they appear at night, your Lithops are in need of water.

Uzgajanje i nega Lithopsa
Pay attention, small wrinkles on the leaves indicate that Lithops needs watering.

Whenever possible, water them with rainwater or well water rather than tap water, but if you live in the city and have no other options, let the water sit for a while to allow the chlorine to settle. Lithops dislike hard water and prefer to thrive in a slightly acidic or neutral environment with a pH of 6 to 7.

I cease watering at the end of June or the middle of July when the tropical hot days begin and the greenhouse temperatures surpass 35°C during the day and do not fall below 20°C at night. Lithops then go into summer dormancy, retreat to the substrate, and refuse to drink. Any watering during this time will almost certainly result in root rot and plant death. That is why, if the plants are indoors, such as in a greenhouse or hothouse, it is critical to leave them dormant and without water from July to the end of August and to provide them with maximum ventilation. It would be beneficial to install a fan to cool them, as well as an additional shade to reduce the temperature by another degree. If you have a small collection, then store it in the shade in an airy place, protected from rain.

Uzgajanje i nega Lithopsa
With the first days of autumn, after abundant watering, there is an explosion of flowers

When temperatures return to normal after tropical days, usually in late August or early September, we begin another intense period of watering, followed by the so-called autumn peak of vegetation. Water encourages them to bloom, resulting in the appearance of buds and, eventually, flowers. Yellow-flowering species bloom first, followed by white-flowering species. This is the time of year when we can begin pollinating Lithops, but I'll cover that in an upcoming post.

And now we've reached the end of the story, or rather, the beginning of Lithops annual growth cycle. Year after year, the scenario repeats itself: after flowering, we stop watering and turn everything around in a circle. How long do you think it'll take? 🙂 Lithops can live for a very long time, in fact, they can outlive the average human lifespan.

Substrate and pots for Lithops

When it comes to the substrate, I've seen it all, from individual growers growing them in a pure organic substrate to pure mineral substrate. It is not for me to judge which of the above has its advantages and disadvantages; all I can say is that I welcome success as long as the breeder understands the Physico-Chemical features of his substrate and harmonizes his watering with it.

I spent a lot of time experimenting with different substrates, and I'm still not sure which one is the best, but I've come up with an approximate value for the organic and inorganic parts of the substrate, and I've been using it for years. Roughly 80% of the inorganic part and 20% of the organic part would be the approximate value.

In our environment, the simplest substrate recipe would be 50 % river gravel or quartz sand sifted to granulation of 2mm to 5 mm, 30% perlite, and 20% soil.

Pumice, rather than perlite, is a considerably better component, but it is unavailable in our country. You can also add vermiculite, zeolite, expanded clay, crushed brick, lava stone, crushed granite, and other inorganic materials to the inorganic part in lesser percentages. That is, all that is nearby and easy to obtain.

Avoid commercial peat-based substrates when it comes to the organic part. Peat has the unfortunate trait of being difficult to soak when dry, and difficult to dry once soaked, which is not ideal for Lithops since prolonged dampness can lead to root rot. Instead, you can use standard garden soil or loam from a molehill, to which you can add a little burnt manure or worms castings . If you have coconut peat at hand, you can also use it in the organic component. It doesn't matter how you blend this organic element, it'll be OK; just stay away from peat.

To summarize, the substrate must be permeable, as to not retain too much moisture, mostly mineral in composition, and of granulation of 2mm to 5 mm.

Komercijalni uzgoj Lithopsa
For commercial purposes, Lithops are grown in shallow pots with a richly nutritious substrate, immediately after purchase, transplant them into a suitable substrate intended for Lithops and into deeper pots, so that the plants develop properly.

With commercial growers of Lithops, you will see that the plants are planted in small shallow pots, usually, 4×4 cm in diameter, which suits the growers for seedlings, saves them substrate and space, but Lithops do not like shallow pots, they will only suffer. Lithops have a very long-tailed root and the ideal depth of pots would be 10cm or more, but they will also be satisfied with a depth of 7cm. These are the so-called extended cactus pots, measuring 5x5x7 cm or 7x7x10 cm, so if you can, attempt to get them and transplant your plants into them; they will repay you with proper and healthy growth. In a wide arc, avoid clay or terracotta pots; they dry quickly and will only cause you problems.

Feeding Lithops

Lithops have a very low nutritional requirement, therefore you won't need to fertilize them if you maintain them in the above-mentioned substrate and transplant them for 3 to 4 years. You can even let them thrive for decades in the same substrate, but you'll need to feed them with a specific succulent fertilizer at least twice a year, first in the spring at the start of vegetation and again in late summer before flowering.

Always use half the recommended fertilizer dose on the label when adding fertilizer to the water. If it reads 10ml of fertilizer per 5 liters of water, for example, you add 5ml.

Although it is not meant for succulent plants, I use the liquid fertilizer Wuxal super, NPK 8:8:6, which has proven to be quite effective in the growth of Lithops.

How To Grow Lithops From Seed

Sowing is the easiest and cheapest approach to grow extra plants. After all, commercial growers sell the common types with their variations, so if you want to gradually extend your collection with rarer species or cultivars, you'll have no alternative but to start sowing Lithops. I will not repeat myself because I have already written about sowing Lithops; instead, read the detailed instructions in the following post.If you need seeds, please contact me through email (see next page)or through the Facebook page Lithopsarium.

Setva Lithopsa  je najjeftiniji način da dođete do veće količine biljaka u relativno kratkom vremenskom roku.
Three-month seedlings of Lithops, sowing Lithops is the most cost-effective method to get more plants in a short period of time.

Light, heat and humidity

Despite the fact that we call the Lithops "children of the sun," they avoid direct sunlight, as I previously stated. You can give them a few hours of sun in the morning or afternoon, but not in the midday, bright sun, which can cause them to boil and burn in a matter of hours. My Lithops are grown in a south-facing greenhouse that receives direct sunlight from sunrise to sunset, but the greenhouse is covered by a protective shade cloth of 40% from April until September. When the UV rays weaken in September, I remove the shade and they are entirely exposed to the light.

High light intensity is very important for Lithops, both in summer and winter, so as not to etholate, i.e. not to lengthen due to lack of light. The only thing worse than a dead Lithops is seeing an ugly elongated one. If you take care of all these things that I have mentioned, your Lithops should, as a rule, be in line with its substrate, only slightly raised above its surface, compact and strong in color.

They are quite heat tolerant, able to withstand minor minuses (-5°C verified) in a short amount of time if the substrate is entirely dry up to over 40°C. You, on the other hand, try to stay away from these extreme figuresIt is safest for them to spend the winter in an area where the temperature does not drop below 5°C, even if it can endure lower temperatures for a short time period, and spent their summer in an area where the temperature does not exceed 40°C during the warmest portion of the day. If necessary, a regular fan will suffice.

Lithops do not tolerate excessive humidity if it persists for an extended period of time since it might lead to fungal infections. Lithops fungal illnesses are caused by a combination of high temperature + high humidity = they can be lethal, thus ventilation is important in preventing fungal diseases.

Lithops diseases

Lithops are resistant plants; the worst thing that can happen to them is your carelessness, such as rapid sun exposure, which can cause them to burn and die instantly, or watering when the weather isn't ideal, which will slowly but surely kill them due to root rot.

Lithops diseases
You don't want this to happen to you, but Lithops dies of rot induced by high temperatures paired with high humidity.

When it comes to pests, don't be concerned about red spiders and similar mites causing damage to the plant. If you water the plants from above, Lithops leaves are renewed every year, so any damage is just temporary. The main enemy of Lithops can be woolly lice at the plant's root, which can swiftly spread throughout the entire collection you have. To ensure that this does not happen, and because the medicine to this problem is once again prevention, two treatments with a systemic insecticide during the year (in the spring and autumn) will suffice. Because the variety of these products is so vast, I'll leave it up to you to decide which brand you trust the most.

Endlessness end

And now that we've reached the end of this article, even though I've only covered the fundamentals of Lithops growth, I hope you'll find this post useful, especially for novices. I know a lot is vague, but the basic theoretical principles are there, and everything else is learned through practice. It takes years of socializing with these plants to learn all their secrets, and even when you think you know everything, believe me, you will always run into new things you don't know, but that's fine; challenges are what draw us to this hobby. If you have any more questions, please leave them in the comments below, and I will try my best to respond as soon as possible. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I wish you well in your breeding endeavors.

Lithops optica cv. 'Rubra'
Lithops optica cv. ‘Rubra’ C081A

1 thought on “Uzgajanje i nega Lithopsa – osnovni principi”

  1. Thank you for these wonderful and useful texts. Please let me know when is the ideal time to transplant lithops that are older (in particular, mine are 4 years old and I would like to transplant them into a bigger and more beautiful pot) and whether they should be watered after transplanting or left without water for a week like cacti to heal fresh calluses?

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