Lithops are a unique type of succulent that, quite literally, look as though they are small stones or pebbles! They are known variously as living stones, stone plants, pebble plants, split rock plants and flowering stones. Of these, living stones is the most common name.
Living stones are some of the most popular succulents to keep in the home because they are extremely easy to care for, come in a range of beautiful, vibrant colors and even feature a stunning daisy-like flower that blooms seasonally once the plant is mature. There are over 30 different species of lithops and almost 150 varieties.
In this article, we are going to be providing you with a breakdown of all the best care information for looking after your beautiful lithops succulents.
What Are Lithops?
Lithops, or living stones, are a type of succulent that resemble pebbles or little stones. Originating from South Africa, these succulents are typically found growing in rocky areas such as mountain tops and the sides of walls.
Living stones will typically only grow about an inch above the soil. Sometimes, a living stone might grow larger, but this is rare.
The reason for not growing an inch above the ground? Well, lithops do this because they have naturally evolved to blend in with their other surroundings for protection from herbivores.
Lithops come in a variety of beautiful colors which range from blue to pink, yellow and even purple. They have a delicately fragranced flower that blooms inside their plants during the fall time. The flower opens in the afternoon and then closes up in the night time.
Lithops are extremely easy to care for and can thrive on very little maintenance. They can easily thrive on a desk, window ledge or just about anywhere else you can think of.
Living stones make perfect gifts, even for someone who might have very little knowledge of how to care for plants.
Oh, and by the way, the word lithops is singular and plural. A single plant is still called lithops, not a lithop.
How To Care For Lithops
Lithops are known for being very easy to care for and requiring very little maintenance, but it’s still a good idea to make sure that you know what they need to thrive.
Let’s take a look:
Lithops need plenty of sunlight to thrive and flourish. As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to need to make sure that you are giving your lithops at least 4-5 hours of sunlight every day.
A sun-facing window, table or similar area should be just fine. Rotate your plant a quarter turn once in a while to ensure it receives light on all sides of the plant and grows evenly.
Lithops originate from areas that may receive less than 5 inches of water a year and these plants thrive the best when left in a dry environment. You won’t need to water your living stones very often at all.
They do, however, have a cycle of water needs based on their seasonal growth patterns.
During the spring, water your plant by soaking the soil and then allowing the soil to dry completely before watering again. You will probably need to water your lithop every couple of weeks or so but test the soil and check it is 100% dry before watering.
If your plant is in a container with a drainage hole, use the bottom-soaking method for watering. If your pot does not have a drainage hole, water from the top of the plant. To help prevent any rotting of the leaves, ensure you only ever water the soil surface rather than pouring water over the plant itself.
See our Guide to Watering Succulents and Cacti for more information on watering methods.
In the summer, your lithops will go into a semi-dormant state and you should try to not water it. However, if it appears as if your lithops is beginning to shrivel up, feels soft if you squeeze it gently or it begins to sink in the pot, it is recommended to give your plant a few drops of water.
It will enter another growth period during fall and you should return to watering your plant every couple of weeks or so. Water by soaking the soil and then allowing the soil to dry completely before watering again. Mature lithops flower during the fall – you’ll notice the two leaves begin to separate in preparation for flowering and this leaf separation is a good sign to restart your watering schedule. You should stop watering when the flower starts to die off.
Your living stones plant will go into full dormancy during the winter months, and you shouldn’t water it at all. You may notice your lithops starting to look as though it is shriveling. Do not be tempted to water it. The outer leaves of the lithop will make way for new leaves that appear from the centre of the plant. The old leaves will shrivel up completely and die off. Don’t water just yet – you want those old leaves to dry up; watering at this stage may divert precious energy to the old leaves rather than the new ones. Once the new leaves have emerged in the spring and the old leaves have died off, it’s time to start the watering cycle again.
Lithops originate from a dry climate and do not require high humidity. You should not need to mist or create additional humidity for these plants. They may not thrive in very humid, tropical climates.
The ideal temperature for lithops is 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 30 degrees Celsius), but they can take much hotter temperatures. They do not like temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Fortunately, that ideal temperature range is usually the temperature inside an average home so you shouldn’t need to create any special conditions for your lithops plant.
Living stones do not like cold drafts so keep your plant away from breezy windows or airconditioning units.
As with most succulents and cacti, lithops like a very well-draining, gritty soil that is low on nutrients and does not retain water easily.
See our What is the best type of soil for succulents and cacti in pots article.
Living stones are very hardy and capable of thriving in even the harshest environments. They can survive without the need for fertilizer.
That being said, if you decide to go ahead and provide a little bit of nourishment for your living stones, add fertilizer around once a year during the spring.
Use a weak houseplant fertilizer (a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer will work just fine) that has been diluted to only around 25% of its original concentrated strength.
A concentrated fertilizer could burn the roots. Root burn, or fertilizer burn, is a caustic chemical burn from nutrients that are too intense for the plant’s delicate roots.
Any fertilizer should be added to the soil. Do not spray any form of fertilizer onto the leaves, as this may cause burning and brown spots on the leaves.
Lithops are extremely slow growing and you should not need to repot your living stones plant.
If you wish to change the pot to a different container, for decorative reasons for example, ensure you use a very well-draining succulent-specific potting soil and place the plant with the leaves about 1/2 inch above the soil. Lithops roots prefer to grow down rather than coiling around so try to use a container that is not too shallow and has at least 3 inches of depth for the roots.
You should not need to prune your lithops.
How To Prevent Lithops From Rotting
Lithops are extremely susceptible to rotting from overwatering.
As mentioned above, you need to water your living stones sparingly during the spring and fall. Barely water during summer and not at all during the winter months when these plants become dormant.
You should, however, look for signs of underwatering during summer and if you notice your lithops are looking a little shriveled, this is your sign to give them a few drops of water.
Make sure you lean towards underwatering, which is much easier for your plant to recover from than rot due to overwatering.
Common Problems Of Lithops
Even though lithops are easy to take care of, it is important to remember that there are a few issues that could potentially go wrong with them.
Here are some of the most common problems that lithops face:
Lithops Turning Brown
One of the most common problems that many lithop owners find themselves having to deal with is their living stones turning a brown color.
While this can come on quite suddenly and seemingly for no reason, the most common culprit of living stones tuning into a shade of brown is typically due to a watering problem.
More often than not, the brown hue will be a strong indication that the living stone’s roots are beginning to rot due to overwatering.
If you suspect that it is only a mild case of overwatering, then all you will need to do is simply allow the soil to dry out completely before you go ahead and water them again. This should also help to get rid of the brown patches or spots.
If you feel that your living stones are experiencing severe overwatering, you will need to inspect the roots to see if anything can be done to save the plant from root rot.
Take the plant out of the soil and look at the roots. If you find any roots that are soft and mushy and rotting, take some sharp, clean scissors and cut the rotting roots off. Repot the plant with fresh soil and then give your living stones some time to recover and regenerate.
During this time, you should avoid watering (unless you can see shriveling) and under no circumstances add any fertilizer to the soil – this will only overwhelm the roots and potentially burn them.
Lithops Not Flowering
Another common issue that many living stones encounter is an inability to flower during the fall time. More often than not, the main reason that a lithops might not have yet flowered is simply because it is too young.
On average, lithops will not flower until they are around 3 years old, at which point they will bloom and rebloom each fall.
However, if you are noticing that your lithops hasn’t bloomed this year, even though it has flowered in previous years, the most likely cause is under or overwatering
Lithops Shriveling Up
If you notice your lithops starting to shrivel up, you have an indication that your lithops probably requires water.
If it’s winter, it may be that your plant is shedding its outer leaves and growing new ones underneath. Do not water your lithops at this time.
If it’s summer and your plant is semi-dormant, simply add a few water droplets near the surface of the soil to help rehydrate your lithops. If it’s spring or fall and your lithops is in a growth phase, water thoroughly, ideally using the bottom-watering method.
As well as making sure that you are hydrating your lithops when you see signs of shriveling, you should also ensure that your lithops is getting at least 4-5 hours of sunlight each day.
Pests & Diseases
Living stones are not commonly hit by many pests or diseases. If you do notice spider mites, aphids or mealbugs, treat lightly with a neem oil or insecticide.
Are Lithops Toxic To Cats And Dogs
According to the ASPCA, lithops are not toxic to cats or dogs.
There we have it! We’ve made it to the end of the guide. We hope that you have been able to learn a lot more about what lithops are, as well as how to take care of them.
Lithops really are wonderful plants. They are unusual, beautiful and, as long as you get the watering right, very easy to care for.