Lithop Growing, Care & Cultivation
For the Southern Hemisphere.
When saying what does a plant need to grow well . Its best to study a bit where it comes from or grows endemically.
Lithops home is in SW South Africa, A very dry area of grasslands and rocky hills. They grow from sea level to a thousand meters. The three countries they grow are generally very dry over winter May to September.
Some areas have winter fogs where some Lithops draw some moisture from. Spring and Summer brings some sporadic rain, from October to March. March and April are the flowering time for the majority of this Genus (as the summer heat cools off a bit)
Most succulents have a dormant period. This is often in the dry period. Lithops are the same. So from May to September. They rest and while they rest they start to form a new body inside the old body so over winter it grows and absorbs the outer skin which slowly shrinks till It’s just a fine thin skin remaining.
As the new plant emerges from the splitting old skin in Spring. Often if too much watering occurs during this time the old skin does not shrivel up well and can strangle the newly emerging plant or body.
A rough watering guide
if your mix is open and well drained. A good watering is where the water reaches well down to the root zone avoid just wetting the plant and the first few millimeters of soil.
"Test your pots by weight a light one is dry, now wet one well, and test the weight"
Soon you will know well watered, or not. Lithops can be watered fortnightly well once Spring or November comes through summer till March then taper off for flowering and winter. ( If your mix is well drained)
Another way of testing is if the side of the Lithop body has some desiccation or shriveling, it’s time to water. Or if its fat and tight and hard its full of water. Overwatering these plants is not advised.
Re potting and handling
Re potting can be done every two years or so. Its best done when the new body has emerged from the old skin in Spring. Then you can remove some of the older skins but leave the latest one. Old skins can hide mealy bugs or other pests. Some extra shade is advisable after potting if you are in a hot area as nearly exposed body’s may burn when old skins are removed.
Good Soil mix for Lithops
A good soil mix I have seen is
- 4 Parts washed river sand. (no clay)
- 4 Parts course river sand 3 to 4 mm
- 4 Parts sieved compost
- 1 Part perlite
- 1 Part vermiculite
- 1 Part Coconut fiber
In Australia we do not have much compost so pine bark is the norm so some adjustments need to be made for this can be course and well drained or fine and water retentive. Also pine bark has no food value and it often takes all the nitrogen you may add to break down the bark this is called Nitrogen draw down.
For Lithops I add about half the amount of complete fertilizer that I would give other succulents. I also add Dolomite lime to most of my mixes as it is full of most of the minerals and trace elements a plant needs
Shade and Light
I like a light shade about 30 to 40 % Lithops seem to really look best with good light not too much shade. In nature Lithops often grow on hills, among rocks and grasses, where there is some shelter and respite from the sun some of the day. During winter full sun light is fine.
The best way to grow these little treasures is with the attitude “Less is More” the best collections I have seen have high light little water and very little food and they look great. So Lithops are not suitable for outdoor growing in Southern Australia as the rain comes when they don't want it