Lithops, or living stones, are small, stemless succulent plants that resemble stones to avoid being grazed by animals in their native habitat. They’re from some of the driest regions in South Africa and therefore need very little water – some of them rely only on mist and fog for moisture.
Each lithops plant comprises just two thick, fleshy, fused leaves, designed to hold the water the plant needs to survive. The leaves have a slit, or fissure, at the top, from which new leaves and flowers emerge. Because lithops requires so little water, they make excellent house plants. Yellow or white, daisy-like flowers sometimes appear in summer.
How to grow lithops
Grow lithops in a very free-draining compost such as a cactus compost in a bright, sunny, dry spot such as a south- or east-facing windowsill. Water very sparingly – much less than other succulents. Don’t water at all from October until after the old pair of leaves has completely withered away, often not until the following May. Then avoid watering again during the dormant period in summer.
More on growing lithops and other succulents:
Find detailed advice on growing lithops, below.
Where to plant lithops
Lithops need a sunny spot – aim for around five hours of direct sun per day, so a south- or east-facing windowsill is ideal. Bear in mind that you may need to remove your lithops from your windowsill in winter if temperatures drop significantly.
How to plant lithops
If you buy lithops online you may find that they’re delivered bare-root and you need to plant them yourself. Lithops need very free-draining compost, such as a cactus compost. Choose a terracotta pot, which is more porus than plastic or glazed pots, so the compost dries out quickly. Plant them singly or in groups.
You can propagate lithops by division or seed, although both options take a long time. To divide lithops you need to wait several years for the plants to develop into a cluster. Carefully remove the plant from its pot and cut through the roots, ensuring each part of the plant still has a viable taproot. Repot each division into a pot deep enough for the taproot to grow without being squished.
To grow lithops from seed, prepare a pot with free-draining cactus compost and additional grit. Water the compost and allow to drain. Sprinkle lithops seeds over the surface and cover with a fine layer of sand or vermiculite. Keep slightly moist until germination occurs, and then gradually reduce watering.
How to water lithops
Lithops have a very particular growing cycle and therefore need watering in a very particular way. This may seem daunting at first but, once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s easy.
The main consideration when watering lithops is the growth of the new leaves. Lithops develop new leaves each year, which emerge from the fissure between the two older leaves, which then gradually shrivel away (pictured). The watering regime is based around the growth of these new leaves. If you water too soon after the new leaves have emerged, the old leaves might not shrivel away properly.
Unlike other succulents, lithops start into growth in autumn. In the wild, this coincides with seasonal rains, so it’s a good idea to give your lithops a good watering during this time (early September). It’s around this time that flowers start to appear – look out for the fissure opening and a bud growing out. Lithops need to be at least three years old to flower.
Lithops continue growing through winter and into spring, with the new pair of leaves growing inside the old. However it’s important to not water in winter. The new pair of leaves actually grows by drawing water from the old pair, so the soil should be very dry.
In spring, the old leaves shrivel away and the new leaves are exposed. Start watering again when the old pair of leaves has completely shrivelled. Water a little at a time, allowing the compost to dry out between waterings.
Lithops go dormant in summer, typically during the most extreme heat of their native southern African environment. Avoid watering them during this time, then give them a good drink in early September, when growth starts again.
Growing lithops: problem solving
Overwatering, or watering at the wrong time of year, is the main problem when growing lithops. A lack of light can also cause the plants to lose their markings. In greenhouses and conservatories, red spider mite can be a problem.