Growing Lithops- What do do after you receive a lithops plant in the mail (or at the market!)
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
First of all, I hope you got your lithops in the mail from my Etsy shop, Noteworthy plants. And if you did, I hope they arrived safely and quickly. If not, have no fear, because you can correct that mistake in the future and shop at my store! :).
When you unpack your lithops, the lithops may appear dry and wrinkled. THIS IS NORMAL. This appearance is due to the drying process that I have to do before I ship them to you. This process is necessary to prevent rot and other problems while shipping. It also shuts down the plants metabolism so the lithops doesn't "freak out" due to the lack of light in the box.
It's a slightly different situation if you bought the Pick you Pot listing, or bought a potted lithops from the city market. Its even easier. You will have fewer issues with drying out. I recommend carefully unpacking them, and allowing them to sit and acclimate to their new home for. You may have to tidy up any loose dirt, and straighten out any lithops made crooked from shipping. Watering will vary depending on what stage they are in. When actively growing (not winter), after a week or so in their new home, give them a few gentle sprays with water. Allow that to completely dry before thinking about watering again, and judge their response. Increase or decrease the amount of water you use next time. I prefer to use a spray canister most of the time for optimum control. You may consider repotting after a few months. You can use some of the tips below to help with repotting.
If you bought the plants bare-root, here are some tips on how to deal with possible situations.
So, you want your lithops to look nice and plump as quickly as possible? I can help, but it will require patience. There are a few simple rules you follow, and you will have your own plump and healthy lithops collection.
The images below show a set of horribly wrinkled lithops, both on the top and the sides. These are worse than you should ever receive in the mail, at least from me, so if I can get these guys to recover, you should be able to get your lithops to recover too. I chose lithops representing the worst-case scenario. After 10 days in the soil with the following method, and they are starting to show some good signs. by day 13, the lithops are almost completely rehydrated.
Day 1 Day 10
Day 13 Day 17
Potting your new lithops
Good Lithops substrate (aka soil) is the key to success. Check out my page on soil mixes, but the key for mature lithops is ~40% organic, ~ 50% rough grit, and 10% heterogeneous sand.
Prepare a pot, terra cotta works well, because it allows the soil to dry faster- if that will be an issue for you. Plastic and glazed pots work well too. I can snugly fit a 10 pack of small 1cm (<0.5 in) , or 3 - 4 larger lithops (2.5 - 3.5 cm (1 - 1.5 in)), in a 2.5" wide pot that is 3.5" deep. Giving them more room to expand and grow is good.
Fill your pot with you lithops soil, poke a conical hole, about as deep as the lithops root is long with a pen or pencil. Then gently straighten out the lithops roots, and feed them down so they reach as far down as possible (not all scrunched up on the surface). Some others will have smaller roots, which will grow a new root set quickly.
Note: If your soil is quite dry and loose, it will be difficult to make a hole of any appreciable depth, before it caves in. Thus, this can pose a challenge to planting larger lithops with longer root. The solution is, use a spray bottle to spray only like 2-3 sprays over the surface of the soil in the pot that you are prepared to plant in. The light moisture at the surface holds the soil back and prevents cave-ins.
Some people prefer to plant one per small pot, others prefer to plant them all grouped together in arrangements. The latter is actually more similar to how they grow in nature, and some lithops growers think the lithops grow "better" when crowded together with other lithops. It is thought to be some sort of mutualism.
After potting the lithops in dry soil, WAIT. Wait for at least 2 days before you water them, and water them lightly. There is no rush to provide moisture. The first watering can be done with a couple squirts of a spray bottle around the base of each lithops. This is to allow any wounds that may have occurred during shipping or while you were planting it to heal.
TIP Summary: A fresh wound on a lithops + water = dead lithops.
Note. In winter, lithops are essentially dormant. So if you receive lithops in the winter, they only need a small amount of water, and really only if they are quite wrinkled. In this case, just give them a small amount of water (squirt bottle or spray bottle) around the base of the lithops plant.
After 2 days, give them a some water. A couple squirts with a spray bottle at the base of each lithops will do at first. A paranoid lithops grower might use cooled boiled water (I would, lol), but this is probably not necessary. Any water should work. Always allow the soil to completely dry before watering again. Poke your finger down in there to feel for moisture, and look for the color change of the soil associated with moisture, and/or feel the weight of the pot to tell if it is dry.
They will usually plump up in a couple days after waiting, but some may take a bit longer, 2-3 weeks, to grow a new root set before they plump up. If you have a badly damaged root system, there is a method called "water therapy" that can fix that problem quickly! I will be elaborating more on this method in the future.
General care: The three keys of lithops growing- You want to start with good soil, bright light, and low humidity with some air movement. If all of these are optimized, it makes overwatering quite difficult.
Soil: There is a whole section of this blog devoted to soil recipes and soil discussion! I also have hand-mixed personally optimized soil mix available at my Etsy store.
Light: A good south-facing window will work. East or west, you may need to supplement with light. North facing window- don't bother. Might as well stick it in the interior of your home with a led light for growth. The light requirements can be hard to translate between setups, but I find~20 watts of LEDs per foot of growing area sufficient.
Air: Try to keep these in a place with low humidity. Some indirect air movement will help with this.
Splitting is a key phase of the lithops growth cycle but is also the most difficult stage for most new lithops growers. At this stage, your lithops will start to wrinkle, and even appear to be dying, no matter how much water you give it. Well, if you gave it alot of water it will die. But, if you correctly recognized it as splitting, and kept the soil as dry as possible, a new set of leaves will emerge out of the middle of the decaying leaves! These new leaves will recycle the water and nutrients from the previous years set of leaves to grow the new ones. This is why they don't need water. And if they are over watered at this stage, it may result in "stacking", which is an undesirable form of lithops, where previous years leaves remain and build up, stacking on top of one another.
TIP Summary: A splitting lithops + water = dead lithops.
Note. I always try to ship you lithops that are not currently splitting. BUT, I have found that sometimes the shipping process can induce splitting, so they might start showing signs of spitting after I had initially picked them out.
Flowering can occur as early as year 2, but typically occurs after year 3. Treat them as actively growing lithops, and give them water as normal. If you have more than one blooming at one time, you can use a paintbrush to rub the stamens of each plant to transfer the pollen between them! Do this every day while the flower is open, and in a few months you will see a seed pod! You can harvest these pods for seeds!