To make the most out of you very small and expensive lithops and other succulent/cacti seeds, it is necessary to have control over seed placement. Just dumping your bag of seeds onto some soil will result in uneven distribution, with and clumps of seedlings that compete with each other, causing stress and slower growth. This is not ideal.
What you need and for what
The small seed handling kit available at my etsy store has every thing you need.
Contents (all pre-sterilized by autoclave):
12 small white polypropylene weigh boats
24 wooden toothpicks
2 Borsillicate glass 10 x 75mm culture tubes
10 0.6ml microcentrifuge tubes
10 Plant Labels
1 square 9 x 9 cm petri dish
The kit components are sterilized by autoclave 30 minutes. This type of sterilization will kill endospores, which are a form of bacteria or fungus that can resist most other sterilization techniques. This helps to avoid fungal and algae growth that can compete with you seedling and result in failure.
I use the 12 cell seed starting trays with a clear dome (available on amazon) is an ideal way to start you seeds.
Prepare soil and planter
Clean your workspace with 70% isopropyl. Avoid working under air currents and fans. I wear nitrile gloves to avoid contamination from my own hands. All water used from the start until the dome can be removed (once your seedlings are big enough) should have been boiled, I use an electric tea kettle, and let it sit in the kettle until room temperature.
I fill the cells carefully and aseptically with microwaved seed starting soil as described elsewhere. I pat down each cells with a spoon, leaving about a 1 - 0.5 cm from the top. The spoon is strait out of the dishwasher that has a heat dry setting. Spray with pre-boiled H2O until thoroughly wetted. This is key, as the seeds wont stick to the soil and leave the toothpick if there isn't enough moisture.
Prepare and place seeds
Then I remove two toothpicks from the vial, and be careful to keep the end that was at the bottom of the tube from touching anything else. I place them on the edge of the table to keep them clean. I use one toothpick with my left hand to keep my place, and then use my right hand to pick up and place seeds.
Then, I use 2 small weight boats. I fill one with a bit of pre-boiled H2O. The 2nd is used to hold the seeds. I can pour seeds straight out the envelope or vial straight into the weight boat without touching.
When everything is ready, I dip the toothpick into the water with my right hand (the first time you may need to leave it in the water for a couple of seconds to get properly wetted. Give a flick with your wrist to flick off excess water from the toothpick.
Then I pick up one seed by gently touching it with the wet end of the toothpick. I then move it over and place it in one of the seed tray cells that you have marked with the toothpick on your left hand. I place them in rows/colums in a 2x2, 3x3, 3x4, 4x4, or 4x5, 6 x 6 (as shown below) depending on the type of seed and expected size and growth rate. Place any remaining seeds in sterile 0.6 or 1.5 ml sterile microcentrifuge tube for maximum protection. You can simply fold the corners of a weight boat together, forming a small "shute". Then place a vial underneath this "shute", and tap out the seeds safely into the vial without touching.
Do Not wear wool or other static generating clothing
Do spray down the surface of the soil with (boiled->cooled) H2O, if you are having trouble getting the seed to stick to the soil.
Finish it up
Be sure to label each set of seeds. If multiple types are growing the the same tray. Each label should contain the species name of the seeds, where you got them (vendor), date planted, how many you planted, what pattern, and how many cells. OPTIONAL: After all the seeds are placed, and all the cells are full, you can cover them with a thin ~1mm thick later of sterile (baked/autoclaved) medium grade construction sand with a sterile sand filled salt shaker. The salt shaker allows you to evenly place the sand. I have recently been getting good results without using sand. Then spray all the cells down with more boiled H2O to make sure everything is fulling wetted. Place the clear dome on, and place under lower intensity (read wavelength heavy) grow lights.
Over the next several weeks
Keep the lid on. No need to remove the lid for the first several weeks. Only remove the lid after you are pretty sure all the seeds have germinated that will germinate, and that the seedlings are strong and big enough. This will avoid contamination from the air of fungi, bacteria, or algae. Do this gradually, by removing the dome only for a couple of hours a day, and lengthening that time, until they are strong enough to grow without the humidity dome at all. After the dome is removed, I prefer to water them from the bottom, and let the soil get completely soaked.
The gird placement of the seeds allows for quick assessment of viability rate. For example, in the image below, the seeds were planted in a 4 x 4 pattern. The viability thus was 100% for this example, although some of the seedlings are weaker and may not make it (this is completely normal, and expect a few losses of seedlings over time).
8 months progress
8 months to 12 months later:
Hopefully, if all went well, you will have had a large number of lithops grow and thrive! Depending on the species, they should be mostly larger than 0.5 cm. This can vary greatly between species, as seed in the image directly above.
You will now need to move the lithops into a larger container. Deeper pots are preferable (i.e. 3.5in), but the minimum would be 2.5 inches. I usually use 2.5 inch trays to save on soil when planting larger numbers of lithops. They don't seem to mind and adapt. Fill your tray with the lithops soil I have described in my other blog posts.
I use a poker, that has a nice metal hand and a thin rod than ends in a dull point. Mine was originally from medical surplus tools (see image below). Something like a dental tool would work well, which fortunately are now available at most head shops (ask for "dab tool", I am told, lol).
Remove and prepare lithops: Start with dry soil. Simply poke down with your poker into the edge of the container cell, and start to pry up the soil. You can maybe pull it out in a chunk or two, or you might have to position the tool under an individual lithops to pry it up individually. If you have pulled out a chuck, separate out the individual lithops with you fingers, and discard the loose soil. Pull off any loose dangly roots (those won't survive and can invite rot). If the root is super long or tangled, I trim it with clean scissors to leave a 1-2 inch root. (See image below)
Plant lithops: Spray the surface of the soil with water to make it easier to poke and maintain holes. Use your poker, or preferably something a bit larger/wider, to make a hole wide enough to fit all the jutting out roots. Use your poker to shove and guide the root down the hole as you push down the lithops plant with you fingers. Do this all VERY gently, with clean hands and tools! Push it down until the lithops is approximately level with the soil. Don't overthink the positioning, just approximate a natural position (soil about halfway up the lithops leaves), and it will even out and contract/expand into a more proper position as it grows. Leave 1-2 cm in between lithops to allow for future growth!