So what are Lithops? Are they plants? Are they little alien butts? brains? The jury is still out but for this post we will stick with plants. Crazy one of a kind plants but plants...... I think.
One thing is for sure though. There is a lot of conflicting info out on the web about their care, and they tend to be difficult to keep alive for most. However once you truly understand these amazing beings and their lifecycle they can be one of the easiest succulents to care for.
So OK here we go. I hope you find information you need here. I also hope you find useless information that is beyond what you ever even wanted to know.
Naturally Lithops occur across Namibia and South Africa. They live in very dry areas where they mimic the rocks to protect themselves from animals that would love to eat them for their moisture content. This also makes it hard to research them in their native environment, because even researchers have a hard time finding them they hide so well. It is so dry in their native areas the entire plant is devoted to storing water for drought periods. They can last for months in the desert heat without water because of this.
OK, so to recap so far. They like dry, hot, sunny locations in the wild. This, should help us fine tune their care some.
At a minimum they need 5 hours of direct sunlight daily. More is optimal though. We keep them in all day sun in the Arizona desert under 40% shade cloth. Do not put them directly into it though when you bring them home. Your lighting conditions may be different then the place you brought them home from, Or they may have been in complete darkness for a few days being shipped to you. Gradually acclimate them to your lighting situation so you don't burn them. If they are not getting enough light they will etoliate. This means they will grow slender and tall, sometimes leaning on their side towards the sun. They will also start to turn green and lose coloration. If this is not corrected quickly your poor little butt will surely die.
Watering is probably some of the most contested information out there. I have heard everything from only water once or twice a year to water just like other succulents. As you will see neither of those are correct. They have a very distinct yearly cycle of growth. It is important to monitor which stage they are at in that cycle because that is how you know when to water them.
Lithops are perennial plants and shed their old leaves and grow new leaves every year. Their coloration and marking do not usually change much if at all during this process. Once the old leaves are shed and dry is when you want to start watering for the year. This happens in the spring. Start with a light watering working up to full drenchings. You definitely want to get several good drenches in during the spring growing time.
ALWAYS MAKING SURE THE SOIL IS COMPLETELY DRY BETWEEN WATERINGS!!!!!
As the heat and summer start getting full swing you want to stop watering. However if you see some prominent wrinkles forming you can give very light waterings to keep them smooth. They are dormant in the summer in order to conserve their water supplies. In the wild they shrink and will even shrink under the surface. During this time depending on your climate they need little to no water.
In the fall around August or September they will start coming out of their summer dormancy. This is seen best in older plants because this is when the leaves will separate and it will start shooting a flower bud from in between them. Flowers are usually white or yellow. Plants must be 3-5 years old before they flower. In the wild this flowering occurs just after the seasonal rains do. So around mid to end of August give them a thorough watering and this will help start their growing season. Make sure once again that the soil dries completely between waterings. The soil needs to be fast draining and fast drying, but more on that later. Water through till the end of September, beginning of October if in an arid area like Phoenix AZ. During this time decrease amount of waterings though in preparation for winter. Pretty much watering until the flower bud dies. You are going to want a completely dry soil going into the winter months!
Winter is here and once again time for bone dry soil! They will still grow and actually do a lot of growing during the winter months. DO NOT WATER AT ALL IN THE WINTER!!! No matter how wrinkled the plants become. This is the time the old leaves will begin to shrivel as they are feeding the new leaves growing inside. DO NOT removed the shriveled old leaves as these are what are feeding the new growth! Also, make sure during this time that they stay above 40 degrees F! The plant will continue to eat its outer leaves through the winter until they are paper thin and crispy. Once they are at this point they are easily removed an it is spring and time to start watering again.
This is their yearly cycle in a nut shell and one of the most critical things to learn about lithops care. Now this is generalized and as there are 37 species and 140+ different varieties this timeline can change a little here and there but not by much.
Even in the driest climates, watering once to twice a month at the most during the watering cycles is the norm. If you can handle that and give them tons of light You have mastered Lithops!
As for potting Lithops can stay in smaller pots for years but it is recommended to use pots at least 3-5 inches deep as they form a decent sized tap root.
ALSO, MAKE SURE IT HAS DRAIN HOLES!!!
They like a really heavy mineral content in their soil. We recommend 80% pumice and 20% cactus soil in the pot to the base of the plant then course sand, gravel, rocks, or pumice up to about 2/3 of the plant. They do really well planted in groups.
As with any plant every environment is different and what works for one person one place will not work for another person elsewhere. You have to learn to communicate with your plants and see their signals as to what they need. For example wrinkling in summer can get a little water to smooth it out however if you water for wrinkling in the winter you will surely rot your plant quick. Also, in different areas Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter can be different time frames, so you have to take these generalizations and use them to fit your environment.
Good luck, and as always if you have any questions please let us know.