Sorry for the humor, but seriously if you don't fall in love after holding a plump lithop in your hand then there is something wrong with you. If you have found this blog you are probably familiar with lithops and are wondering, "How do I care for these little guys?" Well, they can be tricky.
Let's break it down a bit. Lithops are often referred to as 'living stones.' While your lithops make look like they are just sitting in some soil, as innocuous as a rock, they are most likely very active under that fleshy exterior. Lithops go through active growth cycles, just as any other plant. They are just secretive about it.
This time of year lithops are growing a new pair of 'leaves' for the upcoming spring months inside the plant itself. Your lithops have already stored the energy and water they need to do this -- think of it like a bear in the winter. They go into a cave and hibernate. They do not need to come out much until spring because they did the bulk of their hunting in the fall. Your lithop will start this process looking fabulous, plump and healthy. It may very well look like it is dying in the weeks and months moving forward. It is imperative that you do not water, even if you desperately want to. Your plant knows what is doing. Trust it. They have been doing this for years.
During this time your lithops will start to split open. It is a super exciting time for plant nerds, like myself. You will get to see what your plant has been doing for all those months. Continue to let the plant do its thing until those old leaves dry out and shrivel up. Do not water heavily until those old leaves have completely been consumed by the 'new' plant.
After that it will enter an active growing phase (one you can see this time) and then it needs your help with waterings, bright filtered light and consistent temperatures.
She will thank you with one small flower in the fall (but you will get to enjoy it for about three to four days, opening in early afternoon and closing again in the evenings). Some extreme plant connoisseurs swear they detect a hint of spice to the aroma of mature mesembs blooms, my nose has not detected such a spice, however it is very possible that I was chewing gum when I gave mine the sniff test.
After flowering the entire process will repeat itself.
If you purchased your plant in the US here is a little time table to help you:
December through March: No water. Your lithops have stored the energy they need to do what they do best without your help. Decrease the temperature, if you can, to mimic the natural environment. Protect from extreme cold, nothing below 40 degrees.
April: Start the watering cycle with very infrequent light mistings. This should be extremely light, just enough for them to get a taste of humidity in the air. You are waking them up.
May: Begin light watering with extreme caution. I literally use a curved tip syringe to prevent any water from entering those fissures. Watch for the new leaves to emerge and the old leaves to die off.
**You may see commercially bought lithops splitting earlier than May. This is because the temperature was warmer in the greenhouse where they were kept. You will want to follow this schedule next year in your cultivation, but if you have a splitting lithop in winter months you will need to watch your plant and follow the instructions for care based on what it is doing, not the month we are currently in. This also applies if you have imported your lithops, they will be on a different schedule because of different climates.
June through October: Water as needed. Water deeply, but make sure your substrate dries out quickly. A soil mix of heavy pumice and course grounds are preferred. Watering should be somewhat infrequent, you will want to watch your lithops and look for fine wrinkles along the surface, when you see those it is time to water again. They will also enjoy a light misting in the evening following a particularly hot summer day.
November: Stop watering as soon as your lithop has bloomed. If the plant is in bloom remember to exercise extreme caution and care concerning how the water is delivered. You never want water to seep into the internal parts of the plant or you will experience rapid rot. After bloom reduce the temperature to trigger its 'dormant' period, which is absolutely an absurd word to use as your plant is actively growing from the inside.
Lithops are incredibly fascinating and rewarding plants to grow. I saw pictures and I used to think they were hideous, ugly little things. So I bought one, just one, to see what all the hype was about. Then I bought like a hundred more (the picture above is part of my collection). They are addictive and wonderful little living stones. Best of luck to you, and if you have any comments/insights please feel free to share.