LITHOPS IN CULTIVATION
Lithops make an ideal plant for the collector. Their small size and slow, compact growth
means that an impressive collection can be grown in a relatively small area.
Although, when conditions are favourable they do produce flowers, the fascination and
interest provided by lithops comes from the considerable variation in the patterns and
colours of the plant bodies.
About 200 varieties and cultivars are presently known. Some varieties can exhibit
considerable variance within themselves, so along with hybrids that are often available
the amount of different plants for the collector is almost limitless.
A COLLECTOR'S PLANT
GROWING INSTRUCTIONS
When growing lithops it is wise to always bear in mind the conditions of heat and drought
under which they grow in the wild. It is also important to accept that they are very slow
growing and can often take several years to achieve adult proportions. Nearly all problems
occur as a result of overwatering and poor ventilation especially when weather
conditions are dull and cool or very humid.
They require the maximum amount of light you are able to give them. The ideal
growing situation is a south facing greenhouse (vice versa in the southern hemisphere).
Failing this a south facing conservatory or windowsill should be adequate. If the plants don't
get sufficient light they will grow tall and lose their compact, stone-like appearance. They
will also be weaker and far more likely to succumb to overwatering. Lithops can tolerate very
high temperatures as long as there is plenty of fresh air. They do not survive for long in
stagnant conditions. If these criteria can be met then it should be possible to maintain a
healthy collection of lithops for many years.
Any watering of the plants should have stopped before frosts begin to occur. Lithops should
be left totally dry throughout winter and spring. During this period the plant will generate
a new body (or pair of bodies). The new body will consume the moisture and nutrients of the
previous body as it completes its growth.
This process should be visible by early spring. Throughout the winter and spring keep the
plants cool but avoid freezing. Watering can commence once the remains of the old plant
body are shrivelled and drying. This can be any time during May to July depending on variety.
When watering soak the compost fully. The remains of the old bodies and any flower
stems can be carefully removed when they have become thoroughly dry....small scissors
and tweezers are useful for this.
The soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. (If you are in doubt as to
whether a pot has dried or not it can be checked with a long probe water meter or a less
technical method is to push a dry wooden cocktail stick down into the pot....if it comes
out with no sign of particles sticking to it then you can be fairly secure the pot has dried).
Obviously the size of the pot is a variable where this is concerned but as long as the plant
body remains firm looking with no signs of wrinkling then resist the temptation to overwater.
Make this judgement on cooler days as during very hot and sunny periods most plants will
have a tendency to wrinkle especially if they are in a greenhouse. If in doubt....don't is the
rule. Watering lithops is something of a balancing act....too little and the plants become
stunted....too much and they rot or, at best, they start making new bodies at the wrong
time of year (if this happens stop watering until the first body has been consumed by the
new). After a year or two you will get to know how the plants behave in your particular
situation......experience is the best teacher.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that a healthy, mature plant will easily survive 2 years without
any water whatsoever in the northern European climate....Not to be recommended but it
shows how minimal their water requirements are.
.
Any general purpose compost with some added grit to help drainage is suitable or any of
the propriety cactus composts is ideal. An occasional feed as for houseplants is
permissable but don't over do it, lithops require little in the way of nutrients.
If the plants are being grown in a greenhouse a couple of points worth mentioning are that during
spring and summer it is wise to give the plants some shading to minimise the chance of scorching.
The plants are especially vunerable to this when the bodies are new or if they are suddenly
introduced to strong light after a period of being in the shade. Such shading only needs to diffuse
the light....a lace curtain gives adequate protection. Another point that this author has found to his
cost is that snails and mice LOVE lithops so keep out intruders
.
The flowering of the plants is related to the amount of light they receive during the spring and
summer months. When growing them in relatively dull climates don't be too disappointed if
flowers don't occur when sunny days have been infrequent throughout that period.
NOTE: These instructions are for the UK and similar climates
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L.gesineae producing a new plant
body. The remains of the previous
year's flower is evident.
L.pseudotruncatella v.elisabethiae