Overwatered Lithops: Signs And Step By Step Solution

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Lithops are small, stone-like cacti in Southern Africa that grow well in dry, rocky, sandy habitats with very little water.

In their native habitats in Namibia and South Africa, Lithops have evolved to blend in so well with their surroundings – looking just like the sand and stones they live among in shape, size, and color – that they can be quite difficult to spot even for those with a trained eye and years of experience. 

Overwatered LithopsPin

In some areas, the “stone plant flower” survive on only mist and fog. In others, they do well with less than four inches of rain annually and in sharply draining rocky soil. 

Living stones are naturally found in arid, rocky areas and will rarely grow taller than an inch above the soil. 

These plants’ natural tendencies make it easy to overwater them when keeping them as houseplants.

Lithops, also referred to as pebble plants, are succulents that grow extremely slowly and rarely get more than 1 inch above the soil.

The optimal growing medium for Lithops is one heavy with perlite, coarse sand, gravel, pumice, and/or lava rocks. 

This is the most important part of Lithops care – and the one that most people get wrong. By the time succulent enthusiasts acquire their first split rocks, they’ve probably been growing for a while.  

One of the most critical things to understand when it comes to caring for lithops is their growth cycle. In their native climate, lithops have two periods of dormancy.  

Lithops develop new pair of leaves every year. They only have one pair of leaves at a time, so the old leaves will die for the new ones to emerge.  

 Most Lithops flower during autumn and early winter, producing daisy-like yellow, pale orange, or white flowers with many petals.  

When this happens, follow these steps to (possibly) save your lithops:

  • Take your lithops out of their current pot.
  • Examine the roots carefully and prune away damaged roots with a sharp, sterile tool.
  • Rinse the roots thoroughly with lukewarm, running water.
  • Pat the roots dry with a soft cotton cloth or paper towel.
  • Allow the plant to air and dry for a few hours.
  • Give the roots a fungicide treatment.
  • Repot the plant into a new or sterilized, shallow terra cotta container with fresh, light, airy soil intended for cacti.
  • Withhold water, and review your watering habits.
  • Then, formulate a plan that will not threaten your lithops in the future.

How Do You Know Your Lithops Are Overwatered?

If your lithops has become wrinkled, mushy, or yellow, it’s a sure sign of overwatering.

Your plant may also develop mottled brown, blister-like spots known as edema. New leaves overfilled with water may also burst.

Stretching and growing tall is another sign of overwatering for this naturally short, stout cactus. Overwatered lithops may also split apart to get more air exposure.

Again, overwatering Lithops can lead it to attract pests like Spider mites, thrips, scale insects, mealybugs, aphids, snails, slugs, and root-knot nematodes.

Lithops seeds over the surface and cover with a thin fine layer of sand. Keep this layer lightly moist until germination occurs, then gradually reduce watering.

Drowned Lithops Roots Will Rot

Soggy soil causes root rot, which is almost always the kiss of death in these and most plants.

If your plants’ soil is waterlogged, do the following:

  • First, scrutinize the roots. Then, prune away any that are brown, mushy, and rotten.
  • Clean the remaining roots and give them a fungicide treatment.
  • Allow the plant to air and dry for several hours before repotting it as described above.

There may be very few or no, roots remaining. If this is the case, don’t despair.

Like most cacti, lithops develop new roots when placed in a conducive environment.

Place the plant lightly in a new substrate and handle it carefully.

TIP: If the plant is mature with two or more segments (offsets), you can separate those offsets and pot them up independently. This will give you more opportunities for success.

What Should You Do?

Soggy soil is another sign of overwatering and poor soil/container choice. The soil you use to pot lithops and other cacti should be well-draining and unable to retain much water.

Since Lithops can store water for months in their leaves, watering this plant at the wrong time in its growth cycle can lead to its demise.

Choose the correct container. Your container should have ample drainage holes in the bottom. The best material for any cactus container is breathable terra cotta.

Don’t over-pot. Lithops do not need a deep container because they have very shallow roots.

Your container should be relatively shallow and wide, allowing quite a bit of soil surface area to provide good air circulation to the roots.

Create A Successful Lithops Watering Schedule

Keep in mind that, for lithops, the growing season is late summer through early fall. This is when you water them, and you should use a strict soak and dry watering routine.

Here are the following tips to remember:

  • Wait until you see that the plant is looking a bit thirsty. Then, it will have a slightly wrinkled top.
  • Water from below using filtered, bottled, or rainwater.
  • Set the plant into a water container for 15 to 20 minutes to give it a chance to get a good drink.
  • Next, remove it from the water and allow all excess moisture to drain off.
  • Set a timer so you don’t forget and accidentally leave it standing in the water.

Do not water when your plant is going through the healthy process of splitting. This is different from splitting caused by overwatering.

After your plant flowers, they will become dormant and begin developing a new body that emerges between the existing or old leaves, causing them to split.

The new, larger plant then absorbs the old, spent leaves.

A good rule of thumb is not to water after the plant starts to bloom and not to water in the winter or the springtime.

If you keep your lithops outdoors during its growing season, you should shelter them from excessive rain.

Why Not Water From Above?

You risk getting water caught in the plant’s crevices when you top-water. This can lead to fungal growth and rot.

How To Keep Lithops As A Houseplant?

In a home environment, you would strive to provide consistent warmth. Therefore, a consistently comfortable temperature for you should be comfortable for your lithops.

Lithops flowers open early on sunny days and then close later in the day. If you have a cluster of Lithops, the blooming flower formation can cover the whole plant, hiding the small stone-like parts beneath them. 

These desert plants need 4 to 5 hours of direct sunlight and partial shade during the afternoon. So turn the plant regularly to prevent it from growing lopsided.

Note that if you keep your lithops in a sunny window, you must ensure it doesn’t get too cold in the early winter.

If a succulent plant does not receive enough sunlight, it will begin to grow slender and elongated, lean to one side to receive more light, lose coloration and turn greenish, and will eventually die if better conditions are not provided.

You may need to move it out of the window and supplement it with artificial light.

Here are some tips to follow:

  • Keep your lithops in a fairly shallow (3 ” to 5″ inches) natural terra cotta container with good drainage.
  • Use a gravelly soil mixture.
  • Water, as described above, every couple of weeks (more or less) only during the growing season.
  • During the dormant season, mist no more than once a week.
  • Fertilize very lightly during the growing season or not at all. These lithops plants are well adapted to lean conditions.
  • If you do use fertilizer, it should be high in potassium.

You needn’t worry about annual repotting. These living stone plants only need repotting every 5 or 10 years.

To plant lithops seeds, use a cactus-specific potting mix. Cover the seeds very lightly with a layer of sand and keep them moist by misting, often using a pump-style mister. The soil surface should not be allowed to dry out. 

Once you have a healthy cluster of Lithops, you can begin to propagate. Propagation is done by division. Propagation should be done in the spring when the plant is actively growing.

You’ve Got A Friend For Life In Lithops

Slow-growing, rugged lithops are very long-lived. Provide the care described above, and you can expect your plant to live for half a century and produce offspring.

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