Splitting Lithops? (The Cause, Dos, and Don’ts!)
The lithops, also commonly known as the living stone plant, is beloved among many plant and succulent owners. Its unique process of splitting may be weird, but should it be done manually by the plant owner?
Splitting is the lithops’ natural way of producing new leaves and replacing old growth after blooming. Avoid manually splitting healthy lithops, as this will damage the baby lithops and most likely lead to its death. A viable way of propagating lithops is to divide established clusters and plant the individual leaves in new pots.
Many people are enamored by the living stone plant. While splitting is common in lithops, are there any reasons why you shouldn’t manipulate it? Here is why your lithops is splitting and why you shouldn’t forcibly split the plant!
Why Do Lithops Split?
The process of splitting allows the inner leaves of lithops to develop. Over time, new growth will emerge through the center of the split and replace the older leaves.
The thought of watching a plant split open might sound intimidating. But splitting is natural for this succulent.It’s also how lithops grow new leaves!
Lithops is one of the most popular plants to have taken up mimicry. After many eons, lithops succulents have evolved to mimic their typical stony environments. As a result, the lithops do not sprout new leaves in the same fashion as other plants.
Instead, the lithops become dormant after blooming and begin growing a new set of leaves! This growth is internal and is the reason they split.
To grow, new lithops leaves inside will draw moisture from the older bulbous leaves. These older leaves will split to allow new growth to emerge.
Once the young leaves have absorbed all the moisture and nutrients needed for development, they will slowly push their way up.
Then, their first pair of succulent leaves will shrivel up and die in the process, replaced by the leaves. While it sounds mildly terrifying without context, this process is completely normal.
How to Tell When Lithops are Splitting (With Care Tips!)
Gardeners can identify if a lithops is splitting when it blooms and starts to open in the center. Splitting lithops do not need water and must be left alone to allow new growth to emerge. Shield the lithops from frosts below 40°F.
Knowing when lithops, or living stones, are ready to split is crucial in properly caring for such a plant.
A sure-fire way to tell if a lithops is ready to split is when it has pushed out a daisy-like flower. Shortly after these flowers bloom, the lithops will go dormant.
Most lithops plants contain a fissure or a narrow gap in the center of their leaves. Once this gap or line starts to open and reveal new growth, this is a sign the plant has begun splitting.
It can take 30–60 days for the lithops to split and for the new leaves to finish developing. The original leaves will become soft and eventually turn dry. This is normal!
As it is splitting, do not water it at all. Watering the lithops while it is splitting will force the older leaves to take in more water and potentially choke the baby leaves inside.
This could ruin the lithops cycle of leaf production and ultimately harm the plant. So leave the lithops alone during this time!
Additionally, it’s common for lithops to continue splitting in the winter. These succulents are not frost-hardy and need protection from temperatures lower than 40°F (5°C).
Read this article to find out, “Can Cacti Survive The Cold?”
Can Splitting Lithops Multiply?
Lithops can sometimes split and produce two sets of leaves instead of one. However, it is neither ideal nor possible to manually split lithops to multiply them. The best way to propagate new living stone plants is through division.
You might be wondering, can you multiply this succulent by splitting it or use its splitting process to help you make more lithops? The answer is a bit tricky.
Splitting is how lithops naturally produce leaves and generate new plants; this is true.
At times, when a lithops splits, it will produce not just one set of new succulent leaves but two—multiplying the number of lithops you originally had.
However, it’s important to say that splitting is not something that can be manipulated or done manually by the plant owner. I will discuss the risks of manually or physically splitting lithops more in-depth later in the article, so continue reading!
But don’t worry! There is indeed a way to multiply your collection of lithops after it splits. This process is less harmful than manually splitting lithops and is called division, where a lithops with multiple clusters is divided into new plants.
Why You Shouldn’t Manually Split Lithops
Manually or physically splitting open lithops will damage the plant. Unless the new lithops is stuck, the plant must be left to split naturally. Healthy lithops that are manually split and prematurely exposed will be wounded and will eventually die.
There was a time when it was popular for plant owners on social media to manually split open their lithops to reveal the new growth within and plant them separately. People who asked why they should split their lithops and were told that it speeds up the process.
While this might seem appealing to those who do not want to wait several months for new lithops to grow, this method is extremely damaging.
Splitting lithops manually is harmful not only to the original lithops but to the new leaves. The new growth must be allowed to absorb the nutrients from the older pair of leaves.
To add to this, many of the lithops sold nowadays are young and are often only 5 cm wide, and may not even contain any new leaves yet!
Ripping open and splitting up healthy leaves goes against the plants’ natural cycle. Doing so will deprive baby lithops of all the nutrients and water it needs!
There are some instances where older lithops leaves do not completely dry off and must be removed, but this is quite rare. One of the major issues with manually splitting healthy lithops is that it will also open wounds on the new plant.
As a result, the new lithops will not grow any bigger than the previous plant and are much more likely to die. Lithops should never be manually split unless there is an absolute need, like when the new growth gets stuck between the older leaves.
Therefore, it seems that the safest way of multiplying and creating new lithops plants is by division.
How to Divide Lithops (5 Steps for Propagation)
- Select a 5 year old lithops with multiple clusters
- Cut or break individual lithops leaves off the main root
- Ensure each of the cuttings have a healthy root system
- Plant the new lithops in separate pots
- Water the lithops cuttings after 2 weeks
Aside from growing lithops by seed, it’s common for plant owners to divide their lithops to have more plants.
Propagation can only be done on established 5-year old lithops with several heads, as younger plants may be killed once they are divided.
If you happen to own a three-leaf lithops, or trithops, you’ll definitely have to wait until it has matured to prevent this rare plant from dying.
Many cacti and succulents nowadays are illegally harvested. So this method of dividing lithops is a safe and easy way to get more lithops without buying new ones—which could have been harvested through illegal means.
To multiply and propagate a lithops by division, remove the plant from its pot. Using your fingers, gently massage the grit or substrate away from the roots.
Lithops grow best in a gritty mixture. Read our article to learn what makes up cactus soil.
Carefully separate each set or individual pair of leaves away from the main root. The flesh of the lithops leaves should never be exposed or torn during this process.
Use a knife to cut the individual leaves away from the main root or gently break it off with your hands. Ensure the leaves have a healthy root system attached.
After you have divided the leaves, you can plant the new lithops into separate pots!
These terracotta pots come in a set of 3 and can be used to hold multiple lithops.
These pots are also perfect for aloe vera. Check out this article on The 3 Best Pots For Aloe Vera!
Leave the lithops cuttings where they can receive 6 hours of direct sun. Water them thoroughly after a couple of weeks have passed. This will help them develop roots without shocking them, and soon you’ll have another healthy collection of lithops!
Can I repot lithops while it is splitting?
It is possible to repot lithops while it is splitting. Carefully dislodge the dirt from their roots and place the lithops in a new pot with grit. Healthy root systems should appear fuzzy and remain firmly intact. If the roots are damaged or if there are very few roots available, water the succulent to encourage more root growth.
How often do lithops split?
Given proper care, the lithops should continue to split and grow new leaves once every year after they have matured. This splitting process is normal and is how lithops plants typically reproduce.
Do lithops spread?
Lithops plants have very slow growth rates and do not spread out much. Lithops can grow numerous offsets, but it can take years for lithops to form a cluster. It is common for plant owners to keep more than 10 lithops in a pot to create a fuller-looking plant.
Summary of Splitting Lithops
Rather than grow leaves on stems, lithops have evolved to grow their leaves internally to maintain their stony appearance. To make way for the new growth, old lithops leaves gradually split open to allow the new leaves to emerge.
Avoid watering the plant and disturbing the splitting process. While interference may be needed if the new leaves are stuck, forcibly tearing open healthy lithops leaves can damage and kill the tender leaves. Mature lithops at least 5 years of age can be safely propagated by dividing the leaves and planting them separately.
- “Living Stones: Lithops” by Susan Mahr at University of Wisconsin
- “Lithops” by Dr. Leonard Perry at University of Vermon
- “Dakota Gardener: Living stones” by Carrie Knutson in North Dakota State University