Growing Lithops and Other Difficult Mesembs

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C And D
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Growing Lithops and Other Difficult Mesembs

Post by C And D »

I wrote this article for my club news letter (Orange County CSS) and thought I would post it here, Please comment.

Growing Lithops and Other Difficult Mesembs
By Craig Fry

Basics
Lithops and other mesembs are a highly desirable group of plants to grow, but the ease of killing them has discouraged many potential growers from enjoying the full spectrum of this group of plants. The name mesemb is short for the Sub Family Mesembryanthemaceae, basically Ice Plants, all of which are from South Africa.

Success in growing Lithops and other difficult mesembs is providing the right balance of light, moving air, water and soil. The plants require a little more attention than some. One must be knowledgeable of the seasonal growing cycle, how much water when; and what the plant should look like when it’s healthy during its yearly cycle.

Seasonal Growing Cycle
Knowledge of the plants seasonal growing cycle is mandatory in keeping mesembs alive and thriving. Basically there are two possible growing regimes; summer or winter growers. The plants in the summer growing group actually start growing (waking up) in mid spring, kind of slow down in mid summer, and then have a flourish of growth in early fall. Winter growers wake up in late summer to mid fall, grow quickly for awhile, slow down in mid winter, then have a flourish of growth in the spring.

The main concern is knowing the plants dormant season, summer growing mesembs don’t like being watered during their winter dormancy, and winter growing plants don’t like to be watered in the hot summer or being out in the full sun being cooked all summer long. But during the spring and fall almost any mesemb can be watered.

Below is a general breakdown of the summer and winter growing mesembs by genus.

Summer Growers;
• Lithops, Dinteranthus (1, 7a)
• Lapidaria, Argyroderma, Tanquana (7a)
• Pleiospolis (5, 6b)
• Faucaria, Schwantesia, Stomatium (6b)
• Frithia (4, 7a)
Winter Growers;
• Conophytum (2, 7a)
• Gibbaeum (3, 7b)
• Didymaotus, Muiria, Vanheerdea (4, 6a)
• Cheiridopsis, Cephalophylum, Antimima, Bijlia, Fenestraria (3, 7b)
• Aloinopsis, Nananthus, Titanopsis (4, 5, 6a)
• Mitrophyllum, Monilaria (3, 7b)
• Phylobolus, Sphalmanthus (3, 7b)

Key
1) new heads grow out of shrived dry remains of old leave pair in spring, general growth during summer, flowering in fall, dormant from mid fall to early spring while resources are transferred to new growth
2) flowering and new growth in fall, general growth during winter, going dormant in early spring.
3) A little watering in the fall wake the plants up for winter growth
4) consistent light watering except during dormancy, sensitive roots
5) needs extra water during growing season to maintain fat leaves or roots
6) Grows almost all year long
a) short dormancy during mid summer
b) short dormancy during mid winter
7) Do not water at all during (maybe a little once in awhile):
a) winter dormancy, still needs strong light
b) summer dormancy, provide shade, some misting every 14 days
Soil
Mesembs require a well draining soil, which means it dries out quickly. Basically the soil should contain a lot of pumice, perlite or sand. I use a lot of sand, which not everybody agrees with, but works for me. The sand should consist of many sizes of particles, from dust to 1/8”. The basic soil mix is ¼ soil mix to ¾ pumice and sand.

Light and Air
All mesembs require a lot of light and moving air (meaning not humid or stagnant air). High heat is not necessary, but a sunny exposure is required, some shading is recommended during the summer and heat waves. Best growth is provided by using a green house, but not necessary, provided that the dormant plants are brought in during the winter rains. Window sills work well.

Watering
All plants need plenty of water during their growing season, but difficult plants are difficult to grow because they are easy to kill, and most death is caused by too much water at the wrong time of year, or not enough water at the right time.

I water my Lithops and most other summer growers from April to October, usually every 6-14 days. Basically the plants soil should dry out between watering and the plants should be watched to see if they are too fat, or shrived. Wait a couple extra days between watering if the plants are too fat and possibly even cracking. The best schedule is wait until a little shriveling is seen, then water.

Winter growers like the same treatment, every 6-14 days, but from September to May. During the colder parts of the year, soil is slow to dry out, so lighter watering that only wets the top of the soil is good, so the soil isn’t soaked for weeks on end.

Use some diluted fertilizer during the growing season, but too much will cause the plants to get bloated and cause other problems.

Other Tips
• I’ve found that the best info I can suggest to other people trying to grow difficult mesembs is always be on the look out for root rot. If the plant doesn’t seem to be growing or is shriveled during its proper season, check for root rot. Test the roots by applying a small tug on the plant, if rotted, the plant easily detaches from the roots at the rotted area.
• Most mesembs can be easily re-rooted, usually its best to cut all the stem off, right up to the last active leave pair. Trying to re-root a clump is risky, its better to cut the clump up and re-root all the individual heads. Be careful not to cut the meristem, just above stem on Lithops and Conos. Dead meristem means dead plant.
• A heat wave in spring, or lack of water, or disturbing on roots on winter growing plants may induce early dormancy.
• A good time to transplant mesembs is before the growing season, then leave dry until the growing starts, and then water. Another tip, sprinkle seeds around in pots, some will grow!
• Don’t let the stems of the stem-less, sensitive plants bake in the sun, cover with sand or gravel as the stems grow out a little.
• Most of the shrubby mesembs, like Trichodiadema, Glottiophyllum, Jensenobotrya, Mestoklema, can handle water all year long, less in winter, a lot less water in winter for the tuberous rooted ones.
• The plants look best when grown natural, meaning grown hard with strong light, meager watering, and compact.

This guide for growing mesembs works for me, who lives in Southern California, one of the best growing climates in the world. Many differences in growing conditions will require varying these guidelines.
Last edited by C And D on Mon Oct 27, 2008 5:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by CoronaCactus »

Great article Craig!
Maybe now i'll have a few more survivors 8)
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Post by iann »

I think the main difficulty of growing mesembs is that nobody else can tell you how to do it :x This quote describes exactly what you need to do, especially the second sentence:
Success in growing Lithops and other difficult mesembs is providing the right balance of light, moving air, water and soil. The plants require a little more attention than some. One must be knowledgeable of the seasonal growing cycle, how much water when; and what the plant should look like when it’s healthy during its yearly cycle.
Unfortunately, timetables, water schedules, even something as basic as when a plant is dormant, vary depending on your climate and even whether the plant is in a greenhouse or the garden. Every species is different. Nananthus are winter growers in my greenhouse and summer growers in my garden. The two Frithia species operate on timetables several months apart. I have grown Pleiospilos nelii as a summer grower, a winter grower, and as a year-round grower.

I find the easiest mesembs are those like Lithops where solid rules can be given that work for most people around the world. The more adaptable plants like Pleiospilos, Argyroderma, Cheiridopsis, may be winter growers for one person and summer growers for another, I find it hard to explain to someone else how to grow them and nobody else's regime quite works for me. My personal crusade at the moment is against Gibbaeums, some of which are flat out summer dormant, some of which definitely grow in summer, and all of which are difficult to flower with my dark winters. In southern California and other Mediterranean climates, Gibbaeums appear to be relatively straightforward winter growers and not too shy with their flowers :evil:
--ian
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Post by *Barracuda_52* »

8) Wow Craig, that is awsome info.. Thanks tons for sharring. :wink:
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Post by tvaughan »

Isn't it Craig's wife who posts under C and D?
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Re: Growing Lithops and Other Difficult Mesembs

Post by CoronaCactus »

tvaughn wrote:Isn't it Craig's wife who posts under C and D?
C And D wrote:Growing Lithops and Other Difficult Mesembs
By Craig Fry
I think it's just whatever screen name is currently logged in :D
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Post by C And D »

C and D is usually me, Craig, my computer at work doesn't like to let me on, so I use the C and D address.

About Ian's comments, I agree you cannot give growing advice that will work universally. But, the article was written for my club, and therefore, all the members would live in the same climate. No one in California can give good growing advice for people living in England, the plants still respond to the same seasons universally, but may have adjustments to better suit the climate.
Also, the list of plants by Genus only gives a approximate growing habit for the group, and many species in the genus may differ significantly.

I always get the same response about growing info, you can't apply it to a different growing regime.
But I think any info is good info, and that you can apply to your own situation by adjusting it to your growing habitat.
I remember when I was beginning, I had a thirst for growing info, I ended up buying almost every book to find anything about which plant liked what.
Everytime someone would give a tid bit of info, like how often do they water, is it every four days, or once a month, it made a big difference.
So therefore, I think some info can be universal, and provides guidelines to base your growing practices.
I will write some more growing tips in future posts.
Muiria hortense
Image
The real Lithops lesliei v. hornii, several diff clones
Image
Conophytum lithopsoides v. koubergense
Image
Conophytum pellucidum v. terricolor or is it terrestre
Image
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Post by iann »

The Lithops and Conophytums are very nice, but you have to spill the beans on how you grow the Muiria. And flower it! It is widely considered as the most difficult of the mesembs in the UK, certainly the most difficult that anyone is interested in growing. I'm not aware of anyone who has an adult plant at this time, and mine certainly can't be classed as adults yet. I'd be interested to see how your growing regime compares with the advice I've been given by people who kept it alive here for at least a few years.

Also, is it in flower now? I would have expected the flower several months ago.
--ian
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Post by C And D »

The same Muiria now
Image
It flowered in June or July, I posted a sequence of the flower bursting through the skin in the Welcome Craig Fry thread, check it out.
As far as growing tips, I use the tip I give above, consistent light watering almost all year long, with a short dormancy during late July to Sept. They probably were watered during that time anyway, and no harm was endured. During winter, I keep them in strong light and water every two weeks or so, since here in Calif. the pots usually dry out pretty fast even in winter. But since they are in a green house, they stay protected from rain and other threats.
Heres where they live in the summer, with the Tanquanas, Vanheerdeas and Didymaotus
Image
Heres a close up of Vanheerdea primosii
They are difficult to get to flower, only the top plant has ever flowered, for the first time this year, and one got a little too much water, but excess growth is better than death.
Image
Dinteranthus microspermus, pink flowered form - the flowers turn pink after a couple of days
Image
Here's one of my true loves, my collection of Aloinopsis, Nananthus and Titanopsis, there's alot more plants, I just can't get them all in one photo
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Post by iann »

I'll try and keep the Muirias going long enough to flower. I think they'll need to go under my winter lights both to allow enough watering and to keep them on track through the dark months.

I've never tried Vanheerdea and probably won't until I've cracked some of the slightly less difficult winter growers.

Quite a few Aloinopsis, Nananthus, and Titanopsis here, including some hybrids, but only because they are tough and winter hardy. They don't get pampered! Here's Nananthus transvaalensis in my garden:
Image
--ian
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Post by tvaughan »

For what it's worth, my two species of Vanheerdeagrow just like Lithops, and are at least as easy. It may be just here, but you can grow them as a summer grower as well.
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Post by iann »

I'm confused. Don't Vanheerdeas sheath over in summer like a Conophytum or some Gibbaeums and Cheiridopsis? How is that compatible with growing like a Lithops which replace their leaves in winter?
--ian
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Post by tvaughan »

Neither of my species sheathed over. My Conophytum species (about 2 dozen) are kept separate for that reason. The Conophytum started bursting out several months ago, and I posted some pics under the thread The Stones Awaken. The Vanheerdea stayed succulent, and have just now started growing. Huge difference between them and the Conophytum. The main difference between them and Lithopshere is that I stop watering Lithops (except for small seedlings) when cool weather starts, and the Conophytum get nothing during summer until they start breaking the sheath, but I still water the Vandeerdea once per week or so during the whole year.

It may just be here, but with your experience with Lithops, I wouldn't judge Vanheerdea as difficult.

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Post by C And D »

Vanheerdea are weird, they never seem to be in or out of growing season, so consistent watering seems to be the best bet, with lots of strong light. They don't sheath over, just kind of pop out the center when ready.

Some more photos.
Lithops dinteri v. "dintergreen", I love those green ones
Image
Lithops fullerii v. rouxii
Image
Conophytum obcordellum
Image
One of the best flowers in the Family
Cephalophyllum alstonii
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Post by iann »

I like 'Dintergreen' too, but it does have a tendency to brown out during summer. I'm trying to select some that keep their colour better. The right plant at the right time is quite a startling colour but often its hard to tell them apart from the straight species.

Its quite a shock to see strong coloured saturated mesemb flowers after all those yellow and white Lithops :) I grow a few shrubbies for garden colour, but not this one. I'll keep my eyes open for it and any Vanheerdea seed that crosses my path :)
--ian
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