It’s been a humorous week. At work, I received an email from a coworker with the subject line “Succulent SOS!” with a picture of a mixed succulent pot in our Chicago office with a very very dead looking dog-tail cactus. After delivering the bad news, I was apparently a topic of conversation in Chicago because I received the following email:
Succulent “guru” is strong language, but it did set off an email exchange about lithops.
Back at home, the little seedlings mentioned in the email were settling into their new home! After some posting about it last weekend, I did break down and made a few trips to Lowe’s to get the stuff needed to set up my own basement “grow shelves”. It’s a step up from the cardboard box and lowered ceiling shop light set up from before. Best of all, I’ve upgraded to 6,500k fluorescent lights, which should be closer to the range of natural sunlight. If nothing else, my seedling progress pictures have a decidedly less orange cast to them now.
The first “a-ha” of the new set up is it’s size. I didn’t visualize this very well. There are three lighted shelves, four feet wide, and the whole shelf system is nearly as tall as the basement ceiling. When the lights are on, there’s a definite “warm glow” that comes up the basement step even with all the other lights off. If you’re interested, the guide I used as a base can be found here. One thing I did add is some particle board to top the wire shelves, since the seed cups I’m using currently already suffered one knock-over being slightly wobbly between the grid of the wires.
Speaking of the lithops seedlings – they aren’t doing a lot lately, by and large, although one is starting to look like this:
I’m starting to get skeptical about this seedling. It’s clearly growing stems with leaves, which is not something lithops has in adult form. This looks more like it might be crassula or who-knows-what-else. I guess I will keep going and see what comes of it. The bag I had of seeds was “mixed”, so this could end up being a weird hybrid or perhaps just one wayward seed from the seller.
While I was on my trip to buy particle board for the shelves, I also stopped at a nursery I hadn’t been to in a while that was nearby the lumber store. (It’s the same one that offered my co-worker the class on creating an indoor garden that was talked about in this post, and as fate would have it, I ended up stopping in at the exact same time a swarm of adorable little old ladies were raiding the succulent section for another of the same class.)
The first thing I saw was a plate of tiny little cups of adult lithops! I was so excited I immediately texted my partner. Then I went to find a basket to load up. When I picked them up to look at them, I was slightly horrified. They were wet. VERY WET. In peat moss. For lithops, you have to pay attention to their yearly growing cycle:
- Winter – DO NOT WATER. The plant will be growing in size, old outer leaves should be shrivelling as they’re consumed.
- Spring – old leaves should be shrivelled and can be removed; resume watering lightly. By mid spring, you can work up to a good drenching now and then.
- Summer – as the heat builds up and says get longer, stop watering again. Lithops go dormant in the summer.
- Fall – the plant is going to perk back up, and may split open to produce a flower stem. The fissure will continue separating until two new leaves emerge, usually at a ninety degree angle to the previous pair, and the cycle repeats.
The lithops at the store were also in what appears to be nearly pure peat. This plant also is not used to having extra water, and actually can’t regulate it’s intake. If you overwater it, it will literally absorb so much water it bursts open and splits. If this doesn’t also signal that the plant is rotting, it’s not permanent – in a year or so those leaves will be shed and the blemish gone – but it’s not a good sign. A couple plants at the nursery were already showing signs of this. I sorted out a few that looked relatively decent and decided to save them. So I walked out with four new adult lithops.
As long as I was buying those, I did pick up a few other things. It’s fortunate that I didn’t go the route of 3-d printing the perfect planter, because they had a planter that (save for the lack of a drainage hole and dish) is nearly the perfect dimensions for what I wanted. Right now it’s upside down with the lithops sitting on it, but look how nicely the dimensions fits in the windowsill:
After seeing the lithops, I did wander over to the other succulents. They had some enormously large echevaria that were quite attractive, and a few generic varieties of sedums and stonecrops they were marketing for their terrariums and fairy garden workshops. I decided to pick out two small haworthias.
The haworthias were in a similar condition to the lithops, and this reinforced the theory I had about my coworkers rotted haworthia. (There were a few other signs that made me nervous, but I won’t go into that.) I decided for $3 I could risk it. I picked up a haworthia cymbiformis and a haworthia attenuata or fasciata. (I assume. They weren’t labelled.) As soon as I got home, I had to take them out of the damp peat pots and put them out on newspaper to dry out. With succulents, that’s not only okay, it’s recommended. The cymbiformis, if it lives, has several pups starting already, and an old flower stem. This gives me hope – it couldn’t have been too unhappy. The root system was definitely far, far smaller than the pot they had it in, which was likely chosen more for width than depth.
So now my haworthia collection numbers four varieties. I still have a high desire for a floricantha and the much harder to find eonigra. What I love is how extremely different they all are for different varieties of the same plant. If I ever do decide to try cross breeding, I have a pretty good selection to start from… provided they all ever decide to flower at the same time.
And to round it all out, the echevarias are still slow plugging along. Some of the larger ones are actually starting to show leaves in the “spade” shape that you see a lot in echevarias.