How to Save Overwatered Lithops (Step by Step)


Potted lithops showing overwatered symptoms

Lithops, or Living Stone, are a beautiful and unique plant to keep in the home. They need specific watering care, and if you are not consistent your Lithops may not survive.

Here we address the signs of overwatering, how to fix it, and how to prevent overwatering in the future.

You can save your overwatered Lithops by following the steps below:

  1. Identify the damage, give your Lithops some TLC
  2. Remove the damaged roots
  3. Dry the roots after cleaning with flush of water
  4. Disinfect the healthy part of the root system
  5. Repot using a new soil mix and container
  6. Change your watering habits moving forward.

Underwatered VS. Overwatered Lithops

Lithops are a type of succulent originally found in South Africa. Being succulent, they need less water than other varieties of the houseplant.

The large leaves are able to store enough water for your plant to survive for months at a time. This means that it is more likely that you will overwater your Lithops than underwater it. As long as you give your Lithops some water you can not underwater it.

But, it is very likely to overwater your Lithops, which will cause major issues for your plant. There are seasons of the year where your Lithops hardly needs any water at all.

Overwatering leads to root rot, splitting open, and if persistent will kill your succulent. It is important to learn the proper way to care for your Lithops to enjoy it in your home for as long as possible.

Below we detail the signs that you are overwatering your Lithops plant, and how to care for it if you are. Overwatering is a common mistake for Lithops owners. If caught early enough it is completely possible to rectify the situation.

Signs You are Overwatering Your Lithops

Yellow and Mushy Appearance

Yellowing leaves are a sign that your succulent is getting too much water. Lithops come in a variety of colors, often resembling rocks (as their name implies). (Source: University of Vermont)

Healthy Lithops appear firm and strong. Yellow, mushy looking leaves are the first sign your Lithops is getting too much water.

You can also tell if the cause of your yellow, mushy leaves is from overwatering by feeling them. If the leaves feel swollen or mush between your fingers you are overwatering.

If you do not give your Lithops time to dry out between watering your leaves will suffer. Your Lithops will continue to suck water through the roots to the leaves. The result is sickly looking yellow and mushy leaves.

Brown Spots on Lithops

Brown spots on leaves occur from a process called edema. This can happen in a variety of houseplants but is especially common with succulents. Succulents need less water, being of the cactus family, and so it is very easy to overwater.

Edema happens when your Lithops root system takes in more water than it can store in its leaves.

As the roots continue to drink water that the leaves don’t need the leaves to run out of the room. This causes membranes in the leaves to burst, which creates brown spots on your Lithops. (Source: University of Illinois Extension)

Splitting

There are two main ways that your Lithops can split due to overwatering. The first happens in a similar way to edema.

The overload of water has nowhere to go so the leaf will burst open to adjusting. This looks almost like a jagged cut on your Lithops leaf. Or like your leaf has a split lip.

The second is the process of splitting, where your Lithops will push new leaves up from the root system. These leaves replace the current leaves which will shrivel and die once the new leaves come in.

Both versions of splitting come from too much water. So it is critical to not water for a while in either case. With the random splitting of an existing leaf do not water until that leaf has healed. It will not look so plump.

For new leaves splitting it is critical that the new leaves take the water out of the old leaves.

They will absorb nutrients from the old leaves as they grow. The old leaves will not be able to shrivel around the new ones if the plant is also getting water through the roots.

Root Rot

Root Rot happens when the soil is not allowed to dry and the moist environment causes disease. Lithops need especially gravel heavy soil to drain as well as possible.

Root Rot is a common problem. If you think your Lithops has Root Rot it is important to address it ASAP. Follow these steps to help your Lithops recover from Root Rot.

  1. Identify Root Rot in your soil. The soil will be wet and feel waterlogged.
  2. Examine the roots of your Lithops. Brown and mushy roots are rotten.
  3. Remove rotten roots with your fingers.
  4. Disinfect healthy roots with a bleach/water solution or fungicide.
  5. Allow roots to dry out overnight.
  6. Once they feel dry, repot your plant in a fresh potting mix and a new pot (to reduce the chance of reinfection).

Absence of Roots

Examining your Lithops roots to find rotten roots is discouraging. But examining your roots for rot and finding no roots at all?! Terrifying.

Try not to panic though. This happens with succulents that get too much water and does not immediately mean game over.

Lithops’ roots are very fragile and can dissolve if they sit in water for too long. If you see this it is time to repot your Lithops in a pot with better drainage. 

Succulents need little water and lots of drainage in their pot. Because Lithops roots are fragile but need lots of room to grow, this is extra important.

Select a pot with enough room that the roots can spread and grow. Use a cactus potting soil with lots of light rock mixture, as well as some fine soil, to prevent future soil issues.

Your Lithops is Dying

It is pretty clear when Lithops are dying. It is possible to salvage an overwatered Lithops, but sometimes they are too far gone. Sometimes you can address everything above and your Lithops will still deteriorate.

If that is the case it may be time to say thank you and farewell to that plant. Do lots of research on how to best care for Lithops and try again with a new plant.

They are such a unique and beautiful plant and so worth having in your home once you learn the tips to help them thrive.

How to Prevent Overwatering

Change the Watering Schedule

If you are seeing symptoms of overwatering it is time to adjust your watering schedule.

Lithops have a very unique watering schedule in that they only need water half of the year! They grow during the summer and autumn, so need water during that time.

But watering during the winter and spring when they are not growing or blooming is not a good idea. They go dormant during those seasons and do not need anything from you during that period.

Begin watering your Lithops near the beginning of the summer season. Your Lithops will tell you when it needs water.

Some plants need water a few times a month during the watering season. Others may only need to water a few times a year!

Water your Lithops when the soil is very dry and the top of your leaves look a bit shrunken and shriveled. You can also use a moisture meter.

Examine the Pot’s Drainage

To help your Lithops live a long life it is critical to plant it in a pot with excellent drainage. A pot with at least three drainage holes in the bottom works well. This gives the water several spaces to drain from without compromising the structure. 

Using a well-draining potting mix will help the drainage of your plant. You can purchase a Cactus potting mix commercially, or you can make your own at home.

Combine one part potting soil with one part roughage (such as sand, small pebbles, etc) to allow for better drainage. 

Lithops roots are fragile, so if you are making your own well-draining soil just make sure that the roughage is not too large or sharp as this will damage the roots and they stretch to the bottom of the pot. River sand works really well for this.

Avoid Watering at Night

Watering at night can lead to overwatering more quickly than watering in the day. Your Lithops will take the water in even when it does not need it and can lead to ruptured membranes.

Lithops rest at night so taking in the water at that time can disrupt the routine of your plant. Since Lithops need so little water it is best to give it to them when they can use it in the best way possible.

Use a Moisture Meter

Moisture meters are an excellent tool to make sure that you are waiting to water until your plant is ready. You insert the meter into the soil and it will read the moisture levels of the soil for you.

This takes away the guessing of sticking your finger in the soil and examining how dry it is yourself. If the meter does not read “dry” do not water.

Keep in mind that Lithops do not need water during the winter and spring months. Even if your moisture meter reads dry during that half of the year continue to let your plant be.

Come early summer it will be time to water again, and the meter will be a great way to establish a watering schedule!

How to Save an Overwatered Lithops

Step One: Examine the plant

  • Before you can understand what you need to do to help save your overwatered Lithops you need to see where it’s at. 
  • Look closely at your plant to understand the state of the leaves, soil, and roots. From there you can take the necessary steps to save your Lithops. 

Step Two: Remove Damaged Roots

  • Take your Lithops out of the pot.
  • Discard that pot.
  • Gently remove as much soil as possible. 
  • Discard used potting soil.
  • Remove any diseased roots (brown and mushy).
  • Disinfect the healthy roots.

Step Three: Allow Roots to Dry

  • Set your Lithops in a safe area where the overwatered roots can dry out for several hours.

Step Four: Propagate

  • If your Lithops has split from overwatering and has multiplied (gone from two heads to four) you can propagate into two separate plants. 
  • Before repotting, divide the plant by head section to create a second plant. 
  • Repot each plant in it’s own pot right away.

Step Five: Repot

  • Take a new pot and make sure it has good drainage.
  • Use a store bought or DIY well draining potting mixture.
  • Gently repot your Lithops in the well draining potting mixture and new pot.
  • If it is winter or spring, or the leaves look really full, skip the next step.
  • If it is the growing season, and your plants’ leaves look like they are needing water soak through until water drains at bottom.
  • Insert moisture meter for future tracking.

The Correct Way to Water Your Lithops

Watering Rules

  1. Water your Lithops from early summer to late autumn only. Do not water in winter and spring.
  2. Wait until the soil has dried and the tops of the leaves look slightly shriveled to water.
  3. Water the roots/soil, not the leaves.
  4. Use rain or filtered water for best results.
  5. Make sure that your pot drains really well.
  6. Never water while your Lithops are splitting. Your plat needs to be able to take the water from the old leaves.
  7. If you can’t decide if you should water or not, don’t water. 

Watering Frequency

Take cues from your Lithops. When the soil is dry, and the tops of the leaves look slightly shriveled it is time for a drink! 

Some Lithops only need to be watered a few times a year, while others need a drink every couple weeks during the growing season.Do not water your Lithops during the winter and spring.

Quality of Water

A lot of tap water has added minerals that are not great for your Lithops’ health. It is best to water with filtered, room temperature water, or fresh rainwater. Watering with room temperature water prevents any potential temperature shock. 

Quantity of Water

When it is time to water your Lithops give it a good drink. Bottom watering is good for succulents because it encourages the fragile roots to stretch, and you do not run the risk of watering the leaves. 

Water from the bottom until you start to see a bit of moisture on the top levels of the soil. Some will drain back out, and it is best to remove the excess water so the Lithops don’t try to suck that up, too.

If you are top watering carefully avoid watering the leaves, and water until it is draining out of the bottom of your pot. You may need to come back after several minutes to remove any excess water that drains out the bottom. 

Common Mistakes

Common MistakesHow to Avoid
Inconsistent WateringEstablish a schedule based on your plant’s cues. Consistency is key.
Watering too MuchWater only when your Lithops needs it. Rely on cues from your plant or by using a moisture meter.
Wet Soil from OverwateringUse a soil that drains well and reduces the amount you are watering. Waiting for the soil to dry out between watering is critical.
Watering the Leaves and Not the Roots Carefully top water without getting the leaves wet, or bottom water to avoid the risk all together.
Watering During the Heat of the Day Water first thing in the morning for best results. This allows your plantto absorb the most moisture without water evaporating due to heat.

You May Also Enjoy: 17 Exotic Indoor Plants: Bring Adventure to Your Home

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Save Dying Lithops?

While it is not always possible to save a dying Lithops, there are steps you can take before throwing in the towel. First, you need to identify why your Lithops is dying. More likely than not, it’s getting too much water.

Examining the plant for disease, cleaning the roots/soil, and repotting can help save your Lithops. Once you have done these things it is time to wait and see if your plant will come back.

Adjusting your watering habits will help prevent being in this spot again in the future.

Should I Water Lithops While it is Splitting?

It is best to avoid watering while your Lithops is splitting. It is critical that the new leaves are able to suck the moisture out of the old leaves. If you are watering during this process the roots will take in water from the soil before the leaves can.

This will create a surplus of water in the leaves (both old and new). This makes it difficult for the new leaves to extract water from the old. It also can create other issues of overwatering, such as edema and root rot, for your Lithops.

It is best to not water again until the splitting process is complete and the new leaves have had time to absorb the water from the splitting process. This can take some time. Patience is critical.

Should I Water Lithops After Repotting?

You should water your Lithops after repotting if it is during their growing season. Anytime from early summer through late autumn go ahead and water! Giving it a good soak after repotting and then leaving it be for a few weeks will do it a lot of good.

If you need to repot during the winter or spring do not water after repotting. Your Lithops is dormant during these months and the extra water will do more harm that good.

If at all possible, wait to repot your Lithops until early summer. Know that if you need to repot during the dormant period it should be okay as long as you try to disturb your Lithops as little as possible.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

Recent Content