Am I the only one who finds it hard to be trapped in the house all day when it’s just so gorgeous outside? As a matter of fact, I can’t even tell you the last time I even turned on my computer! This past weekend we drove the truck down to one of the creeks here on the farm to get some river rocks for our split rock succulents. They needed a little top dressing for their pots because although the white pumice is pretty, I wanted something a little more natural to add to their unique “beauty”.
Mesembs are my favorite out of all the succulents but can also be some of the hardest to care for. If you even LOOK at them wrong, they’ll die. Seriously. (Split rocks are a type of mesemb.) Mimicry plants are true succulents in that they store water and can go many, many months without even a drop. It’s crucial that they have a well draining soil without much in the way of organics (i.e. no peat-based bagged succulent mix) and they do best when planted alone or with other carefully selected mesembs.
Generally speaking, I grow most all of my mesembs in a mixture of 25% Black Gold Cactus Mix, sifted and 75% pumice (I generally use 3/16″ size). I get all of my pumice from General Pumice Products without exception!
How to Care for Your Split Rock Succulent:
This little guy is a Pleiospilos nelii aka “Split Rock” or “Living Stone”. This particular species can be found in beautiful shades of green and purple and both are native to South Africa. They grow in arid desert-like regions that get very little rainfall (like 6″ TOTAL per year!). They love sun so make sure they are in a south-facing window (or grow lights like I have to do) and when summer rolls around, let them get plenty of filtered light outdoors and protect from rain.
The plant blooms in the mid-afternoon and closes its petals by dusk. The flowers will repeat this pattern for a few days and then they will start to dry up and if pollinated, will make a seed pod.
When to Water:
Forget what you know about watering plants with this one. I water only in the spring and early fall when the temperature starts to drop and the days get shorter. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings (see below for info on soil). Hold back water during the hottest weeks of summer and also in the dead of winter. If the old leaves are still present at the end of summer, it may be getting too much water. If the plant rots and dies, it may be getting too much water.
If grown correctly, Split Rock succulents should only ever have 1 to 2 sets of leaves. Each year a new set of leaves grows up through the center and replaces the ones from last year. When a split rock has too many leaves, it is called “stacking”.
The split rock in the top left of the above image had a third massive set of leaves (due to its previous owner’s negligence) but since I began restricting its water, I enabled the plant to use it’s own water reserves. This allowed the extra set of leaves to dry out and at the same time, the plant pretty much watered itself and even provided its own nutrients too! (You can still see the brown little piece of the leaf that’s still attached to the side of the plant.) Speaking of nutrients, these plants don’t need fertilizer.
However, when in doubt – DON’T WATER.
This photo was taken in summer and this guy is in the process of absorbing his old leaves. He does not need water until the outer set of leaves are dry husks (which should happen by fall).
This photo was taken in fall and you can see the old leaves have completely dried up. I gently removed them but use caution since sometimes they can be difficult to remove and can damage the plant. He is getting full watering until it flows out the bottom hole. I will not water again until it is completely dry.
Once you see some action taking place between the two leaves it should be almost winter and water should be lightened considerably.
It’s January for this fellow and he isn’t getting any water at all since it’s dead of winter. I’ll slowly resume watering in spring to help keep the roots healthy and happy but he can probably go all the way till fall without water if he had to. A good example of how succulent these guys are is to think of a watermelon with all of tiny little “cells” of water on the inside. If you were to cut open a split rock and squeeze it, drops of water would come out!
This pot of split rocks are kinda doing their own thing. The guy on the far left bloomed in October. This plant is actually a Pleiospilos bolusii – you can tell by the longer leaves – so it blooms in fall whereas the Pleiospilos nelii (more common) blooms in spring. The photo of the bloom at the very beginning of this blog post was taken in March and is an example of a Pleiospilos nelii.
Notice most all of them (except for the pain in butt on top) have absorbed their old leaves by the end of summer.
Pleiospilos nelii cv. Royal Flush
Here’s another good example of leaf stacking. The royal flush split rock in the foreground actually has 4 sets of leaves (there are two growing up through the middle) and is how I received it from the seller.
When it arrived, all of the leaves were bright purple but since I started holding off on watering, you can see how it’s starting to lose some of its color on the oldest set (and it’s definitely lost a ton in size!) It shouldn’t take long now for the outer leaves to wither away. As long as the two center leaves are solid, it’s okay for the others to be soft. This is a sign that it’s using its own water – which also means you don’t need to give it any either.
The reason stacking is such a bad thing is a: it’s not natural and b: it eventually leads to rot.
Here are some of the baby plants from the seed pod above! They were planted back in April and this is what they look like in December.
Soil and Pot Size
My favorite soil for lithops and split rocks (and all mesembs for that matter) is a blend of Black Gold Cactus Mix (sifted) with extra pumice added. The ratio is usually 25% Black Gold to 75% pumice. It’s easy and gets the job done. Soil is a very controversial topic but there is one thing I think we can all agree on, avoid Miracle Gro or any other mix that contains sphagnum peat moss.
Since the split rock has such a long tap root, you want their pot to be at least 3.5-4″ deep. Proper drainage is a must so make sure the pot has a hole in the bottom. Don’t ever add a layer of rocks to the bottom of the pot. This does nothing for drainage and only raises the water table which can eventually lead to root rot.
Once they were nestled in their new home, I added some rocks from the creek to “try” to make it look like they are in their natural habitat. In the wild, they can be hard to see since they blend in so well to their surroundings. This is their defense against thirsty predators! (As a matter of fact, the little Pleiospilos nelii on the top of the pot here is the same one at the beginning of the post with the big yellow flower!) The one in the foreground is a photo of the Pleiospilos bolusii mentioned earlier before he absorbed his outer leaves.
They also grow among rocks which is like an extra layer of protection.
Not only do the rocks help them to blend in to their surroundings in their natural habitat, they also protect them somewhat from the blazing sun. As the little split rock blooms, changes leaves, and pretty much does its own little thing, those rocks stay there and offer great protection – just like God.
HE is our rock – our cornerstone – completely unmovable. No matter what happens around us, He will always be there to protect us.
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an Everlasting Rock