Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) are low-growing evergreen succulent plants that look a little like rubbery roses with thick, fleshy pads arranged in rosettes. The leaves are usually pointed and some have purple tips or they may grow in shades of red. They are considered alpine or rock garden plants, because of their hardiness and drought resistance. The original hen rosette produces tiny rosette offsets known as the chicks. They are slow-growing plants, and they remain evergreen throughout the year, even in cold climates.
Mature plants produce an odd-looking thick flower stalk with star-shaped flowers at the tip of mauve-pink or red. These are not tall plants, except when they stretch out to flower. The flower stalk extends 8 to 12 inches before flowering, then reduces in size once the plant blooms and the mother plant dies. Hens and chicks are not grown for their flowers, but when they do bloom, it is usually during the summer. Plant them in late spring, when there's no longer a chance of frost and it's still not too hot outside.
|Botanical Name||Sempervivum tectorum|
|Common Name||Hens and chicks, houseleek, roof houseleek|
|Mature Size||3-6 in. tall, 6-12 in. wide|
|Soil pH||Neutral (6.6-7.5)|
|Flower Color||Pale pink, red/purple|
|Hardiness Zones||3-8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa|
Hens and Chicks Care
You can use hens and chicks in the garden, but they can get lost. Planting a large patch, using them along edges, or mixing them in a container garden will help them stand out. Another option is to mix hens and chicks with creeping sedum which can make a lawn alternative where there is no foot traffic.
If you have a rock garden or rock wall, you have the perfect environment for growing hens and chicks. Tuck them into the crevices or let them drape over a rock wall. Stone provides the perfect balance of drainage, radiant heat, and root protection.
Hens and chicks will spread by underground roots. During the growing season, expect each plant to multiply itself by at least four, by producing little offset plantlets all around the perimeter of the hen. These chicks can be snapped off and replanted elsewhere at any time.
Once established, the maintenance of hens and chicks is minimal. You’ll need to remove the old hens, after they flower, and divide chicks as needed. They are tough plants that survive just about any condition, even frost and cold.
Full sun to partial shade. Hens and chicks prefer a spot in full sun but will appreciate some afternoon shade if planted in extremely hot climates.
Hens and chicks, as with most succulents, need excellent drainage. Poor, sandy soil would be just fine. You could work some peat into heavier soil, to lighten it and improve drainage. Soil pH should be in the neutral range, 6.6 to 7.5.
Except in extremely hot, dry situations, you won’t need to give this plant any supplemental water.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants are tough and can grow in poor conditions in a range of temperatures. They do, however, prefer an average climate between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures drop too low, they will not necessarily die off but will stop growing and go into a semi-dormant state.
No fertilizer is needed.
Hens and Chicks Varieties
There are hundreds of varieties, but you’ll probably need to go to a specialty nursery or catalog to find most of them. Most nurseries simply sell the common hens and chicks.
- ‘Boissieri’: features bronze-tinged leaves rusty tips
- ‘Sunset’: offers bright green leaves with shades of red and orange
- ‘Oddity’: displays quilled edges and black tips
- 'Cobweb houseleek': has white threads that look like a cobweb across the rosette
Pruning this plant is typically unnecessary, but doing so could be beneficial in one instance. If you have too many hen and chick plants packed together, they could lose their distinctive rosette shape and instead grow taller into vertical plants. To avoid this divide or thin your plants if they looked choked and odd-shaped.
Propagating Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks can be grown from seeds, seedlings, or by dividing offsets.
To replant a chick, you will need to wait until it is ready to be separated from the hen. A chick develops as a tiny bud in the hen and remains attached by a stem called a stolon. If the stolon still has leaves and the chick is still nestled in the hen, it's not ready to be plucked. When the stolon has moved the chick outside the hen, leaves are possibly gone, and the chick is putting out its own roots. That is the time when the chick is ready to be propagated. Gently break the stem connecting the chick from the hen plant. Wiggle the chick plant loose for replanting.
When propagating offsets, don’t plant them too deeply. Take these steps:
- Dig a shallow hole.
- Spread the roots of the offset.
- Cover the offset up to the crown of the plant.
- Tamp the soil gently so that the plant is firmly set in the ground.
- Water lightly, but you don’t need to water newly planted hens and chicks every day, the way you would with non-succulents. Hens and chicks need to let their roots dry out between waterings.
How to Grow Hens and Chicks From Seed
Seeds can be sprinkled on top of a soil or gravel mix and kept moderately moist until they germinate. Once they sprout, sprinkle some fine gravel around them as mulch. Seeds are usually started in pots and then transferred to the garden as seedlings. You can start your seeds in the fall and transplant in the spring.
Potting and Repotting Hens and Chicks
Planting them in a pot and raising it off the ground will also make hens and chicks more of a feature. A classic way to feather them is in strawberry pots, although you’ll need to divide them as they outgrow the pot. They are also a natural with hypertufa planters or any kind of stone container.
Though they can survive outside in the freezing conditions in pots, it's recommended to avoid clay and terracotta containers that can crack in harsh weather. Plant hens and chicks in outdoor pots made from resin, cement, metal, or wood that will hold up well in harsh winter growing zones.
In the winter, the outer leaves may brown and die, which is normal as the plant is protecting the interior buds. Though it is unnecessary to bring containers indoors during harsh winters, you can, but make sure the plants get full sun when inside. If you don't have enough light, supplement the space with a growing light. Otherwise, they are perfectly safe outdoors in the winter.
Hens and chicks are tough plants that usually grow without problems unless they are exposed to too much moisture. Crown rot may occur in wet soils. Some varieties can get Endophyllum rust, a fungus disease. Both problems can be prevented if the plant is grown in dry conditions.