Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) are low growing evergreen succulent plants that look a little like rubbery roses. They are considered alpine or rock garden plants, because of their hardiness and drought resistance. The original rosette, the ‘Hen’ produces tiny rosette offsets that are known as the ‘Chicks’.
The name Sempervivium is Latin for “live forever”. They don’t really live forever, but since they produce the ‘chicks’ or plantlets, they seem to last forever.
Hens and Chicks, Houseleek, Roof House Leek
USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 11.
Full sun to Partial Shade.
3 - 6 inches (h) x 6 - 12 inches (w)
Hens and chicks plants are low growing clusters of rosettes. They remain evergreen throughout the year. Hens and Chicks are tough, drought-resistant plants.
Leaves: Thick, fleshy pads arranged in 3-4" rosettes. The leaves are usually pointed and some have purple tips. There are varieties with green leaves and shades of red.
Flowers: Mature plants produce an odd looking thick flower stalk with star-shaped flowers at the tip in mauve-pink or red. The flower stalk extends 8 - 12" before blooming. Once the plant blooms, the mother plant dies.
Suggested Varieties There are hundreds of varieties, but you’ll probably need to go to a specialty nursery or catalog to find most of them.
- S. tectorum ‘Boissieri’ - Bronze tinged leaves rusty tips.
- S. tectorum ‘Sunset’ - Bright green leaves with shades of red and orange.
- S. tectorum ‘Oddity’ - Bright green leaves with quilled edges and black tips.
- S. arachnoideum (Cobweb houseleek) - Related species with white threads, like a web, across the rosette.
Rock gardens, or even the crevices in a rock wall, provide the perfect balance of drainage, radiant heat and root protection.
Another classic use is in strawberry pots, although you’ll need to divide them as they outgrow the pot.
They are also a natural with hypertufa planters.
You can use Hens and Chicks in the garden, but they can get lost. Planting a large patch or planting them in a pot and raising it off the ground will make them more or a feature. Or use them along edges.
Mixing Hens and Chicks with creeping sedum makes a nice lawn alternative in no traffic areas.
Soil: 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 them and improve drainage. Soil pH should be in the neutral range, 6.6 to 7.5..
Planting: Hens and Chicks can be grown from seeds, seedlings or by dividing offsets.
Planting Hens and Chicks: Don’t plant your Hens and Chicks too deeply.
Dig a shallow hole and spread the roots. Cover to the crown of the plant and tamp the soil gently so that the plant is firm 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.
Growing Hens and Chicks from Seed: Seeds can be sprinkled on top of a soil, 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.
Dividing Hens & Chicks: Hens and Chicks will spread by underground roots. Each plant multiplies by at last 4, in a growing season, by producing little offset plantlets all around the perimeter of the ‘Hen’. These are the ‘Chicks’. The Chicks can be snapped off and replanted elsewhere at any time.
Once established, maintenance of hens and chicks is minimal. You’ll need to remove the old hens, after they flower, and divide chicks as needed. Except in extremely hot, dry situations, you won’t even need to give them supplemental water. No fertilizer is needed.
Pests & Problems:
Crown rot will occur in wet soils. Some varieties can get Endophyllum rust, a fungus disease. Both problems can be prevented if grown in dry conditions.