Hens and chicks plants are mat-forming succulents that produce clusters of rosettes. The parent rosettes are the "hens," and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the "chicks" or "chickens." This low-growing perennial will quickly spread to 2 feet or more in width through propagation or self-propagation. Although grown for their foliage, hens and chicks do sometimes flower on a tall flower stalk. The foliage of hens and chicks plants is most typically red, green, blue, gold, copper, or a mixture of colors.
This hardy succulent is very easy to grow and works particularly well in rock gardens as well as in containers. You can let the plants crowd together or pull off the chicks and replant them to start their own families. They have a moderate growth rate and are best planted in spring. However, if you'd like to grow new plants from seed, you might want to start them in pots in the fall so the young plants are ready to go into the garden in the spring.
|Botanical Name||Sempervivum tectorum|
|Common Name||Hens and chicks, hen and chickens, houseleek, roof houseleek, hen-widdies|
|Plant Type||Succulent evergreen perennials|
|Mature Size||3 to 6 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||6.6 to 7.5|
|Flower Color||Light pink to reddish purple|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 11|
|Native Area||Southern and Central Europe, North Africa|
Hens and Chicks Care
As drought-tolerant succulents, hens and chicks plants are rock-garden perennials par excellence. Their need for sharp drainage makes them a perfect fit. Another option is to grow this succulent in cracks, whether it be in stone walls or between garden stepping stones. As a ground cover, you can replace a lawn with hens and chicks plus creeping sedum. In their native Europe, they were grown on thatched rooves to help prevent lightning fires and provide a winter vegetable, as they are edible. While you could eat them in an emergency, it's nice to know that they are deer-resistant if that is a concern in your area.
Your hens will spread via underground roots and will produce at least four chicks each growing season. These little plants are called offsets and can be broken off and transplanted to new areas.
The hens may flower in the summer, which can happen after one year or after several years. The flowers are dramatic, but the mother hen will die after flowering. Remove the dead mother hen plants. Flowering can be a sign of poor conditions, so you might check that drainage and sun are adequate in the spot where the mother was growing.
Grow hens and chicks plants in full sun to part shade. Optimal coloration in the foliage is more likely to be achieved in full sun. In the South, hens and chicks can benefit from partial shade.
This plant does fine in poor, sandy soil. The main soil requirement is that it is well-drained. If your soil is heavy and doesn't drain well, work some peat into it. The hens and chicks plant also prefers a soil pH that is neutral (around 7).
These are drought-tolerant perennials. Give newly transplanted plants sufficient water to help them get established, but once they are established, be careful not to over-water them. Check the soil and make sure it is dry before watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Hens and chicks can be grown in planting zones 3 to 11. Sempervivum species are very cold-hardy and have been known to thrive in winters from Michigan to Colorado, with temperatures to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. They tolerate a wide range of humidity levels and are quite popular in dry climates.
This ground cover will thrive in poor soils, so there is no need to fertilize hens and chicks plants.
Varieties of Hens and Chicks
Many cultivars have been developed from the Sempervivum genus, including:
- 'Bernstein': Copper leaves with some gold mixed in
- 'Big Blue': Bluish-green leaves
- 'Black': Green leaves with purple tips
- 'Damask': Reddish foliage
- 'Terracotta Baby': Orangey-red foliage
Propagating Hens and Chicks
To propagate your hens and chicks plant, simply split the offsets from the parent plant, preserving the roots of each, if possible. Transplant the offsets in well-drained soil, creating a shallow hole where you can spread out the roots. Replace the soil to the crown of the plant and gently compact the soil around the roots. You can give it a light watering, but let the new plant dry out between waterings. Plants will spread on their own under ideal conditions.
Growing in Containers
Common container uses of hens and chicks include window boxes and concrete or stone planters where their low-maintenance qualities are appreciated. You can feature your hens and chicks in a container such as a strawberry pot if you keep dividing the offsets. To grow the plant in containers indoors, give them at least six hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day, and be careful to water them only when the soil has dried out completely.
While you can use almost any type of pot or other container, don't plant your hens and chicks in standard potting soil, which can hold too much water, making it easy to over-water the plant. The best potting medium is a mix formulated for succulents and cactus. Also ensure the container has plenty of drainage holes to prevent water from sitting at the bottom and keeping the soil too damp.
Growing From Seeds
You can grow hens and chicks from seeds, in addition to dividing the chicks. For a large area, sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil or a gravel mix. They need light to germinate and you should keep them moist but not wet. The seeds should sprout within three weeks. Then add some fine gravel and mulch. If you wish to start fewer plants, use peat pots and a starter mix of soil.