Hens and chicks plants are mat-forming succulents native to Europe and Africa that appear as clusters of rosettes. The parent rosettes are the "hens" and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the "chicks." A low-growing perennial, hens and chicks will quickly spread to 2 feet or more in width through manual propagation or self-propagation. Although typically grown for their interesting shape and succulent leaves (which are mostly red, green, blue, gold, or copper), hens and chicks do sometimes flower on a tall stalk.
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 moderately-quick growth rate and are best planted in spring—however, if you'd like to grow new plants from seed, you may 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, house leek|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||Light pink, reddish-purple|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Hens and Chicks Plant
Hens and Chicks Care
As drought-tolerant succulents, hens and chicks plants are among the best perennials for rock-gardens—they also grow well in cracks, whether in stone walls or between garden stepping stones. In their native Europe, they were grown on thatched roofs to help prevent fires and provide a winter vegetable, as they are edible.
If you're looking for a ground cover, you can replace your lawn with a combination of hens and chicks plus creeping sedum. 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 should you choose.
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, and you should remove the dead plant. Flowering can also 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 your hens and chicks plants in full sun (at least six hours daily), which will lead to both optimal coloration in the foliage, as well as ample "offspring." That being said, the plants can grow in partial shade as well, especially if being cared for in an especially hot, dry climate.
Hens and chicks plants are especially unfussy about their soil and will grow best in a mixture that is poor and sandy. The main soil requirement for the plant is that it be well-draining. If your soil is heavy and doesn't drain well, work some peat into the mixture to increase the aeration and drainage. If you're growing your plants in a container, the best potting medium is a mix formulated for succulents and cactus. You can also choose a pot that is made from clay or terracotta to help wick extra moisture from the soil. The hens and chicks plant also prefers a soil pH that is neutral.
Hens and chicks are drought-tolerant perennials, so they can withstand going weeks at a time without proper watering. Give newly transplanted plants sufficient water to help them get established, but once they are, 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 successfully grown in a range of temperatures, but prefer an average climate between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures drop too low, they will not necessarily die off but will definitely stop growing and go into a semi-dormant state. Additionally, hens and chicks 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.
Hens and Chicks Varieties
Many cultivars have been developed from the Sempervivum genus, including:
- 'Bernstein': a varietal with copper and gold leaves
- 'Big Blue': an eye-catching version with bluish-green leaves
- 'Black': a stunning version with green leaves that have purple tips
- 'Terracotta Baby': a varietal with vibrant orangey-red foliage
Propagating Hens and Chicks
To propagate your hens and chicks plant, simply split the offsets (the "chicks") from the parent plant (the "hen"), preserving the roots of each, if possible. Transplant the offsets into 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 around the roots. You can give the offset a light watering, but let the new plant dry out between waterings. Plants will spread on their own under ideal conditions.
How to Grow Hens and Chicks From Seed
You can grow hens and chicks from seeds, in addition to dividing the chicks. For a large area, sprinkle the seeds on top of 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. At that point, you can add some fine gravel and mulch. If you wish to start fewer plants, use peat pots and a starter mix of soil.
Hens and chicks that are grown indoors, in a greenhouse, or in overly-moist conditions tend to have the biggest issue with pests, most often in the form of mealy bugs and aphids. If you notice signs of an infestation, try to remove the bugs using a q-tip or cotton square soaked in rubbing alcohol. You can also treat the plants with neem oil or insecticidal soap.