The hens and chicks plant, also called house leek, is a mat-forming succulent with fleshy pointed leaves arranged in rosettes. The parent rosette is the "hen" and the smaller rosettes that grow from it are the "chicks." Plant hens and chicks in temperate to warm, dry climates, and where there's full sun to light shade. Plant the succulent in well-draining soil. However, it prefers sandy, gravelly soil, making it a favorite choice for landscapes with rock gardens, wall crevices, and places where other plants struggle.
|Common Name||Hens and chicks, hen and chicks, house leek|
|Botanical Name||Sempervivum tectorum|
|Plant Type||Succulent, evergreen perennial|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–18 in. wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Flower Color||Light pink, reddish-purple|
|Hardiness Zones||3–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Hens and Chicks Plant
Hens and Chicks Care
Here are the main care requirements, which are minimal, for growing hens and chicks.
- Place the plant in bright light, or full sun, unless you live in a very hot, dry climate, then put the plant in light shade.
- Use well-draining, gravely soil outdoors or succulent/cactus mix indoors.
- Avoid smothering the plant with too much water and fertilizer. Check the soil for dryness first before watering.
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 plentiful offsets. 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 nonchalant about their soil but will grow best in a mix that is sandy or gravelly. 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 gravel, pumice, perlite, or sand into the mixture to increase the aeration and drainage. These plants prefer a neutral soil.
If you're growing your plants in a container, the best potting medium is a mix formulated for succulents and cacti.
Hens and chicks are drought-tolerant perennials, so they can withstand going weeks at a time without 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 can thrive in poor soils. They appreciate a slow-release fertilizer designed for succulents or cacti that's low in nitrogen and includes beneficial soil microbes. Be careful not to over-fertilize.
Types of Hens and Chicks
You may find this plant sold in two species variations: Sempervivum tectorum var. arvernense, which features leaves that are covered with velvet-like hairs; and Sempervivum tectorum var. tectorum, with smooth leaves edged with hairs.
Commercially, there are several cultivars of S. tectorum offered, bred for different foliage colors and shapes:
- 'Bernstein' has copper and gold leaves.
- 'Big Blue' is an eye-catching version with bluish-green leaves.
- 'Black' is a stunning version with green leaves that have purple tips.
- 'Terracotta Baby' is a variety with vibrant orangey-red foliage.
- 'Claudia' has large rosettes with bright red leaves.
- 'Herringer Rose' has 5-inch rosettes with red leaves, tinged with brown.
- 'Launcelot' has brownish-red leaves.
- 'Morgenrote' is a gorgeous cultivar featuring plumb-red leaves edged with green.
- 'Pelora' is an unusual mutant variety with bright green, bullet-shaped leaves.
Other species of this genus are also sold, usually as houseplants. You may find them lumped together as Sempervivum, with no species designation.
Propagating Hens and Chicks
To propagate a hens and chicks plant, simply split the offsets (the "chicks") from the parent plant (the "hen"), preserving the roots of each, if possible. Here's how:
- Using a small trowel, 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 it 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
In addition to propagating by digging up the offset chicks, you can also grow hens and chicks from the seeds that are produced from a mature plant's flowers. However, seeds from hybrid plants may not produce plants that are true to the parents. If you'd like to try propagating from seed, here's how:
- Collect the seeds from the pods left behind after the flowers fade, and sprinkle them on top of pots filled with cactus/succulent potting mix.
- Lightly moisten the mix and place the pot in a bright location; the seeds should sprout within three weeks.
- At that point, you can add some fine gravel and mulch.
Potting and Repotting Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks is also a good potted or container garden plant, both outdoors and indoors. This plant does well when planted in a shallow, well-drained container filled with a cactus/succulent potting mix. Use a clay pot, which will wick moisture to prevent overwatering. Hens and chicks can be grown alone as a small cluster colony, or in a large container as one plant in a mixed group of succulents or miniature rock garden.
Hens and chicks don't require winter cold protection, but they resent wet winter conditions, so it's best to clean away ground debris to keep collected moisture from introducing rot. Outdoor potted plants are subject to temperature extremes in cold winter zones, so place them in a sheltered location, or bring them indoors for the winter.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
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 mealybugs and aphids. If you notice signs of an infestation, try to remove the bugs using a cotton swap or cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. You can also treat the plants with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Moist conditions or poor drainage can encourage a variety of fungal leaf spots or root rot. Keeping these plants in dry conditions is the best way to forestall these issues.
How to Get Hens and Chicks to Bloom
What do Hens and Chick's Flowers Look and Smell Like?
Up close, the plant's flower is tiny and delicate, and not the showiest of blooms, nor is there an indication of scent. When these rare flowers do appear, they will sit on the tip of a vertically elongated stalk. The flowers will have six to even 12 petals with a daisy-like appearance. The flower colors range from pinkish, orange, yellow, or white.
How to Encourage More Blooms
These plants are grown for their foliage and geometric growth habit, so flowering is not necessarily desirable nor should it always be encouraged. These are plants that usually propagate themselves vegetatively, not through seeds, so flowering can even be a sign of poor conditions. A hens and chicks plant will flower if it feels stressed by overcrowding or extreme light or temperature shifts.
In addition, it can take at least a couple of years before this plant sends up a distress bloom. But should you want the plant to flower (such as if you want to experiment with seed propagation), you can deliberately stress the plant by shading it.
Caring for Hens and Chicks After It Blooms
A plant, such as hens and chicks, that dies after it flowers is called a monocarpic succulent. Flowering doesn't always occur, which is completely normal. In a mature plant, the central rosette (the hen) will die after it flowers. You can either remove the stalk or leave it in place so it can collapse into the colony and create a compost. Either way, the offset chicks will continue the colony. If you want to remove the stalk after the blooms fade, then snip it off, but be careful you do not injure the nearby offsets. An established colony will live for decades with this constant replacement of rosettes, with or without blooms.
Common Problems With Hens and Chicks
In ideal conditions, hens and chicks is typically a carefree plant. When problems occur, it's often because the plant is getting too much water.
Plant Turns Mushy
When the leaves turn soft and begin to wilt, it is usually because overly wet conditions are causing the plant to rot. The roots may already be rotting, so the best solution is to dig up the plant, split off any of the "chick" rosettes that are still intact, and discard the bad sections. If this is a regular occurrence, it indicates your soil needs to have improved drainage by amending it with sand or gravel.
Rosettes Die Back
It is natural for a "hen" rosette to die back after it produces flowers and sets seed. Paradoxically, this plant is more likely to flower and subsequently die if it is getting too much water or too much fertilizer.
Do hens and chicks come back every year?
As long as the plant is living in well-drained soil outdoors, you should see the perennial hens and chicks plant come back every year. As a drought-tolerant succulent, a hens and chicks plant is one of the better perennials with many uses, including rock gardens—they also grow well in cracks, whether in stone walls or between garden stepping stones. If you're looking for a ground cover, you can replace your lawn with a combination of hens and chicks plus creeping sedum.
Do hens and chicks need sun or shade?
Full sun is best, but if you live in a very hot, dry climate, part shade is ideal for the plant. The colors of the foliage may not be as intense in partial shade, though.
Is this plant edible?
The leaves of hens and chicks are completely edible and can be used in salads and other dishes. The taste is slightly sour, like an unripe apple.
Where did the name "house leek" come from?
The common name "house leek" comes from an old English word “leac,” meaning plant. These plants are known to literally grow on houses, especially those with slate or stone shingles. They were sometimes deliberately planted on roofs to hold roof shingles in place.
Sempervivum Diseases, Problems, and Pests. National Gardening Association.
Sempervivum. North Carolina State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.