If you’re looking for an easy, low-maintenance plant no matter where you live, hens and chicks is the succulent for you. They’re stunning in container gardens with other succulents, planted outdoors as ground cover, or even in the cracks of stone walls. The plants grow with little soil, and the tough little things are very cold hardy.
In this article, you’ll find everything you need to grow your own Sempervivum succulents. Hens and chicks come in tons of options, so there’s something for everyone.
Hens and Chicks Varieties
Hens and chicks is the common name of a few Sempervivum succulent plants. They’re sold across the United States and Canada, and the common type near you depends on how cold hardy the plant is. There are also Sedums called hens and chicks, so be sure to verify the type you’re getting.
Sempervivums are considered outdoor succulents, and they’re extremely resilient. Most resemble unfurled roses, and they come in different colors, textures, and forms. They’re typically chosen for the low-growing foliage, but some well-established hens may bloom in the summer as well. Native to mountainous, stony areas, these succulents (like most) are hardy and drought-tolerant.
Hens and chicks most often refers to Sempervivum tectorum, which has light pink to almost red-purple colored leaves. There are many other cultivars in the Sempervivum genus as well, such as:
- “Big Blue”—Bluish-green foliage
- “Bernstein”—Copper-colored leaves with gold
- “Black”—Green foliage with purple tips
- “Terracotta Bay”—Red-orange leaves
- “Damask”—Reddish leaves
How to Plant Hens and Chicks
The cool part about growing hens and chicks is that the clusters self-propagate, with the parent rosettes as the “hens” and the baby rosettes they produce as the “chicks.” While this means planting this succulent is easy enough for beginners, you’ll also grow future plants without even trying.
When the yearly growing season begins, the hens spread underground roots that each produce at least four chicks. The offsets—or chicks—can then be broken off and transplanted to a new location.
Ways to Plant
There are many ways you can plant hens and chicks. You can buy a succulent from your local garden nursery and transplant it in a container, plant it in a rock garden or between stepping stones, or allow it to spread out as ground cover. They’re widely available in most garden nurseries. Another option is to start the plant from seed, but this method is recommended for planting ground cover.
Growing in Containers
If you want to grow hens and chicks indoors, a container is ideal. Window boxes and stone or concrete planters are low-maintenance options, but strawberry planters are another option if you want to continue dividing the offsets later. Peat moss and clay pots are also excellent for fewer plants in a container.
You can transplant a plant from your local garden nursery or take cuttings from an existing chick or offset from a parent plant and transplant them.
All you must do is dig a shallow hole, just enough room for the roots to spread out. Place the chick into the hole and fill the soil to the crown of the plant, gently compacting the soil down toward the roots. Lightly water the plant and allow them to further spread on their own.
Growing from Seed
You can also opt to grow this succulent from seeds, which is ideal if you want to cover a large area. Many seed varieties are widely available for sale from online nurseries.
If you want hens and chicks as ground cover, all you need to do is sprinkle the seeds on your topsoil. Then, just keep the seeds moist (not wet) until they sprout. You can also plant the seeds in a container filled with cactus mix and gently mist the soil after planting. To protect the seeds, apply mulch and fine gravel after the plants start to sprout.
Hens and chicks are hardy in a wide range of zones, typically from 3 to 11. However, the specific succulent for your area may depend on the plant’s frost tolerance.
Offer a full-sun location for hens and chicks, and possible part shade in the afternoon. The foliage will reach full color with plenty of bright sunlight. If you live in a southern location, the plant benefits from partial shade from the harsh afternoon sun. Indoor hens and chicks grow best with at least 6-8 hours of bright, indirect light daily.
Sandy, poor soil is ideal, with a neutral pH of between 6.6 and 7.5. The crucial part is that the soil must drain well. If it’s too heavy, you can add peat to the mixture to fix the issue. A mixture of two parts sand, two parts topsoil, and one part perlite work well. For potted hens and chicks, you can use a cactus or succulent soil mix as well.
The seeds require sunlight to germinate, which normally takes three weeks.
Space Between Seedlings
Provide plenty of space for hens and chicks to spread naturally. Small plants need four inches of space, while larger varieties require 6-8 inches to form new rosettes.
How to Care for Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks are easy enough for beginners. They’re cold-hardy, drought-tolerant, and require little care.
Succulents require quick drainage, which makes them perfect when planted in a rock garden. They’re also considered drought-tolerant perennials, so they don’t require much water after they’re properly established. The soil should feel dry between watering.
After transplanting hens and chicks, allow them to establish themselves completely for watering at all. But if you plant hens and chicks from seed, you’ll need to mist the seedlings every couple of days until the plant reaches an inch in diameter.
If you live in a hot or dry area, you may also need to provide more frequent watering. Watering often increases in the summer and reduces over winter.
Ideal temperatures should remain between 65 and 75 degrees F, on average. Sempervivums are cold hardy in temperatures as low as -30 degrees F, so they even grow throughout winter in states like Michigan and Colorado. However, they become semi-dormant in colder temperatures and stop growing.
Because hens and chicks grow well in poor soil, you don’t need to add fertilizer. Potted plants, however, tend to require fertilizer more than ground-planted options. Try a liquid fertilizer in the spring and summer, and make sure to dilute the solution by at least half.
If your hens produce dramatic flowers, however, they will die soon afterwards. You’ll need to remove the dead mother hen, and most die after four or six years. Flowering is often a bad sign, so you might check for poor growing conditions where the mother hen was growing and prune back the blooms.
Common Problems to Growing Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks are overall disease resistant. The most common problem to growing these succulents comes from mishandling or environmental problems.
Overwatering is the most likely issue you’ll face. Wet conditions cause the leaves to droop and the plant will literally lift from the soil. Root rot and fungus issues are also common, especially in the winter. It’s vital you allow the soil to dry thoroughly before watering the plant again and offer proper drainage.
Cut back on watering during the winter, and if the plant doesn’t perk up, remove it from the container to dry out altogether. If you’re still having trouble, consider adding peat moss to the soil.
Too much sun can also lead to sunburn, which means the plants need protection from the afternoon sun. If you can’t move them to the shade, try putting up a shade cloth for added protection in the summer.
Sempervivums also seldom suffer from pest or insect trouble. Some varieties are attractive to rabbits and deer in the spring, but any damaged foliage tends to grow out on their own. Even if deer eat the foliage all the way to the crown, the sprout will come back.
Mealybugs and aphids are the most common pest to cause damage to Sempervivums, particularly if the plants were started inside or in a greenhouse or grow outside in a damp location. Beneficial insects should take care of the issue for you, but you can also remove the insects using insecticidal soap. Try moving the plants to a sunnier area if the problem persists.
Best Companion Plants for Hens and Chicks
When planted as ground cover, hens and chicks is stunning with Sedums. Other succulents have similar care guidelines, which make them ideal when selecting companion plants for outdoor gardens. Other succulents commonly grown with Sempervivum include:
- Sedum sexangulare
- Jovibarba heuffelii
- Sedum rupestre
- Sedum hispanicum
Cushion plants are also drought-tolerant and sun-loving, making them excellent choices. They come in great choices like:
- Cushion Pink
- Miniature Yellow
Gardeners who enjoy pairing vibrant colors, textures, and shapes may choose to design stunning xeriscape or rock gardens. Perennial blooms that pair well with succulents in this setting include:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula stoechas)
- African Lily
- Blanket Flower
- Treasure Flower
- Kangaroo Paw
- Red Valerian
- Fortnight Lily
- Mexican Daisy
- Lion’s Tail
- Sea Lavender
- Bush Monkey Flower
- Evening Primrose
- Ivy Geranium
- Matilija Poppy
- Bird of Paradise
- Purple Heart
Some companions are selected because both plants benefit from the relationship. They can be used to aid against heat or water. Dianthus, although a partial shade plant, also offers protection against the summer sun. Plant them on the north or east for the best results.
The Only Real Care You Need to Do
Tough, hardy plants like these succulents don’t require much work from you. However, they don’t live forever. The mothers die after around 3-4 years, and you must remove them. You may also need to divide the chicks from the hens or mother plants every couple of years to prevent overcrowding. Otherwise, the plant may continue to spread as long as you allow.
Hens and chicks are overall simple to care for, even if you’ve never worked with succulents before.