Hens and Chicks Plant Care: Tips for the Winter Hardy Sempervivum

As a superlative perennial, the indestructible hens and chicks plant thrives in places that other plants avoid as much as possible. It retains its distinctive silhouette in freezing cold, sweltering heat and desert-like dryness. These answers to common questions explain why you cannot do without this splendid problem solver.

hens and chicks plant care winter hardy
Sempervivum, a plant called hens and chicks or houseleek

Planting the Houseleek

In order for an enchanting garden with houseleeks to successfully take shape, plant the thick-leaf plants in a sunny location. If the soil quality does not come close to the ideal sandy-dry conditions, add sand, fine grit or expanded clay to the soil.

How to plant the hens and chicks correctly:

  • Dig small pits at a distance of 10-15 cm
  • Remove houseleek from its pot, insert in the middle and fill the hole with substrate up to the lower two leaves
  • Do not add compost or other fertilizers to the ground
  • Water sparingly, doing best to avoid waterlogging

Read also:
Hens and chicks plant care indoors

If you are looking to plant houseleek in planters, the process is similar. Use poor cactus soil as the substrate, enriched with sand and lava granules. In addition, insert small shards of clay or pebbles between the drainage hole and the substrate to act as drainage.

Hens and Chicks Care tips

As a low maintenance plant, the hens and chicks live in the garden and pots according to the minimalist principle. If it receives the smallest possible dose of everything, the perennial will be in top form. This applies to the supply of water and nutrients. The only exception is their insatiable hunger for sunlight. The individual factors of proper care therefore is very simple. These are what matter:

  • Do not fertilize hens and chicks
  • Only water during summer
  • No pruning is required
  • Remove the withered flower along with the dead rosette

There are no provisions to be made for wintering in the garden. If the houseleek thrives in the pot, place the vessel on a wooden block in front of a rain-protected south wall in winter. A cover made of bubble wrap or jute tape keeps the frost away from the root ball.

Suitable Location for Planting

In order for the Sempervivum to perfectly showcase its fireworks of colors and shapes, it requires a location in full sun. The blazing sun can also dominate here during the hot midday hours in summer without the perennial weakening. Green the rock garden, the dry stone wall, the gravel bed or the barren roof garden with houseleek, because the thick leaf plants won’t let you down here.

Ideal Planting Distance

The majority of houseleek species reach a width of 10 to 20 cm, regardless of their individual height. So you are right with a planting distance of 10-15 cm to decorate an area with the beautiful rosettes. On larger areas, we recommend 20 to 30 plants per square meter.

Best Soil for Houseleek

Hens and chicks favor a dry, mineral soil. Therefore, choose a location with sandy-gravelly and well-drained soil, which may be calcareous. In common, nutrient-rich soil, the houseleek will fall far short of expectations. In order for Sempervivum to exude its pithy charm in the pot garden, a poor cactus soil should be used as a substrate, enriched with sand and lava granules.

Best Time to Plant

Planting time for houseleek in the container is during the entire growing season. In order to offer the graceful, distinctive perennial the best conditions for a start in life, we recommend the months of April / May and September / October as the ideal planting time. Especially in the sun-warm autumn soil, a young Sempervivum quickly gains a foothold in order to surprise with a blossom in the second or third year of standing.

Hens and Chicks Flowering Period

From June to the end of July, white or pink inflorescence rises above the magnificent leaf rosettes. The sunnier the location, the more colorful the spectacle of the single or double flowers. Do not cut off the withered inflorescence too early, as the seed heads are also very decorative. Since the entire rosette dies at the end of the flowering period, it can be removed together with the withered flower stem.

Pruning Houseleeks

At the sight of delicate Sempervivums, no one will think to pick up the scissors here. If the first and only bloom appears at the age of 2 to 3 years, trimming or cutting back is out of the question. At the end of the flowering period, the rosette that produced the inflorescence dies. Their remains are completely removed from the soil, while adjacent shoots and secondary rosettes are not to be touched, as a flowering can be expected here in the following year.

Watering Hens and Chicks

With a watering can in hand, you will seldom make your way to a houseleek. The succulent ornamental plant has its own water reservoir, which it fills in during rainy seasons in order to feed on it during drought. In contrast to drought, waterlogging causes considerable problems. So only water in exceptional cases when life-threatening drought prevails.

Fertilizing Houseleeks

Fertilizer in any form affects the vitality and the beautiful colors of houseleek. This applies to both the garden and the pot. If additional nutrients get to the Sempervivum, a pithy growth occurs, accompanied by false colors and rot. In the planter, Sempervivum receive a sufficient quantity of nutrients if they are repotted into fresh substrate every now and then.

Hens and Chicks Plant Care in Winter

When it comes to wintering, houseleek proves once again that it is one of the most easy-care perennials. In the garden, the Sempervivum survives the cold season without special protective measures. Only in the pot or balcony box do we recommend taking the following precautions so that the root ball does not freeze through:

  • Before the first frost, place the planter on a wooden block in front of the south wall of the house
  • Wrap the planter or plant box thickly with bubble wrap

Do not carry the little beauty into the house because it will not survive there. Only in the unheated, bright garage or the cold box is there a chance of getting through the winter safely behind glass.

Hens and Chicks Propagation

Before a houseleek begins its final life cycle in the form of a flower, the plant has already taken care of offspring on its own. Runners and offsets thrive in the immediate vicinity, so that a dense Sempervivum carpet develops in the garden and container over the years. These offsets make excellent propagation material.

hens and chicks propagation

How to separate hens and chicks correctly:

  • The best date for vegetative reproduction is spring
  • Separate fully developed secondary rosettes from the mother plant
  • Set in the dry, sandy soil at the new location and water lightly

For propagation, use daughter rosettes that come from a mother plant that is at least two years old. These are so developed that they survive the stress of separation unscathed.

Caring for Hens and Chicks in Pots

Since houseleeks need fresh air for vital growth and the cold stimulus of winter, they are unsuitable as indoor plants in pots. The perennials make up for this shortcoming by accepting almost any vessel as a home, as long as it has a water outlet. The houseleek has already been spotted in old shoes, into which a little soil was filled. Sempervivum adorns the cottage garden in disused wash tubs. The effort required for maintenance can be counted on one hand:

  • Only water a little when there is no rain
  • Houseleek with wet feet will inevitably die
  • Fertilizing and trimming are not required

If winter is just around the corner, place the pot on a wooden block or a styrofoam plate. Wrapped in bubble wrap, the perennial lingers in the open air, because the cold stimulus contributes significantly to vitality. If in doubt, take the pot to the unheated, bright garage or put it in the cold box until the harsh winter lets up.

Toxicity of the Houseleek

Houseleek has been used in a variety of ways as an ornamental, medicinal and food plant since the Middle Ages. It is praised for the wide range of effects for all kinds of ailments. The valuable ingredients heal skin irritations, relieve burns, remove warts and are even said to be effective against numbness. Sempervivum cannot therefore be said to be toxic

Best Hens and Chicks Planting Ideas

The frugal houseleek decorates every conceivable vessel with its magical rosettes. Go through the whole house all the way up to the attic. Visit flea markets and antique fairs. We have listed some of the most beautiful planting ideas for you here:

hens and chicks planting ideas
  • In an antique pewter teapot
  • Remove the upholstery from a chair, fill in soil and plant
  • Fill the curved side of a roof tile with substrate and insert houseleeks
  • Convert the old bundt cake pan into a planter

Embellishing old leather shoes with houseleeks is now a classic. What is new, however, is the concrete bundt cake, in the middle of which Sempervivum can develop wonderfully.

concrete bundt cake 1