Introducing the Forever Alive Plant called Hens and Chicks

The plant called hens and chicks are well-known cushion perennials. They are also known under the name of Houseleek. They can be found wherever other plants can hardly survive. Be it on the roof, in tiny joints in the rock garden, in vessels or in extreme locations. With their evergreen rosettes of leaves, they defy the heat and drought in summer as well as the frosty cold in winter.

What are hens and chicks plants?

The botanical genus Sempervivum includes almost 50 species of hens and chicks. Cultivars and varieties, on the other hand, are hard to manage. They are so numerous that many forms can no longer be distinguished and identified. Hens and chicks willingly accept pollen from other species and varieties, which leads to constant new crosses. Their natural home is the mountains and rock formations in Europe and Asia.

As representatives of thick-leaf plants (Crassulaceae), hens and chicks form evergreen mats and cushions from succulent rosettes. Their leaf rosettes are made up of pointed leaves that are often bristly or hairy on the edge. They are very diverse in shape and shade. Some species and varieties have spherical, closed or star-shaped spreading leaves. The colors range from green, through red, red-green to orange. This diversity has brought them into the focus of many plant collectors, especially since they are undemanding and extremely easy to care for.

During the summer, older rosettes will develop upright stems. The tile-like foliage on the fleshy flower shoots is striking. At its end there are three-part wraps with star-shaped flowers of yellow, pink or red color. After flowering, these rosettes die and are replaced by daughter rosettes on the lateral runners. This results in a seemingly never-ending regeneration process that gives hens and chicks a long life. In addition, it possibly explains the botanical origin of the name, which can be translated as “always living” (semper and vivium). However, this interpretation is not entirely certain because there are other interpretations.

Hens and chicks is a popular cushioning plant in gardening. They green areas in which most other plants have little chance of survival.

Where to plant hens and chicks?

Hens and chicks can be used in many ways in the garden. They are good at dealing with sun and drought. Large root space is just as little required as special care. The best place to plant hens and chicks is a sunny spot, paired with poor soil and excellent drainage. We recommend protection from icy winds, which can cause the rose cushions to dry out from frost. These claims relate to both hens and chicks that have been planted in the ground and those that grow in pots and containers.

where to plant hens and chicks

Drainage is the magic word when it comes to soil. Sand, gravel, expanded clay, grit – any drainage material is possible – the main thing is that the moisture is drained off. Hens and chicks really tolerates a lot, but stagnant moisture is their death sentence. If the garden soil is not sandy enough, mix in drainage material generously. Apply a layer of gravel around the plant so that the hens and chicks rosettes do not lie in the wet. Thanks to it, the leaf rosettes will always be dry and cannot rot. Compost and fertilizer do not belong in the soil, because they make hens and chicks fat and sensitive.

In pots, tubs, troughs or other creative planters, use cactus soil or potting soil mixed with sand as a substrateHoles for water drainage at the bottom of the vessel are absolutely essential.

How to plant hens and chicks in a pot?

how to plant hens and chicks in a pot
How to plant hens and chicks in containers
  1. A secure drainage is essential for potted plants , so cover the drainage holes with pottery shards when planting so that they do not clog.
  2. Then fill in a drainage layer made of expanded clay or gravel, which is separated from the soil with a piece of fleece (see picture above).
  3. You can use normal potting soil as a substrate, but this should still be mixed with coarse sand, lava gravel or the like. Alternatively, there are special soils for cacti and succulents, which are perfect for growing the hens and chicks in a pot.

How do you care for hens and chicks?

The care of the hens and chicks can be summarized in a few sentences. Watering is only necessary in extremely dry periods. When watering, do not let the water settle on the rosettes, but moisten only the soil. If moisture collects between the leaves, rot is inevitable. Cut off rotten or faded rosettes regularly with a knife.

Heavily hairy hens and chicks, e.g. cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum), is to be covered with a pane of glass to protect it from moisture in winter. Fertilization is hardly necessary for the extremely modest hens and chicks. Occasional or weak fertilization can only improve growth in forms with particularly large rosettes.

How do you propagate hens and chicks?

The easiest way to multiply hens and chicks is through division in spring. Part of the cushion is cut off and moved to a new, equal place. Side rosettes can also be removed and rooted in the propagation soil during spring.

How to separate hens and chicks plants?

The chicks (offsets or offshoots) are usually small, fully formed plants. These arise from the main shoot of the mother plant (hen) and are used for vegetative reproduction. In succulents, they sometimes also grow at the end of a short side shoot. The offshoots in hens and chicks are connected to the mother plant at the base.

how to separate hens and chicks plants

When propagating with offsets you should make sure that the offsets have already reached a sufficient size and have some well-developed leaves before being separated from the mother plant. When the selected offshoot has reached the right size, carefully separate it from the mother plant with a sharp knife disinfected in spirit (alcohol). Make the cut as close as possible to the main shoot of the mother plant without damaging it too much.

Place the separated offshoot a few centimeters deep in the potting soil and press on carefully from all sides. Larger and top-heavy chicks can be protected from falling over with a bamboo stick until they have sufficient roots.

Water the substrate sparingly until it starts rooting, which is evident from the first new shoot. The potting soil should only be slightly moist. If you keep the potting soil too wet at the beginning, the offsets will not grow but only rot away. A temperature range of 19 to 23°C is ideal for rooting most hens and chicks offsets.

In the beginning, the newly planted chicks must not be exposed to direct sunlight. As the roots are still missing or only sparsely developed, the young plants are not yet able to meet the increased water requirements caused by the sun. Therefore, give the offshoots a location with medium light conditions until the roots are formed.

Growing hens and chicks from seed

If you are patient, you can try hens and chicks seed propagation. The best time to sow is from the end of December to February, because the succulent plant is one of the winter growers.

To begin, sow the fine seeds in slightly moist soil and place the growing containers outdoors.

You can also break the seed dormancy all year round in the refrigerator. Put the seeds sown in moist soil in a bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for several weeks.

What types of hens and chicks are there?

Pure types are less common than the numerous varieties of hens and chicks. There is an unmanageable variety of cultural forms, because they cross each other very willingly and always form new hybrids.

  • Sempervivum arachoideum (cobweb houseleek) – distinctive species with cobweb-like hairs over the rosettes. Sensitive to winter wetness.
  • Sempervivum giuseppii – vigorous houseleek from SW Europe with small, spherical rosettes
  • Sempervivum montanum (mountain houseleek) – native species from Central Europe with star-shaped rosettes. Tends to hybridize.
  • Sempervivum tectorum (common houseleek) – Well-known and widespread species with open, green rosettes that overflow with purple.

Are hens and chicks plants poisonous?

Hens and chicks plants are not poisonous, but like other thick leaf plants, if overdosed, it can lead to vomiting, nausea and mild symptoms of poisoning.