Hens and chicks succulents are indeed cute and adorable like real hens and chicks. The botanical name of this succulent is Sempervivum tectorum. It’s also known as common houseleek and is indeed common and occurs all over the world. It’s very easy to grow and survives in a wide range of conditions. However, since it looks so delightful, cactus lovers take pride to have them in their cactus and succulent collection.
Sempervivum tectorum belongs to the Crassulaceae family. Some of its other names are Jupiter Beard, Jupiter’s Eye, Thor’s Beard, Thunder Plant and Liveforever. However, Hens and Chicks is its most common name which is because of the pattern in which the new offsets grow around the mother plant in a tight cluster by an underground runner, and look like a hen and her chicks. The baby plants or chicks may be as small as a dime and the mother plant can grow to the size of a small plate. Similar to most other succulents, hens and chicks too is very easy to care for. It’s not fussy and can easily tolerate environmental changes.
Facts about Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks is native to Southern Europe; however, once it was discovered, it soon spread all through Europe and several other parts of the world like Morocco, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and even in some parts of the Sahara desert.
It’s commonly found in the Alps and the Carpathians. Since it loves dry environments and rocky areas, it occurs on walls, roof shingles and on rocks in montane regions.
This plant is extremely sturdy and durable, and maintains its green color even in the harshest environmental conditions. Hence the name Sempervivum is most suitable to the plant which in Latin means ‘always living’.
Although one of its names is common houseleek, it’s not related to the common leek in any way.
Not Toxic to Pets
It’s not toxic to pets like dogs and cats. Actually, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has declared Sempervivum tectorum a safe plant for dogs, cats and horses.
The plant is even edible. You can eat its leaves raw or by juicing them. Their taste as well as texture are same as cucumbers. What’s more, its fruits, seeds, flowers, roots and stem too are edible. However, if consumed in large mounts, it can cause vomiting. Therefore, it’s better to eat it in moderation, particularly on the first try.
Hens and chicks succulent is believed to have several medicinal properties. It’s often taken in place of Aloe vera and its leaves are commonly used in the treatment of burns and other skin conditions like bites, stings, scalds and even warts. The leaves offer a cooling, stringent effect which softens and tightens the skin at the same time.
If you wish to collect more information about hens and chicks succulent, you may not be satisfied with the info available. The reason for the insufficient information available is that the plant features vary greatly depending on the growing conditions or the modifications the plant goes through across the year. There may be a lot of confusion between varieties and subspecies, and backcrossing and hybrids are quite common.
However, some general characteristics are that the plant is evergreen, low-growing, has elliptical leaves with purple or brown tips arranged in a rosette pattern. Since there is water stored in the leaves, they look plump. In optimal growing conditions, the plant can grow up to 20 cm tall and 20 cm wide.
Summer is the blooming season for hens and chicks. Flowers can be red, purple or pink depending on the variety. Flowers appear from June to July and the fruits ripen by late August.
In general, two species variations of hens and chicks are sold. These are Sempervivum tectorum var. arvernense, which has leaves that are covered with velvet-like hair and S. tectorum var. Tectorum with smooth leaves bordered with hair.
Commercially several cultivars of S. tectorum are available, popular for their various foliage colors and shapes.
- Claudia: Bright red leaves
- Terracotta Baby: A stunning variety with fabulous orangey-red leaves
- Black: An eye-catching version with green leaves that have purple tips
- Big Blue: A very attractive version with bluish-green leaves
- Bernstein: Copper and gold leaves
- Pelora: An unusual mutant variety with bullet-shaped bright green foliage
- Morgenrote: A stunning cultivar with plumb-red leaves with green edges
- Launcelot: Brownish red leaves
- Herringer Rose: A stunning version with 5-inch rosettes with red leaves with a tinge of brown
How to Grow Hens and Chicks?
Although hens and chicks are easy to grow, you should remember that it doesn’t like dark and humid environments. Therefore make sure you choose a dry and sunny planting site. It likes heat zone 4 which is specific to the United Kingdom. But it can also grow in heat zones 3 to 11. It loves sandy and loamy soils with good drainage. If other conditions are appropriate, it can flourish in any soil pH, whether acidic, alkaline or neutral. Actually it needs very little soil and can even grow in rock crevasses.
Another thing to remember is that though the plant loves light and warmth, it can be damaged by extreme heat. Therefore, providing it a shelter during heatwaves is recommended. It’s not uncommon for hens and chicks to go dormant when the temperatures rise above 25 degrees C or drop under 18 degrees C. thus the ideal temperature for its growth is 18-to-24-degree C. However, it can withstand moderate amounts of frost without getting damaged. Fortunately the changes in the temperatures cannot cause a permanent damage to the plant, but its development will be paused.
Hens and chicks plant needs full sun (at lest 6 hours every day) which will result in optimal coloration in leaves and several offsets. However, the plant can even grow in partial shade, particularly if taken care of well in especially hot and dry climate.
You can plant the succulent in clay pots in a cactus or succulent mix which even you can make yourself by mixing two parts of sand, two parts of topsoil and one part of perlite. If your garden soil is heavy and not well-draining, work some sand and peat into it to improve drainage and aeration.
As mentioned before, hens and chicks is not very fussy, and like most succulents, won’t be unhappy if you forget to water it often. It’s recommended to first let the soil dry completely before watering. After watering, give it a good soak, until the water passes through the soil and comes out from the drainage holes. Then let the plant absorb more water from the drip tray for a few minutes and then throw away the excess water.
Although watering requirements may differ depending on growing conditions, in general hens and chicks is happy if watered every 10-14 days. When in spring and summer temperatures are rising and the plant is actively growing, it will need more water. Watering should be reduced as the temperature drops in late fall and the plant enters dormancy.
No Need of Fertilization
Sempervivum tectorum doesn’t need any fertilization as such. However, you can feed it in spring and summer, to boost its growth. Potted plants need more fertilization than outdoor plants. Slow-release or liquid fertilizer is good to use. Younger plants like fertilizers with low nitrogen, whereas a more balanced fertilizer is required by more mature plants.
Since hens and chicks doesn’t grow very big, you won’t need to repot it frequently. However, if you have to move it to a new pot or outdoors, allow the soil to completely dry and then put off the plant gently. Then shake off excess soil, cut off damaged roots if any and transplant it to the new location.
Hens and chicks can be grown from seeds. However, an even easier and quicker way is to grow it from offsets which grow in clusters around the mother plant.
Growing from Seeds
If you want to grow from seeds, you should know that only mature, many year-old plants will bloom and die once they do so, but they will leave behind small fruit containing seeds. Remove the fruit from its pod, dry it and crush it to remove seeds.
For the best results, it’s a good idea to refrigerate the seeds for 4 weeks before sowing them. After that, place them in small pots on the soil surface and cover them with sand or grit. You should place the pot on a sunny windowsill in a warm room with an average temperature of more than 21-degree C.
The soil should be kept relatively moist until the seeds sprout which usually takes around 5 weeks. If the seeds don’t sprout, you can refrigerate them again for a few more weeks and repeat the process. After the new plants grow consistent roots, they can be transplanted outside. However, don’t expect that the new plants will resemble its parent plant because your plant can be commonly hybridized.
Growing from Offsets
Propagating from offsets is very easy. Ech hens and chicks plant will develop at least 4 offsets in every growing season. Just snap them off and plant them in individual pots. Same as with most other succulents, it’s a good idea to let the soil dry completely before division and let the new plants recover for a few days from the separation shock before watering them. Using a rooting hormone is a good idea to provide the new plants a boost of nutrients to deal with separation from the mother plant.
While growing in ideal conditions, hens and chicks is an almost carefree plant. Still, when issues occur, they’re often because of overwatering. When it comes to diseases, overwatering can cause crown to rot and some verities can develop Endophyllum rust if grown in humid environments.
Plant Turning Mushy
Sometimes the leaves of the plant become soft and start wilting, it’s often because of overly wet conditions. The roots may already be rotting; hence the best remedy is to dig up the plant, take off any ‘chick’ rosettes that are still intact and throw away the rotted parts. If that happens regularly, it’s an indication that your soil needs to have its drainage improved by adding sand or gravel.
Dying before Flowering
Hens and chicks is a monocarpic plant i.e. it dies after it blooms. However, some plants may die before flowering. The reason can be overwatering. Sempervivum does well when planted outdoors, with ample sunlight and limited water. Cold temperatures can hardly kill this plant as it’s hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8. In fact, it needs a winter chill for proper growth.
However, when it’s given too much water, its leaves throughout the plant can die, but they won’t be dried out. On the contrary, leaves of an overwatered plant will be swollen and mushy. If you notice this, let the soil dry completely before watering again. If the site where you’ve planted the succulent is too wet, you should relocate the plant.
Too little water can also be a reason for drying leaves. However, the plant won’t die unless this continues for a prolonged period.
Aphids and Mealy Bugs
Hens and chicks when grown indoors, in a greenhouse or in excessively humid conditions can have a serious issue of pests, especially aphids and mealy bugs. If any signs of infestations occur, try to remove the bugs with a cotton ball or cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. You can also use neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Root Rot or Fungal Leaf Spots
Poor drainage or humid conditions can boost a range of fungal leaf spots or root rot. Hence keeping these succulents in dry conditions is the best way to protect them.
Hens and chicks succulents are perfect to start a succulent collection for beginner gardeners. They spared very quickly and almost impossible to kill. You’ll just have to make sure it’s not surrounded by moist environment, gets ample sunlight, planted in a well-draining soil which need not be nutrient-rich, and you don’t overwater the plant. But once you get it correct, your hens and chicks will thrive and please you with its beautiful appearance with offsets and flowers!