Planting Hens and Chicks – Care Guide


Sempervivum holds a special place in my garden. There are about two hundred varieties of this beautiful plant in my collection. Every year in the spring, I never cease to be amazed at the variety of colors and variability of these plants. It seems that the variety has stable characteristics, but each spring, it is slightly different.

The history of cultivation of these plants goes back to the Middle Ages, and since then, a great number of ornamental varieties have been created. This was achieved because the genus is in an unstable phase of development. All species of sempervivum perfectly hybridize and form new varieties. I also managed to get some interesting seedlings. You can see them in the main photo above.

All of this diversity has common requirements and some differences in cultivation. Here, I want to tell you about my whole experience of growing Hens and Chicks. Throughout the article, I will give general recommendations, and in each section, I will describe in more detail the differences in the care of different types.

For example, Sempervivum tectorum and Sempervivum arachnoideum differ slightly in requirements. There is also a difference in the cultivation of juicy thick-leaved varieties and dwarf varieties with small leaves. If you are curious, here we go!

Brief Care Information

Name Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum, Houseleek
Hardiness Zone USDA 4-8
Season Spring-Fall
Light Full Sun, Sun
Width 5 inches
Height  1 inch, 10 with peduncle
Pests Snails, Birds, Insects
Disease Rot
Water Drought-resistant plant, moderate watering in drought
Soil Drained soil, Ph 5.0-6.0

How to choose healthy plants

Many ask how to grow plants properly so that they are healthy and well propagated. The first thing I can recommend is to buy healthy and strong plants. Most of the failures in cultivation are related to poor quality planting material.

Suppose you visited a nursery and want to buy a sempervivum. First, pay attention to the condition of the plants. If the rosette is juicy and has a green pigment, this is the first sign that the plant is healthy. In the opposite case, the plants are grown in poor conditions, and there may be further problems with them.

If the plants look good visually, you can move on. Take the pot in your hands and inspect the plant for insects. Also, look for signs of illness. If one or two yellowed leaves in the sempervivum, it is not terrible. However, if the plant shows traces of fungus or insect, you should refuse to buy.

Next, remove the plant from the pot. Inspect the roots; it should be a healthy white color. If the roots are rotten, that means the plant is watered too often; it can have negative consequences in the future. There should also be no insect larvae or eggs.

If the plants are healthy, you can buy them. At this point, I want to give you one piece of advice. In nurseries, it is very often that the Hens & Chicks shade for more intense growth. If you buy them and plant them in a sunny place, then most likely, the leaves will burn. To avoid this, do not transplant plants directly into the open ground, accustom them to the sun gradually.

I do not recommend planting plants in the garden immediately after purchase. Quarantine them separately from other plants. Spray the new sempervium with an aqueous solution of fungicide. After a few days, spray with a pesticide. Very often, insect eggs may be between the rosettes or between the leaves at the base and may not be noticed.

Sempervivum heuffelii Cheese Love

When is the best time to plant?

Let’s talk a little about the time that is best for planting a sempervivum. In general, these plants can be planted at any time of the year. I even transplanted them in winter when there was no frost but more on that later.

I recommend planting a sempervivum in the second half of spring when they are out of hibernation and starting to grow. In the southern states, this may be earlier, for example, at the end of March. The basic condition is that the air temperature is positive.

The weather is also very important. If the sun is shining too hard and there has been no rain for a long time, then it is better to keep from planting.

If the weather is not too sunny and humid enough, then this is the right time to plant your Hens and Chicks in the ground.

In the early summer, you can also plant these succulents. June is usually quite humid, and the plants will not lack water; as a result, they will quickly root and go into growth.

If you live in the south of the United States, I do not recommend planting a sempervivum in mid-summer. Although it is a sun-loving plant, the first few weeks after planting, they do not need much sun but need enough water. Otherwise, the sempervium will stagnate.

The next favorable period comes in late summer and early fall. At this time, the earth is warm and moist enough, and the sun is no longer as strong as in July. It is important to plant these plants for 20-30 days before the first frost. This time it will be enough for them to prepare for winter.

The end of autumn and winter are not suitable for planting as it is already too cold. However, as I wrote above, it is possible to do so. I needed to transplant these plants from pots to the soil, and when there was no frost in mid-January, I transplanted them. The roots were not damaged. Also, I did not separate the plants for any wounds but planted them as they grew in a pot.

As a result, all was well. There were heavy frosts afterward, but the sempervium survived all this. Despite the success, I do not recommend doing this unless you are an experienced gardener.

Which substrate to choose?

I can talk about the substrate for a long time. In my opinion, the best would be ordinary garden soil mixed in half with sand. I know that many will disagree with me, but this is a simple and affordable solution. Of course, purchased land will be a slightly better option, especially from the beginning, while there is fertilizer.

The advantage of ordinary garden land is that it costs you nothing. Sand can also be obtained for free or very cheaply.

It is better to use coarse river sand; it makes the soil more light.

There are a lot of Hens and Chicks in my garden, so I don’t have the ability to make a good substrate for everyone. Most of them grow in the ordinary garden land. This type of soil holds water well; it is good for drought. However, during heavy rains, I sometimes lose some plants from excessive moisture.

I want to talk a bit about other types of soil. The first is soil for succulents. This type is also suitable, but you will need to water the sempervivum more often, as this plant needs more moisture than Echeveria or Haworthia.

The next is peat. Don’t put sempervivum in peat! In this substrate, during the rain, the sempervivum is very rotten, and in the drought, it suffers from a lack of moisture. The disadvantage of peat is that it holds a lot of water in rainy weather and dries very quickly when the weather is hot. Also, some species of sempervium form a very poor root system in such a substrate.

The next is pure sand. I do not recommend planting sempervium in the pure sand as there will be little moisture, and the plant will not develop naturally.

For a while, I grew these succulents in the gravel. The result was quite interesting. Initially, a pot of gravel and sempervivum placed in the half shade. There, the plant formed a strong root system. Then I set it in full sun. As a result, the plant received a rich color of leaves but needed frequent watering.

How to plant properly?

Finally, we got to the most important thing – planting a sempervivum. You should only plant healthy, juicy plants in the soil. Do not transplant small rosettes that are not yet fully formed. If the parent plant has small plants around it, do not separate them, a plant with the parent plant.

Hens and chicks are best rooted when they have a root system, and it is not damaged during planting. In this case, the transplant shock will almost never be noticeable.

If the plant for some reason will not have roots, then it is also not a problem, just the rooting process will take longer. After planting, large-sized varieties root most quickly, they are more vigorous and have more moisture in the leaves.

Dwarf varieties take root longer, sometimes they stagnate and begin to grow only next year. To eliminate this, you need to shade them for 2-6 weeks after planting and pour a small amount of water, but regularly.

The planting process is quite simple. In the prepared soil, make holes as large as the root system of each plant. Then drop the plant with the root there, the rosette should be above the ground. Fill the roots with soil and gently press the soil around.

Some recommend shortening the roots before planting. You should not do this.

If the plant has no roots, put it on the surface and slightly press it into the ground. Sometimes the wind can flip the rosettes upside down if that happens; just correct them.

As I wrote above, if possible, shade the plants until they root. This is especially true for small varieties.

I do not recommend watering sempervium immediately after planting; at this time, the plant is weakened and may rot. Start watering 2-4 days after planting. Large varieties can not be watered for a week. Do not pour a lot of water during the first month, just lightly moisten them. Do not allow the soil to dry completely.

My irrigation recommendations are only relevant in the absence of rainfall. If there is at least a slight rain, then no watering is necessary.

Give them enough light.

Light is a crucial factor in the development of Hens and Chicks. In general, these plants need as much light as possible, but sometimes they need shade, let’s talk about it in more detail.

Sempervium must receive at least a few hours of direct sunlight a day. If this is not followed, the color of the plants will not be bright, or they will turn green at all. In the worst case, the rosettes will stretch and may rot.

For these plants, 6-8 hours of direct sunlight would be ideal. Large varieties with wide and thick leaves need more light, and they can be planted in full sun.

For dwarf varieties, a lot of suns can even hurt; they will grow more slowly. In this case, you will need to water them more often. Compact varieties can be planted on the east or west side of the house, where they will receive direct sunlight only half the day.

As I wrote above, compact varieties should be shaded after planting for a while. This will promote better rooting and faster growth.

In full shade, sempervivum will not grow. The plants will live in the shadow for a while, but sooner or later, you will lose them. There is not as much space in my garden as I would like, and other plants often shade the sempervivum, so this leads to the fact that these succulents do not have the proper appearance.

If you want to get the best look, plant one large rosette in a wide pot and put in full sun, water them more often, and separate the daughter plants. After some time you will get the most beautiful plant.

In fact, with the help of light, you can achieve different results. The less direct light, the more vigorously these plants will grow. If there is a lot of light, they will have a brighter color.

Give Sempervivum plenty of space.

Although Hens and Chicks are small plants, they still need enough space.

Let’s start with large varieties, and I recommend planting them at a distance of their size. If an adult rosette of a certain variety is 5 inches, then the distance between these plants should be at least 5 inches. In this case, the plants will grow well and look great.

Otherwise, they will soon form dense clusters. This is not a negative, but the denser they grow, the smaller their size and the less bright their color. Besides, with a compact placement, the shape of the rosettes is not very beautiful. The leaves grow vertically upwards, and the rosette becomes like a thick stem.

With enough space, the leaves of large varieties will be wide and bright. Also, daughter plants will be healthier and more developed.

All of the above does not apply to dwarf varieties whose size does not exceed one inch. Such plants grow better in clusters because there is more moisture. Compact varieties have small leaves and can not store much moisture. If you plant them alone, they may suffer from insufficient water in a drought. Also, the clusters of compact rosettes look very cute.

In general, these are energetic plants that quickly cover the territory allotted to them. Sooner or later, you will have to give them more space or share them with friends.

Water plants if it necessary

It is widely believed that sempervivums are plants that do not need much water and can remain without irrigation for a long time. Indeed, these plants store moisture in their leaves and can withstand a fairly long drought.

However, they are still different from African succulents, their leaf skin is not so hard, and they evaporate water quite quickly. Also, their leaves are not as thick as, for example, in Haworthia retusa. Therefore, in dry and hot weather without watering, they fall into stagnation.

They do not die from drought but do not grow. The rosettes close and decrease in size. They may be in this state until the rains begin. The appearance of them is not very beautiful.

So, I recommend watering Hens and Chicks when there is a drought, and the sun is very hot. Dwarf varieties need watering the most. They should not be watered with plenty of water but often enough. It is desirable that the soil around them was always slightly moist. In this case, they will grow quite vigorously and have a great look.

Large varieties need a little less moisture and can do without watering longer.

In general, I recommend watering sempervivum once a week in case of drought. If during the week there was at least a little rain, then watering is not necessary.

I also want to dispel another myth associated with watering sempervivum. Some argue that watering in the center of the rosette is not possible, because it is supposed to cause rot of the plant. This statement is entirely untrue, I have been watering the sempervivum from a hose on top of the rosette for many years, and there have been no negative consequences.

Besides, during the rain, the plants get completely wet, the water collects in the center of the rosette and flows between the leaves to the ground. As a result, nothing terrible happens.

Sempervivum heuffelii Cheese Cake

Do not fertilize Sempervivum

Sempervivum is a very energetic plant, and some varieties can form daughter plants three times a year. Under favorable conditions, a young rosette can reach its maximum size in one season. From all this, we can conclude that they do not need to feed.

However, once I tried to fertilize these plants. First, I applied granular fertilizer in early spring, then again when they began to grow rapidly. My greed was caused by the desire to have more planting material for sale))).

The results of fertilization were mixed. Some varieties began to grow better and gave generous offspring. However, some of them became elongated, and some of them died. On the one hand, I had many new plants. On the other, I lost a small number of them.

I also want to tell you about another experience. After transplanting one dwarf variety, I noticed that it takes root very slowly. Plants of this variety did not grow for almost two years. I decided to fertilize them; as a result, it stimulated them a bit. However, I can’t say the result was too positive.

My recommendation is that you can only fertilize weak, slow varieties with a little fertilizer. Also, after transplanting, you can add a little fertilizer if the plants do not grow. It is best to use long-acting fertilizers once a year in the spring.

Remember, a lot of fertilizer can ruin these plants. They will become weak and rot. Also, when using fertilizers, sempervivums will need more water, as their growth rate will accelerate.

How to multiply them?

The easiest way to propagate sempervivum is by daughter plants. Among all the plants I grow, sempervivums are some of the most prolific. This is due to the large number of auxins that they produce.

Under ideal conditions, they grow so fast that they have no number. There are already thousands of small rosettes in my garden.

Vegetative propagation of these plants is the easiest among all known to me. You just need to separate the daughter rosette from the mother when it reaches at least half an inch in diameter and put it in a new place. Of course, there are a few nuances I want to talk about.

The first thing that matters is time. Separate the young plants in the spring so that they take root before winter. It is best to do this in the second half of spring.

The second is that you need to separate the formed plants and which already have at least small roots. They should also be healthy without any signs of illness. If the daughter plants are still small, postpone it to next year.

If the weather is very hot, shade them for some time after separation—water new plants with a small amount of water two to three days after planting.

The week before division, water them so that the young plants have enough moisture in the leaves.

In a month, they will take root and begin to grow. I had cases where plants gave offspring in the first year when they were born.

The next way you can increase the number of Hens and Chicks is by seed. It will be a troublesome and difficult process, but here you can get very outstanding results. Look at the first photo of this article; it shows my seedlings, aren’t they beautiful?))) I will try to briefly describe the whole process.

It all starts when the sempervivum blooms. Insects pollinate the flowers, but you can cross-pollinate the varieties from which you want to get a hybrid. After flowering, cut the peduncle and dry it.

Sowing should begin in the spring. Take a plastic container with a transparent lid. There should be drainage holes in the container and ventilation holes in the lid. Pour clean soil for seedlings into the container. The soil should be moist.

Next, grind the dry peduncle evenly over the soil in the container. It makes no sense to separate the seeds from the peduncle because it is very small, and you are unlikely to see it.

Using a sprayer, moisten everything and cover with a lid. Move the container to full shade. In 1-2 weeks, seedlings will appear. The first year they should grow without transplanting.

Next spring, you can transplant them into pots or soil.

One more thing I want to add, if you are lucky, new plants can be formed in the place of the cut peduncle. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Who eats my Hens and Chicks?

Unlike other plants, sempervivums do not have many natural enemies, but some pests can still damage them.

The first who can harm these plants are the larvae. Insects sometimes lay eggs between leaves or between clusters of rosettes. After a while, the nymph is born and begins to eat the plant from the middle. They love the stem the most.

At first, you may not notice anything, only after a while, the plant will begin to die, and a larva will appear from it. To avoid this situation, I recommend spraying sempervivums at least once a year with a pesticide.

You can see the results of the larva in the photo—these pests damage mainly large varieties with thick stems.

The next enemy is snails. Yes, do not be surprised, snails eat not only hostas). They can not cause serious damage to sempervivums, but their traces on the leaves will be noticeable. To keep them away, I use iron phosphate granules. This is a very effective remedy that will solve the problem of snails for a long time.

Sometimes some rosettes of sempervivum disappeared in my garden. At first, I did not understand what was going on, and once noticed that the bird grabbed one of my plants and flew away. I also often heard from friends that they had the same situation.

Fortunately, birds are not very harmful to these plants. If you want to protect yourself from them, you can install things that will scare them.

I have also had cases where mice gnawed the roots of sempervium. The plants recovered after a while, but the situation was not very pleasant. I didn’t have a big mouse invasion, so I didn’t do anything to avoid it. If you have this problem on a large scale, you can water the ground around the plants with a solution of Castor Oil.

How to protect Sempervivum from diseases?

The disease hardly affects Hens and Chicks. The only thing to watch out for is rot from excessive moisture or frost damage.

Sometimes it happens that the plant for some reason is injured in winter, and moisture and frost exacerbate it. As a result, the damage becomes noticeable in the spring. The plants can rot the leaves or part of the rosette and sometimes the whole plant.

It is not possible to avoid this completely, but I still recommend spraying sempervivums twice a year with a fungicide. So it will not solve the problem 100%, but the chances of survival of the plant increase.

The next situation is when the rosette rots due to prolonged rains or high groundwater levels. This sometimes happens, and to avoid this, you should use the soil mixture I mentioned above.

If your yard has a high groundwater level, then make drainage or plant sempervivums above ground level. To do this, you can create an earthen mound and decorate it with stones.

So the general recommendation of this section is that these plants still need to be sprayed with a solution of fungicide twice a year, in spring and autumn.

Different ways of growing

At the end of this article, I want to talk a little bit about the ways I grow sempervivums.

In addition to the usual cultivation in the soil, today is very popular pot cultivation. A single rosette planted in a pot looks very impressive. I recommend everyone to try this method. Small stones will give more grace to a plant if to put them on a soil surface in a pot.

In pots, Hens and Chicks can withstand fairly low temperatures (Hardiness Zone 4). I have been growing these plants in pots for many years and have never had a problem with it. The only thing I recommend is to use wide pots so that the plants have room to grow. They will also need more frequent watering. All other recommendations are the same as for growing in the ground.

The next popular way to grow it is indoors. I also grow sempervivums in the house, but I want to say that there will not be enough light. As a result, the plants will not have such a bright color of the leaves as the outside. To solve this problem, you can arrange additional lighting.

I also recommend reducing watering for the winter so that the plant falls into stagnation for a short period. Otherwise, it will stretch and become ugly.

I always like to try something new, so it happened with sempervivums. I wanted to grow these plants on rocks, as they grow in nature. To do this, I took different sized stones and drilled a place for my plants. The result you can see in the photo above, sempervivum combined with rocks is just fantastic!

Igor Viznyy

Hi friends, I have been growing plants for many years and love doing it. You can find more information on the page About Author.

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