Some of my favorite easy-to-care-for outdoor plants are hens and chicks. Their beautiful, unique shape adds texture to the garden, and they’re hardy enough to survive the cold winters here in Michigan.
I’m also a sucker for plants that spread quickly, and hens and chicks certainly fit into that category. In the growing season, they multiply like weeds.
If you’d like to care for your own hen and chicks succulents, I’m about to break down all of their care requirements—and don’t worry, you don’t need a super green thumb to grow these. They’re incredibly hardy and simple to care for.
What are Hens and Chicks Succulents?
Hens and chicks, also known as Sempervivum, are rosette-shaped succulents. They tend to form in clusters, with one mother plant, or hen, surrounded by several offshoots, or chicks. There are around forty varieties of Sempervivum. Though they come in a spectrum of colors, they’re most typically a shade of green, purple, red, or a combination of these.
How to Plant Hens and Chicks
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Planting Sempervivum is a breeze if you’re an experienced gardener. If you’re a beginner, here are some steps to make planting nice and simple:
1. Choose the best spot for your plant
Before you plant your Sempervivum, you need to think about where to plant them. Are you going to bury them straight in the ground, create a raised garden bed, or use a planter? Maybe you’d like to create your own container garden?
If you’re going to be planting your hens and chicks in a pot, then this step is less crucial—you can always move them around later.
When planting them somewhere that’s somewhat permanent, you’ll want to consider how much sunlight that area gets throughout the day. Hens and chicks are full-sun plants, which means they can tolerate a lot of sunlight.
However, they’re still at risk for sunburn. If your plants aren’t used to full sun, gradually move them into brighter light before planting them in a full-sun location.
Be sure to have a plan for when temperatures are high, as this can also cause sunburn. If you live in a hot climate, consider planting your hens and chicks somewhere with full sun in the morning, but where scorching afternoon sunlight will be filtered by a building or tree.
You can also filter sunlight on hot days by covering the plant with material such as window screen or mesh.
A hanging basket filled with Sempervivum
2. Fill the area or pot with inorganic, well-draining soil
Once you’ve chosen a location, it’s time to mix some soil. Succulents like hens and chicks prefer inorganic materials like sand, rocks, and clay. That said, I haven’t found them to be especially picky.
For the hanging pot above, I used a mix of succulent soil and perlite in a 40/60 ratio. In my garden, I have a collection of Sempervivum that are being grown in more organic soil with fewer drainage materials.
I’d recommend that you create the best conditions you can with what you have, but don’t stress about it too much if you can’t provide the “perfect” mix for these plants. Remember that they’re very hardy and will likely adapt to their environment just fine.
A sempervivum with several offshoots
3. Plant your hen and chicks succulents
When you’re ready to plant your hens and chicks, gently squeeze the pot before removing them. Likely, the plants will come out with a lot of soil attached to the roots. You should loosen the root ball slightly before planting.
If you like, you can also remove all of the old soil. I recommend this if your new soil is much different from the old.
The easiest way I’ve found to remove all the soil without hurting the plant or its roots is to use the jet setting on your hose attachment. It seems like it’d be too harsh, but I’ve never had it tear roots.
It can remove fragile leaves, especially tiny ones, but that’s not a concern for Sempervivum, as their leaves tend to be firm and strong. You can avoid spraying the leaves if you’re worried, though.
Once your plant is ready, dig a hole deep enough for the root ball to fit into. Place your plant inside and cover the roots thoroughly. Pat down the soil tightly around the plant as if tucking it into bed. Make sure all of the roots are covered.
Wait a week or more to water your hens and chicks after planting. This allows any damage to the roots to heal and helps prevent root rot.
A close-up of a red Sempervivum
Can You Grow Hens and Chicks Indoors?
Some houseplant enthusiasts choose to grow Sempervivum indoors, but after trying it myself and seeing many unhappy hens and chicks in other gardeners’ homes, I don’t recommend it.
Sempervivums are full-sun plants. This means that even a southern-facing window isn’t truly enough light for them. You can see when these plants don’t have enough light when their leaves begin to turn downward (almost like a little plant frown).
If you do want to grow these succulents indoors, you’ll have to either be okay with them not getting enough light to truly thrive, or you’ll have to buy strong grow lights.
Your Sempervivum won’t die in a southern-facing window, as it’ll have enough light to survive. But with cold-hardy plants like these, I don’t see a reason to keep them indoors when they’d be healthier outside.
A red Sempervivum planted in the ground
How to Care for Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks are low-maintenance plants that don’t need a lot of care. They’re perfect for forgetful or busy gardeners who don’t want to spend a lot of time fussing over their plants.
Most Sempervivum mistakes come from over-caring for them, rather than under-doing it, as you’ll see as we dive into care instructions below.
Sempervivums are drought-tolerant plants. Like succulents, they don’t need to be watered often. If you live in an area with regular rainfall, you shouldn’t have to worry about watering them at all.
If it’s been a couple of weeks without rain, water your Sempervivums until the soil is thoroughly wet.
If keeping these succulents indoors, water them only when the soil is completely dry. Saturate the soil until water spills through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot.
In the fall and winter, reduce watering as much as possible, as this is the dormant season for hens and chicks.
A green and red Sempervivum planted in the ground
In their native habitat, hens and chicks grow in soil with very little nutrients. They won’t often, if ever, need fertilizer.
The exception is if you have plants that have been sitting in the same soil for years with no top-ups or repotting. In this case, you can fertilize once a year in the spring.
Hens and chicks don’t need to be repotted often. If your plant has outgrown its pot or become root-bound, select a pot that’s one size up, or an inch or two wider than its current container.
Because hens and chicks are prone to overwatering, you don’t want them to be in too large a pot. Excess soil takes longer to dry and encourages root rot.
The best time to repot is in the spring or summer, when the plant is in its growing season.
A Sempervivum covered in a thin layer of leaves
Don’t move your Sempervivum inside for winter, as they prefer to be out in the elements where they experience a dry, cold dormant period.
Insulate them from the cold temperatures by covering the soil with material such as mulch or Autumn leaves up to a few inches high. As you can see above, mine only had a thin layer this year, but they did make it through our winter season just fine.
How to Propagate Hens and Chicks
You can clip off the “chicks” produced by Sempervivum plants once they’re big enough. I recommend waiting until they’re at least the size of a quarter and have their own roots.
To propagate these offshoots, use something sharp such as scissors, gardening shears, or a knife. Make sure it’s clean—I wipe mine down with rubbing alcohol before and after use.
Trim the stem that connects the offshoot to the mother plant on both ends. If your chick already has roots, simply place (or keep) it in the soil nearby. Alternatively, you can introduce it to a new area to create an even more glorious Sempervivum spread in your yard or garden.
A bundle of Sempervivums in a jar for water propagation
You can also try creating a “bouquet” of pups and placing them in water to root. This is especially helpful for those which get bumped off the pot early, like during repotting or after a spill.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to cut off the offshoots. If you like them how they are, you can leave them alone and let them continue growing naturally. However, I do like to trim them up. This eases the burden of the mother plant and allows her more energy to grow and create even more plant babies.
Do Hens and Chicks Succulents Bloom?
These plants do bloom, but sadly, they have what’s known as a “death bloom.” A bloom stalk grows from the center of the plant, which dies after the bloom is finished.
The good news is that Sempervivums are incredibly prolific. You can trim the offshoots from the dying mother plant and, if you continue to do this, you’ll have a piece of your original plant around for a long time to come.
A blooming Sempervivum
Are Hens and Chicks Succulents Non-Toxic?
Hens and chicks succulents are non-toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and people. If you find your child or puppy munching on a leaf, don’t worry! The worst they’ll get is an upset tummy.
Something’s Wrong with My Hens and Chicks Succulent!
Here are some common problems Sempervivums face, along with their solutions:
Dark Spots on Stem or Leaves
Dark brown or black spots on the stem or leaves are typically an indication of root rot. You cannot save the entire plant from rot, unfortunately, but you can save it in part if you catch the symptoms early enough.
Use a clean knife or gardening shears to trim the stem where it’s still green. Let this cut callous over, then plop your plant back into the dirt. Give it time to grow new roots before watering.
In the future, you’ll either want to water less, use a better draining soil, or provide more light for your plants. All of these could be the “root” of your root rot problem.
A sempervivum with slightly downturned leaves
Downturned leaves may mean that your plant isn’t getting enough sunlight.
This can also be caused by overwatering.
If your hens and chicks have sunburn, you may have moved it into full sun too quickly, or left it unprotected on a hot summer day. Always ensure that you move plants to brighter conditions gradually, and protect them with screen or mesh on very hot days to avoid burnt leaves.
Lady bugs on an aphid-infested plant.
The most common pest for Sempervivum is aphids. These insects are persistent, but you can rid them from your garden with time and patience. You can remove them by spraying them with your hose.
Then, for natural treatment, try coating the plant in flour. This will eventually kill the aphids.
Some gardeners also use ladybugs, an aphid predator, to rid their plants of pests.
If nothing else works, you might have to try pesticides or insecticidal soap. Always be careful with chemical solutions, and keep pets and children away from the area where pesticides have been sprayed, as well as the plants themselves.
When it comes to other pests, I’ve had rabbits and possibly squirrels chew on my hens and chicks in the garden. They seem to only take small bites, and I don’t personally mind this. The plants recover very quickly.
If you do mind wildlife taking a bite from your plants, you can easily protect your succulents by blocking off animals’ access into your garden.
I hope this complete Sempervivum guide has been helpful for all you gardeners out there. I covered everything I could think of, but if you have additional questions, feel free to ask away in the comments!