As the name suggests, hens and chicks succulents also known as common houseleek are indeed common plants that you can find all over the world. Although they can easily spread and survive in a wide range of environments, these plants are still treasured by many gardeners as their exotic appearance complements any garden, any interior decor, and any succulent collection.
Sempervivum Tectorum is one of the 40 Sempervivum genera in the Crassulaceae family. It is also known as Houseleek, Jupiter’s Beard, The Thunder Plant, Jupiter’s eye, Liveforever, and Thor’s beard.
The most common name for these adorable succulents is Hens and Chicks, a name which makes sense if you examine the way that the new offsets develop around the mother plant in a tight cluster. Like most succulents, these plants are very easy to care for, they are not very pretentious, and they can easily survive environmental changes.
If you’re interested in learning more about growing and caring for Hens and Chicks, read on.
About Hens and Chicks
- This succulent is native to Southern Europe, but upon its discovery, it quickly spread all across Europe and in numerous other parts of the world such as Morocco, Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, and even in some parts of the Sahara desert.
- It is very common in the Alps and the Carpathians. It prefers rocky places and dry environments, which is why it can be found on roof shingles, on walls, or on rocks in montane regions.
- In Latin, Sempervivum means “always living”, a most suitable name for this durable plant that maintains its green leaves even in the harshest growing environments.
- Despite its name, this plant is in no way related to the common leek. The name confusion is derived from a tradition of growing plants on house roofs to ward off fire and lightning, hence its other nickname “Jupiter’s beard”. This practice is also associated with prosperity in some parts of the world.
- This plant is not toxic to cats and dogs. In fact, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has declared Sempervivum Tectorum a safe plant to have around cats, dogs, and horses.
- The plant is edible. Its leaves can be eaten raw or juiced. Their texture and taste are similar to cucumbers. The fruits are also edible, and so are the seeds, the flowers, the stem, and the roots. In large quantities, this succulent can cause vomiting, so it is best to eat it with moderation, especially on the first try.
- Hens and chicks succulents are believed to have many medicinal purposes. They are a frequent replacement for Aloe Vera and their leaves are often used to treat burns and other skin conditions such as stings, bites, scalds, and even warts. The leaves have a cooling, astringent effect which tightens and softens the skin at the same time.
- Pests are not very common with these plants. As far as diseases go, overwatering can cause crown rot and some varieties can get Endophyllum rust when grown in moist environments.
Hens and Chicks Features: An Overview
- The description of this species and its variations can sometimes seem insufficient. The main reason why the descriptions are vague is that plant variations can differ greatly based on the growing conditions or based on the modifications that the plants suffer throughout the year. Subspecies and varieties can often be confused, and hybrids and backcrossing are very common.
- This evergreen, low-growing plant features elliptical leaves with brown or purple tips that grow in rosettes. The leaves store water, which is why they have a rather chubby appearance. In optimal growing conditions, it can grow up to 20 cm tall and up to 20 cm wide.
- This plant blooms in the summer. Depending on the variety, the flowers can be pink, purple, or red. Hens and chicks bloom from June to July and their fruits ripen around late august.
Growing Hens and Chicks
Even though Sempervivum tectorum is sturdy and easy to grow, it is not a fan of dark and damp environments, so make sure to place it in a dry and sunny location. It prefers heat zone 4, which is specific to the United Kingdom, but it can also be found in heat zones 3-11. It prefers sandy and loamy soils with good drainage. If the outside conditions are appropriate, it can grow in any type of pH, from acidic to neutral or alkaline.
While the plant loves light and warmth, extreme heat can damage it, so it is best to provide shelter for it during heatwaves. It is common for this plant to go into a dormant stage when the temperatures exceed 25 degrees or fall under 18 degrees Celsius. It can survive moderate amounts of frost without suffering damage. Temperature fluctuations will not damage the plant permanently, but they will pause its development.
As far as feeding goes, the Sempervivum Tectorum can do just fine without fertilizer. However, if you want to boost its growth, you can feed it once a year, in spring and summer. Use a slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer that you apply weekly. Younger plants prefer fertilizers with low nitrogen concentration, whereas more mature plants prefer a more balanced fertilizer.
Since this plant does not grow very big, you will not have to repot it very often. However, if you need to move the plant to a new pot or transplant it outdoors, here is what you need to do. Allow the soil to dry completely and then gently pull off the plant. Next, shake off the excess soil, cut off any root damage, and transplant the plant to the new site.
Watering Hens and Chicks
As we already mentioned, this plant is not very picky, and like most succulents, it does not take offense if you forget to water it from time to time. Ideally, you should let the soil dry completely before watering it. When you do water it, give it a good soak, until the water passes through the soil and comes out the drainage holes. Allow the plant a few minutes to absorb more water from the drip tray and then throw away the excess water.
Watering requirements differ based on the growing conditions of each plant, but Hens and Chicks are usually happy if you water them every 10-14 days. The plants will need more water in spring and summer when the temperature is rising, and when they actively growing. Reduce watering as the temperature drops in late fall and the plant enters its dormant season.
Propagating Hens and Chicks
This plant can be grown from seed, but it is a lot easier to propagate it from offsets, which can be found growing in clusters around the mother plant.
If you decide to try growing Hens and Chicks from seed, you need to employ all the tricks in a gardener’s book. For starters, keep in mind that only mature plants of several years will bloom, and they will die once they do so, but they leave behind a small fruit filled with seeds. Remove the fruit from its pod, allow it to dry, and then crush it and remove the seeds.
For the best results, refrigerate the seeds for 4 weeks before sowing them. When you are ready to plant the seeds, place them in small pots on the surface of the soil and cover them with either sand or grit. Place the pots in a sunny windowsill in a warm room with an average temperature of more than 21 degrees C.
Keep the soil relatively moist until the seeds germinate. This should happen in about 5 weeks. If the seeds do not germinate, you can refrigerate them for a few weeks and then repeat the procedure. The new plants can be transplanted outside when they grow consistent roots. Nonetheless, do not expect the new plants to resemble the initial plant, because it is very common for your plants to hybridize.
Propagating from offsets is very simple. Each plant will produce at least 4 offsets in each growing season. Simply snap off the offsets and plant them in individual pots. Like with most succulents, it is recommended to allow the soil to dry completely before division and allow the new plants a few days to recover from the separation shock before watering them. You can always use a rooting hormone to give the new plants a boost of nutrients to handle the separation from the mother plant.
Hens and Chicks succulents are a perfect gift for beginner gardeners. They are almost impossible to kill. The only things that you need to consider are that they will not do well in moist environments and if you overwater them, you won’t get the best version of the plant. But once you adjust their environment, your Hens and Chicks will thrive reward you with offsets and flowers.
Their appearance is also very pleasant, and it suits many environments. Finally, it’s always great to grow a plant with medicinal properties, one which you can also eat from time to time. So, whether you grow Hens and Chicks outdoors or indoors, these plants will not ask much of you but will reward you in many ways.
Are you planning on growing Hens and Chicks? Let us know in the comments below.