How to Plant, Grow and Care For Hens and Chicks
If you are looking for a low-maintenance succulent to add to your garden, look no further than the Hens and Chicks plant. Aptly named for the way they grow, these plants make great indoor or outdoor garden companions. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley walks through everything you need to know about these popular succulents and their care.
Succulents are a very popular plant to grow indoors and outdoors. They are known for giving and giving without asking for much in return. Hens and chicks are the ultimate plant for any gardener with interest in growing succulents. They come in a variety of colors and sizes to suit any style.
Hens and chicks are a member of the sempervium group of succulent plants. They are versatile, can be grown indoors, outdoors, and can tolerate both cold and warm temperatures. This makes them a great succulent for beginners but also experienced succulent growers as well.
These popular succulents go by a few names, such as houseleek and liveforever. They are winter hardy and thrive in almost any soil conditions. They look great in rocky landscapes, wall crevices, pots, and just about anywhere else other plants struggle to survive.
Caring for hens and chicks is rather simple as long as you provide them with a few simple needs. They spread quickly and will soon blanket an area with big and small rosettes. Let’s take a deeper look into the proper care needs for hens and chicks.
Hens and Chicks Plant Overview
Plant Type Perennial
Genus Sempervium spp.
Species 40 +
Plant Spacing 2 to 3 feet
Native Area Europe and Africa
Sunlight exposure Full Sun
Plant height 3-4 inches
Water requirements Low
Plant Depth Soil Surface
Hardiness Zone 3-8
Soil Type Rocky, sandy, well-draining
Pest Mealy bugs and aphids
Diseases Root rot and rust
About Hens and Chicks
Hens and chicks are a succulent plant that gets their name from the rosette growing habits of the plant. You will start with one single rosette, and soon, smaller rosettes will form around the large one. The smaller succulents are attached to the larger mother plant by lateral roots. Similar to a mother hen and her chicks, they are never far apart.
Hens and chicks are alpine plants, meaning they do well in poor soils and tough conditions. They tend to grow best where most plants can’t survive. This is why they work well in rocky landscapes and in small crevices and gravelly or sandy areas.
They are also excellent for growing indoors in pots. They are low-maintenance and have very little water requirements. This makes them an excellent choice for beginner succulent owners because they are forgiving if you plant them and forget about them for a while.
Hens and chicks have a growing season which is in the spring and summer. This is when you will see the succulent produce offsets from the mother plant. You can expect to get 1 to 3 generations of plants in a single growing season.
They reach a mature height of 3 to 4 inches tall and can spread up to 2 to 3 feet. Hens and chicks also go through a growth spurt in the fall just before they go dormant for the winter. They will re-emerge again in the spring and begin this cycle over again.
How To Grow
When growing these succulents, there are several different factors that can influence their growth. For successful plants, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper amount of sunlight, the right type of soil, enough water, and proper soil nutrition.
You’ll also need to provide them with the right temperature & climate. Let’s take a look at each of these growth factors in additional detail.
Hens and chicks love the sun, so planting in at least 6 hours of sunlight or more per day will yield healthy, thriving plants. They come in an array of colors. Sunlight exposure impacts how vibrant their coloring can get. When temperatures are warmer, their foliage will be more vibrant. Once temperatures become cooler in the fall, they will become more muted in color.
They will tolerate planting in partial shade, especially if you live in hot and dry climates. Afternoon shade is never a bad idea, as the sun in the afternoons can be pretty intense. But be aware that coloring may not be as vibrant, and growth may be slower if grown in partial shade.
Hens and chicks aren’t very picky when it comes to soils. They grow best in a mix of gravely and sandy soils. They prefer soils that are well-draining and can develop problems if planted in soggy soils.
If you have poorly draining soils, consider mixing in sand or gravel before planting. This will help improve drainage and create a better soil composition. If you are growing them in a container, use a mix formulated for succulents and cacti. You can also make your own soil using potting mix blended with perlite or vermiculite.
You can amend your soils to suit the growth of hens and chicks pretty easily. If you are looking to increase drainage, consider adding pumice, sand, or gravel. This will not only increase drainage but also increase airflow. This helps prevent root rot and create an overall healthier plant.
As drought-tolerant perennials, hens and chicks can handle weeks at a time without receiving water. With that being said, you should still give them water occasionally to help encourage new growth. If you have recently transplanted plants, watering can help them establish.
But once they have established, you can back off on watering. If you do decide to start a watering schedule, water them deeply and less often. This will allow roots to grow deep and tap into moisture deeper in the soil.
If you notice your plants start to look gangly or the leaves are looking less full, take a look at the soil. Dig into the soil and see how much moisture remains in the soil. This is the plant telling you it may be time to water.
One of the best features of hens and chicks is they can be grown in a large range of temperatures. On average, they prefer to be between 65 to 75° F but can be in cooler and warmer temperatures. If you live in regions where the average temperature is above 75° F, consider providing shade during the hottest hours of the day.
If temperatures become too low, they will cease growing and go into a semi-dormant state. They need to go through this period to be healthy. If you live in a hardiness zone below 4, bring them indoors or place them in a sheltered area.
‘Hairy’ and ‘Jovibarba’ cultivars are more susceptible to damage during colder conditions and should be placed indoors or covered with a glass or plastic dome.
Fertilizing your hens and chicks grown in the ground isn’t necessary. There are generally enough nutrients in the soil for them to survive. But if you have them planted in a container, that might be a different story. If you need to fertilize your hens in chicks in containers, consider a slow-release fertilizer.
Be sure to choose a fertilizer designed specifically for succulents and cacti. Be careful not to over-fertilize. The plant will show signs that it is being over-fertilized by dieback. If your plants are dying shortly after applying fertilizer, this may be your sign to stop fertilizing. Don’t fertilize for at least a few weeks, and your plants should come back.
When to Plant
Hens and chicks can be planted any time during the year. Try to avoid planting in freezing temperatures and extreme heat, as this can cause the plant to go into shock. Spring planting is great because your hens will be able to produce chicks during the warmer months and quickly fill your landscape, rock bed, or pots.
If growing indoors, you can plant any time but consider planting before they have a fall growth spurt. If you want to plant them outdoors, the cutoff date should be 5 to 7 weeks before the first frost. Indoor planting can happen at any time as long as the proper growing conditions are provided.
If you are looking for a low-maintenance succulent, look no further. Hens and chicks thrive on neglect and will continue to produce offsets during difficult conditions. Plant them in full sun and watch them grow.
Even after the mother hen has sent up her flower, you can leave her lay with her “chicks” unless she has diseases or insects. You will most likely not notice that she has died as her chicks will lay close and cover the dead rosette. You may have to weed around the rosettes from time to time, but other than this, they will take care of themselves.
You will rarely have to prune these low-maintenance succulents. The only time you may need to prune is if you have them planted in small spaces or pots and have become overcrowded. If the plant runs out of room, it will begin to grow upwards. Simply thin out some of the chicks to make room for more growth.
You can discard the chicks or place them into a new pot or location to start a new colony of plants. It also might be tempting to cut down the flowering stock of the hen, so she doesn’t die, but this isn’t recommended. The rosette needs to go through this cycle for the remainder of the plant to be healthy.
Hens and chicks don’t require you to prepare them for a long winter. If necessary, clear away any debris from the base of the succulent to prevent molding. They don’t like wet winter conditions, and moving debris will allow some airflow.
If you have potted plants, they will need a little protection from the elements. Place them in a sheltered area or bring them indoors for the winter. They will survive the winters in extremely cold regions in the ground, but pots should be given some extra care to prevent the succulents from damage.
You will notice if you live in colder regions that the leaves on this succulent will begin to turn brown and die. This is normal, and the plant is going dormant. The rosettes are saving energy to regrow in the spring. Simply leave them alone, and once temperatures rise again, they will quickly perk up.
Eventually, this succulent will produce a flower. This signifies the end of the mother plant, and she will die among her chicks. The chicks will continue to grow, and in some time, they too, will send out a flower and die. Allow the plant to send up a stalk and produce seed. This is healthy for the plant.
The plant will send up a bulge or stalk from the center of the mature hen. Typically, flowers will emerge in summer, but container plants may bloom in late spring or early summer. Indoor plants have an unpredictable bloom cycle because of the consistent environment.
Propagating this succulent is pretty simple. You will want to start by removing the offset or the chicks of the plant. Be sure to keep the roots intact. Once you have removed the offsets, dig a shallow hole and place the offset into the hole.
You can give your propagation some light watering for a couple days. Make sure the soils dry out between waterings. Overwatering is the number one killer of most succulent plants. They grow rather quickly and should establish roots within a week or so.
Growing From Seed
Yes, you can grow these succulents from seed! The seeds are collected from a mature hen and chick flower, or you can purchase some from a nursery or online. The flower will produce a pod once the flower fades, and this is when you can collect the seed. Remove the pods and pop them open, and remove the seeds.
Spread the seeds onto the potting soil specifically for succulents or cacti. Lightly water the seeds and place them in a bright location. Place the pots in a warm room that’s between 70 to 75 F if you can. Seedlings should emerge within three weeks.
Keep in mind that seeds from hybrid varieties may produce plants that look different than their parents. Most likely, not all the seeds you planted will germinate, and this is common. Keep trying until you get the desired amount of plants.
Hens and chicks can be grown year-round or just in the winter months. If you grow them in pots during the summer, you can bring the pot indoors, and they will continue to grow.
They have the same requirements for growing both indoors and outdoors. When growing them indoors, it may take a little time to find the right location in your home. Move your succulent around until you find the right sunlight. Keep in mind that they need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
If your pot becomes overcrowded, divide the chicks from the hen and start them in a new pot. This is the time to share with family and friends the joy of growing these lovely succulents. They will thank you for giving them such an easy-going plant.
There are many different hens and chicks varieties to choose from when considering the perfect plant. They range in color from red, pink, purple, greens, and blues. Colors can change during the season depending on climate and temperature. As long as you like rosette shape and thick leaves, there is a variety that will suit your style. Below is a list of popular varieties.
The perfect example of a hens and chicks with densely-packed rosettes that grow in bright green leaves with changing colors of orange to red to burgundy at the tips. The rosettes will reach about 4 inches in diameter when fully mature.
Looking for a variety that has a little texture? “Wendy’ has beautiful dense rosettes that are green, turning red at the tips. The leaves have tiny hairs that make them soft to the touch. This variety will form dense colonies of offsets.
With hues of blue, this variety forms geometric rosettes that have a blue-green tint to the leaves. This variety is more cold-tolerant than most, but that means it also can’t tolerate heat as well either. With around 4 inches rosettes, this variety is sure to become one of your favorites.
This unique succulent produces green leaves with burgundy tips. But the fun feature of this variety is the white cobweb-looking center. These cobwebs are actually grown to protect the plant from drought. The cobwebs trap moisture when the water supply is low.
Hens and chicks will grow just about anywhere that has relatively dry soils and plenty of sunlight. They look great in rock gardens, crevices in rock walls, and pots. They will also grow well with other succulents that can survive in the same hardiness zones.
Anywhere you can think of growing them, they will survive. Plant them indoors to bring a bit of color and life to a bleak winter. They are an excellent succulent for a beginner to try growing indoors as a houseplant.
Hens and chicks have a few common issues that can cause them to change colors and die if not remedied in a timely fashion. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that will pop up when growing these succulents.
Plants Turned Mushy
If you notice their leaves are starting to wilt and becoming mushy, this is a sign that the plant is in too wet of conditions. Essentially the plant is starting to rot from the roots up.
The best solution to this problem is to dig up the plant and discard the infected plants. The chicks may be unharmed and can be planted back into dryer conditions.
This is very common when the “hen” rosette produces a flower and sets seed. The “hen” will then dieback. Even though the “hen” has died, the chicks will continue the colony. Dieback can also be a sign of over-watering or too much fertilizer.
Take a look at the soil and the surroundings to see what might be causing the die back. Dig into the soil and see how much moisture is being held in the soil. You may have to try adding sand or gravel to improve drainage if the soils are too soggy. Be careful amending the soil where plants are established.
Aphids and Mealybug
Although hens and chicks are pretty resistant to insects, if grown in the wrong conditions can become stressed and be a great host for aphids and mealybugs. These pests are less common in plants grown outdoors and more common in plants grown indoors.
If your plants become infected with aphids or mealybugs, you can spray with a preferred insecticide. The best way to prevent these insects from appearing is to increase airflow, keep the plants in a sunny location and increase soil drainage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are hens and chicks poisonous?
Hens and chicks are safe to plant around dogs, cats and horses but they can present low toxicity to children and adults. The leaves carry alkaloids that are considered poisonous. Some may develop dermatitis or an itchy rash from the sap from the leaves.
Do they come back every year?
Yes! They are a perennial succulent which means they will come back every year. They are even winter hardy so they can be grown in northern regions of the United States. These succulents will go dormant when fall temperatures become too cold and will re-awake in the spring.
Do they spread out?
The mother hen will send out offsets or also known as chicks. This cycle continues over and over again for years. One the mother rosette flowers, she will die and her offsets will take her place. You can expect the colonies of hens and chicks to get about 2 to 3 feet wide.
Hens and chicks are great plants for gardeners that are new to growing succulents. They are low-maintenance and come in a variety of colors to choose from.
They thrive on neglect and will be just happy to live their days just hanging out in your rock garden, landscape or clay pots. Great for all experience levels, hens and chicks are the succulents that shine even when the going gets tough.