Even if you’ve never heard of a hens and chicks plant, chances are you've seen them. This intricate succulent is native to southern Europe and northern Africa. The name encompasses multiple species, so called because the main plant, the hen, shoots out a flock of offsets, or chicks, around it. The hen plant has a lifespan of about three years and will put out a flowering stalk right before dying.
Sempervivum tectorum is the Latin name for the hens and chicks plant. Tectorum means roof — historically, these plants were purposely grown on thatch roofs to reduce the risk of lightning fires. This is just one example of hens and chicks plants growing almost anywhere. Seeds are available, but many people prefer growing them from cutting to retain the characteristics of the variety.
Sempervivum species produce at least four chicks for each hen and do so in different ways. Some produce chicks on runners or thin stalks. These can be plucked off and transplanted. Another species, Jovibarba rollers, produce offsets that cluster tightly around the hen. When disturbed, they roll off and will eventually become hens.
Sempervivum needs the most water immediately after transplanting. This helps them get well established in their new location. Ensure that the soil around them is nice and moist, but don't overwater, either. After that, wait until the dirt dries out before rewatering. Keep an eye on the soil especially during springtime, when the plants may drink more because they are developing chicks.
Hens and chicks are extremely hardy, so even someone with a black thumb can get away with growing this forgiving and exciting plant. The soil can be the poorest quality around, but as long as it has good drainage, your new plant should be fine. When you get your cutting, just dig a hole shallow enough for the roots to lay down and it should survive and thrive.
These succulents love full sunlight, because it allows them to showcase their bright natural colors, which range from rich red to velvety purple to pale pink amongst the bold greens. However, if hens and chicks get too much sun, the leaves will turn wrinkled and crispy. To prevent this, plant them where they get some afternoon shade. This prevents mottling and keeps their colors bright in spring and summer.
Hens and chicks will thrive in USDA zones 3 through 8 but can do well up to zone 11 under certain circumstances. To put those numbers into context, zone 3 minimum temperatures range from -45 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, while zone 11 includes regions like Hawaii, which tends to be more humid. As much as they can grow in almost any climate, hens and chicks will really flourish when temperatures are between 65 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
In those hotter, more humid climates, it may be a good idea to grow hens and chicks indoors — in many homes, humidity and temperature are lower than outside. Choose a pot that has good drainage and add soil that is on the sandier side. Ensure your planter faces to the south or east, so it's getting enough sun.
Transplanting chicks to a new container is relatively simple, but you need to do a few things first. When you pull them from the hen, they will have some extra leaves underneath. Clean those off and take off some of the stalk, leaving about a half-inch stub. Then, you can simply push this into the soil. While tiny chicks can look adorable in tiny pots, make sure there's enough room for your new plant to lay down roots and grow.
Apart from sunburn, root rot is another problem that befall hens and chicks plants. If you water them too much and the water can't drain, root rot develops and causes the leaves to turn a slimy black. If discovered quickly, you can save the plant by digging it up, cleaning it off, and replanting.
Those grown indoors tend to attract more bugs than those outside. Use an insecticide to deal with the bugs and move the plants to a sunnier location to help them outgrow whatever damage they incurred.
In some areas, deer and rabbits are a problem for hens and chicks, especially in late winter, when food is scarce. Unfortunately, these cute woodland creatures can eat your plants down to the roots. Moles are another issue. While they may not devour the plants, they tend to uproot them when tunneling through the soil. Repellants are available for all these animals, or you can plant species nearby that deter their interest.