If there was an award for cutest succulent, it would undoubtedly go to hens and chicks. Native to southern Europe and northern Africa, the petite plant is beloved by gardeners around the world for its easygoing nature, gorgeous textures, and varied shapes.
"They're darling plants," says Marianne Hugo, director at Coastkeeper Garden, a nonprofit conservation garden in Orange County, California. "And they're very beginner friendly."
What's In a Name?
Hens and chicks is a common name for a variety of ground-hugging species of Sempervivum plants. You might also find them marketed under the names "houseleeks," "hens and chickens" or "hen widdies." The unusual name refers to the equally unusual structure of the plant. The mother plant (the "hen") is connected to a series of smaller offset plants (her "chicks") by a thin underground runner.
Caring for Hens and Chicks
While succulents have a reputation for being easy to care for, hens and chicks are particularly hardy. Hens and chicks go dormant in freezing temperatures, making them popular choices for those who live in temperate climates. "These are resilient little plants," says Hugo. "They're one of the only succulents that will survive not only frost, but snow." Requiring very little soil, hens and chicks are a popular choice for rock gardens. However, they also thrive in flowerbeds and planters. Hens and chicks prefer full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. And while they prefer some space to sprawl, will generally make do with more crowded conditions. The only true threat to hens and chicks? Too much water. Like many succulents, their delicate roots can rot when oversaturated. For this reason, it's important to use a lightweight, quick-draining potting soil formulated specifically for succulents.
Signs of Distress
Concerned about the health of your hens and chicks? Examine their leaves. Swollen, mushy leaves mean your plant is receiving too much water. On the other hand, even succulents can be too dry. Shriveled leaves are a sign that your hens and chicks need a drink. When the hen is near the end of her life cycle, she'll produce a flower. Some will grow for several years without flowering, while others will flower sooner. Stressful conditions, such as overcrowding or lack of sun, can cause the hen to prematurely flower and subsequently seed—essentially, she's decided to see if her seeds land in a better place to grow. However, the chicks will live on after the hen dies, producing their own babies after one season. The name Sempervivum, Latin for "forever alive," references the plant's ability to regenerate seemingly endlessly.
Propagating Hens and Chicks
Because of their unique structure, hens and chicks are extremely easy to propagate. Chicks often have their own roots, so you can simply remove an offshoot and plant it elsewhere. If the chick is less mature, it can be treated as a stem cutting and propagated like a standard succulent clipping. Simply place the chick in shallow soil in a warm area (indoors or out) that receives partial sun; lightly mist the plantlet with water. Within a couple weeks, your chick will sprout roots and can be properly planted.
Feeling Inspired: Watch our handy video below on propagating succulents.