Hen and chicks is one of the easiest, most low-maintenance houseplants you can grow. It’s also known by its botanical name, Sempervivum, or by the common name houseleek—since they are actually edible.
These hardy, low-growing desert plants get their name from the way they propagate. The large central rosette is the “hen,” and the smaller offsets she puts out over time are the baby “chicks,” which can easily be propagated into new plants.
Hen and chicks come in many colors, from jade green to blue to red to orange and gold, and are part of the stonecrop or Crassulaceae family. This category includes other familiar succulents like jade plants, echeveria, sedums, and kalanchoe.
Legend has it that the Romans planted these self-propagating, rosette-shaped plants against walls and on roofs to protect from fires caused by lightning during thunderstorms. Today, you’ll often see hen and chicks pop up in doorstep planters, in yards, and along pathways. They also work well as ground cover outdoors and make a great addition to a desert landscape, terrarium, or dish garden.
Best Growing Conditions for Your Hen and Chicks Plant
These desert plants do well in a variety of conditions, thriving in arid climates, cold temperatures, and rocky areas with little soil as well as they do in well-tended gardens or containers. They thrive in conditions with full sun to partial shade, which gives you some flexibility in terms of where to display them.
However, hen and chicks do best indoors in a spot with a good amount of bright, indirect light. Cultivars with specific colorings will tend to show off those colors best with full sun, too.
Hen and chicks need very good drainage, so while they can do well in sandy, poor soil, it must be well-drained. Use a succulent potting mix or make your own by combining three parts regular potting mix with two parts coarse sand and one part perlite.
Despite being desert plants, hen and chicks are also very cold-hardy and can withstand temperature drops to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, making it possible to keep them outdoors or indoors even in cold climates. Your plant will do best if you bring it outdoors in the summertime and back indoors for the winter when fall comes around.
How to Care for Your Hen and Chicks Plant
Allow your hen and chicks to dry out fully between waterings. Because it’s so drought tolerant, it’s nearly impossible to under-water this plant, but your biggest risk is over-watering.
If you notice the leaves having a mushy texture or are becoming transparent, that’s a sign you’re giving the plant too much water. If your hen and chicks isn’t receiving enough water, you’ll see the leaves take on a wrinkled appearance or feel dry and crispy to the touch.
While most plants can use a little feeding once in a while, your hen and chicks plant does not. Because it’s evolved to thrive in poor, rocky soils, it’s unnecessary to fertilize the plant.
A healthy hen and chicks plant will produce a handful of offsets, or baby plants, each year. You can allow these to grow to fill a container or remove some or all of the offsets to propagate new plants.
A mature plant will last for around six years and typically dies after flowering, which usually occurs in the summertime. The plant will shoot up a stalk from its center with small pink flowers. After the mother plant dies back, it should be removed, but the surrounding plants will still survive.
How to Propagate Your Hen and Chicks Plant
While hen and chicks can be grown from seed, it’s more expedient to divide or propagate offsets from a full, healthy mother plant. You’ll also need a small plant pot, succulent soil, and garden shears (or any clean, sharp blade).
- Examine the mother plant for offsets to remove. If possible, gently remove the plant from its pot and examine beneath the soil line to identify offsets that have already grown some of their own roots. You can also skip this and simply choose a healthy-looking offset at the outer edge of the container.
- For an offset with roots already established, simply pull it gently from the mother plant. For an offset without roots, use your shears to remove the offset, cutting on the stem as close to the mother plant as possible without damaging it.
- Plant offsets with their roots already established in a small container with succulent soil. For an offset without roots, allow the cutting to dry out for a few days and then lay it on the surface of a small container filled with dry succulent soil.
- When you see roots growing, you can plant the offset in the pot.
- Place newly planted offsets in a warm place with bright, indirect light and care for them as usual.