Hens and Chicks: Charming Succulents for the Garden

If there was a prize for the cutest succulent with the most charming name, it would certainly go to hens and chicks.

Their scientific name is “sempervivum tectorum,” but calling it hens and chicks is  so much cuter! And they’re not just pretty, hardy plants. These little evergreens have an amazing story to tell. 

In Latin, “sempervivum” means “always living,” or evergreen. The word “tectorum” means living on roofs. 

Why in the world would anyone put plants on their roof?  

In Europe, hens and chicks were planted on thatched roofs to help prevent fire by lightning strike. Hens and chicks are succulent and store lots of water, so that explains why they could slow down a fire. 

How did a succulent get such a funny name?

This particular succulent can be distinguished by its rosette—the large ones are referred to as “hens,” and the smaller ones are called “chicks.” Their color can vary, anywhere from reds or greens or some combination, and as the chicks become larger, they produce more chicks in a cluster, creating the visual image of a mother hen protecting her chicks. 

Hens and Chicks succulent, with the 'babies' growing on the 'mother'

Their foliage spreads about an inch or two, and they flower only once, then die. But not before that mature hen has produced plenty of chicks, and so the cycle continues. The hen multiplies by growing runners that spread in all directions, and the new plants can vary in color, depending on how much light they receive. 

The chicks surround the mature plant and can ultimately break away from it, but they can also be pulled off or transplanted elsewhere in the garden. The mother hen actually benefits from this, as much of its energy is used to support the chicks. 

Easy care, low maintenance

Hens and chicks are highly favored because they are drought tolerant, they thrive in rooftop or rock gardens, troughs or containers, and they add ornate interest, color and texture to traditional flower gardens. They’re wonderful between pavers on patios or walkways. 

Growing hens and chicks

  • Plant them in full sun. If they don’t get enough sun, they’ll stay green and their leaves will be thin.
  • Make sure they’re draining well. Potting soil designed for cacti and succulents is your best option, but it doesn’t need to be rich soil. They can grow anywhere. 
  • Make sure they remain free from aphids, mealybugs, spider mites or whiteflies. 
  • Make sure they have a bit of space to crawl. 
  • Don’t over water. In fact, you can forget to water them for weeks and they’ll be fine. 
  • Don’t bother fertilizing. They don’t need it. 
  • No need to prune. 

More about other succulents

Succulents are great for a beginner’s garden, because they require so little maintenance. They can be grown in garden beds, pots, planters, indoors or outdoors, just as long as they get lots of light. Their leaves are thick, fleshy and store lots of water, which allows them to thrive in dry conditions or in poor soil. Some varieties store their water in their stems, still others have underground organs that store their water. 

How to propagate succulents

  • Cut off some leaves with scissors. Get the entire leaf. Don’t cut off too many leaves at once. 
  • Air dry the leaves for a few days, then fill a container with cactus soil mix and place the leaves on top. 
  • Just wait. In several days, you will see roots sprout from the leaves. Water very sparingly until you see growth. 

Five easy-to-grow succulents

  • Jade
  • Donkey’s tail
  • Hens and chicks
  • Mexican snowballs
  • Aloe vera

Succulents have been a mainstay in home gardens and inside homes thanks to their low maintenance nature, affordability, and their beautiful, social media-worthy blooms.

They’re great for new gardeners, and if planted indoors, they can become a beautiful and noteworthy part of your room’s décor. They look great on their own in a pretty pot, or as part of a larger container full of other succulents. Choose varying sizes, shapes and colors to make an interesting interior landscape. 

Leave a comment