How-To Plant and Grow Hens and Chicks
Have you ever heard of Hen and Chicks plants? If you're someone who struggles to keep plants alive, including houseplants, these hardy succulents may be just the solution for you! Hen and Chicks plants, also known as Sempervivum plants are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennials that are incredibly easy to grow, and come in a variety of colors.
They're the ultimate "set it and forget it" plant, making them a perfect choice for busy people or those with a less-than-green thumb. They grow well in summer heat and dry conditions and can be wintered over in cold climates. In this post, I'll share the best way, in my experience, to grow Hen and Chicks plants.
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Why You'll Love Them
- They're a succulent which means they are virtually kill-proof and their Latin name, Sempervivum tectorum, literally means "live forever".
- They don't require much water and can be used to create an attractive display in small pots, rock gardens and wall crevices with little care making them a fun project to introduce kids to gardening.
- Both the mother plant and chick plants have a unique lovely rosette shape.
I found small strawberry pots at Joann Fabrics and while they work fine, something to be mindful of is that they have little "pockets" like the ones above to hold the dirt in place but they didn't so I just had to roll with it and make the most of it. They were maybe $8.00 for both so it wasn't a big deal. Next year, though, I'll probably replace these pots with the ones I should have gotten.
The Right Soil and Drainage
It's important to use the proper soil for succulents.
I already had what I needed on hand but the ones I recommend and used are in the supply list below.
- Planter or Strawberry Pot
- Live Succulents and/or Hens and Chicks - did you know you can buy these from Amazon and Etsy?
- Miracle-Gro Perlite
- Miracle-Gro Sphagnum Peat Moss
- Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix or a good quality succulent potting mix
How to Plant Hens and Chicks
Once I had everything gathered up I started the planting process.
I used scissors to cut into the plastic container that the hens and chicks were in just to make it easier to separate them.
They were pretty tightly packed in place and I didn't want to break off any of the baby chicks so I was careful to gently separate the plants.
I placed rocks at the bottom of each planter to keep the dirt in but allow for excellent drainage. You could use fine gravel or a paper coffee filter
Next, I added perlite to the bottom and topped that with a mixture of sphagnum peat moss and the cactus potting mix.
I stopped just shy of the first set of holes.
At this point, I gently broke apart some of the hens from the group using just my fingers, no tools, and tucked these in the openings.
Next, I added more of the sphagnum peat moss and cactus potting mix until it was just below the lip of the strawberry pot, perhaps ½ inch from the top.
The dirt will settle so it's a good idea to not leave too large of a space between the top of the pot and the dirt.
I then planted the remaining hens with trailing chicks at the top of each pot.
What Do I Do With The Chicks?
The chicks are the small trailing babies. The mature plant will release the new rosette to "live" on their own at the perfect time.
Once they fall off from the hen plant simply pick them up, make a small hole in the dirt with your finger, and place the chick in the dirt alongside the mother hen where they will quickly develop their own roots.
You can also place the smaller rosettes into a new location such as a new pot or rock crevasses.
You may be able to notice hair like roots along the new stems. If there is dirt beneath the newly emancipated chick, they will take root right where they lay.
What Does It Mean When The Hens Flower?
Unfortunately, when a parent plant bears flowers it means they are entering the last phase of their life and will die shortly thereafter.
Separating the flowers from the main plant will not stop the process but at this point, the hen will have produced many, many chicks, and will be 2 to 3 years old.
Once the flowers die cut off the stalk and let the hen die and then remove her from the pot. This is done easily by simply pinching and carefully extracting.
The hen will in all likelihood be brownish black and dry to the touch with dead leaves so not much is required to remove her from her spot in the pot. Just be careful to not disrupt the larger plant.
How to Care for Hens and Chicks
Once you have transplanted your hens and chicks give them enough water to moisten the soil but don't overwater them. Even with well-draining soil you don't want to encourage root rot.
After this initial watering, allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
Members of the Sempervivum group of succulent plants are drought tolerant and will do well in the heat and direct sunlight.
Hens and chicks prefer full sunlight to partial sun so keep that in mind when placing your hens and chicks in their permanent, or semi-permanent, home and be sure to give them a good place to thrive!
These plants are hardy in zones 4-8. If you're not sure of your USDA hardiness zone, you can find that info here.
How To Care for Potted Hens and Chicks Over the Winter
I live in southwest Pennsylvania and the winters here can be somewhat harsh.
I left my hens and chicks in their pots in a flowerbed that is exposed to the elements and they did well.
However, if you live in an area where temperatures in the winter dip below freezing, it would be wise to move your hens and chicks indoors if planted in containers.
I great way to keep them insulated and safe is to place them in a container with packing peanuts or anything that can withstand water.
Some packing peanuts dissolve when exposed to water and are recyclable so be sure that the ones you are using are not the wonderful eco-friendly kind.
Keep them in an area that is protected like a garage, basement, or enclosed porch, and water them as needed.
Do try, however, to make sure that the area you are overwintering your hens and chicks in does get some sunlight.
Once there is no more danger of frost, move your plants outdoors.
Fertilize them and watch them grow beautifully over another summer.
Do They Come Back Every Year
They are tough plants and will likely come back year after year even under less than ideal conditions.
The hens will live for approximately 3 years and will die, but each growing season there will be plentiful offsets which will bear chicks which will grow and so the cycle continues.
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I wonder how someone ever came up with the name, hen & chicks? I love the name as much as your cute pots. They are fun to grow. I didn't know that about the flowers, but you'll laugh, I don't like the flowers, so I always cut them off once they get started. Wouldn't it be fun to have a large succulent garden with lots of hen & chicks? I think that would be so cool.
Thanks for sharing all your wonderful tips! Now I just need some sunshine in order to grow some. 😉
I thought the same thing about the name. I always called them chicks and hens and then realized without the hens, there wouldn't be any chicks...the things I ponder. 😉
How can I get my hens and chicks out of the strawberry pot they're in? Its huge and over populated. I'm afraid I'll kill them all.
Hi Stephanie, I would start by just gently removing a few of the hens and chicks, maybe 25% (or less) of all of the plants in that pot. I would use a small spoon (a sturdy plastic spoon may work) rather than a larger garden tool. First, work your way around the individual plant you want to transplant with the spoon very carefully and then when the dirt has been loosened, lift the plant out and place it in its new pot. While doing the "lifting" of the plant you'll want to be sure you go a little deep so that you get as much of the root network as possible. Not all of your plants will live through the transplant process and that's normal so don't be discouraged. I will mention that some of my plants dropped babies into the dirt around the pots and those took root all on their own and have lived through the winter and flourished, which is so nice and proof that these plants are hardier than we think! Please let me know how this works for you. I would love to hear. Regards, MB
Hi this year is my first spring planting my hens and chicks which I truly adore . I have one issue I cant seem to find the proper pot strawberry pot and the few I did find on amazon or ebay were extremely expensive and way out of my spending range. Just curious to know if anyone has any info on where I can possibly purchase a few pot I would greatly appreciate it thank you so much...
Hi Jen, I was at my local Home Goods yesterday and they had some reasonably priced strawberry pots. I hope that helps and if I find them anywhere else, I'll update this reply.
I found a reasonably priced strawberry pot yesterday at a Rural King store. Hoping to plant my hens & chicks this weekend in it.
Hi Terri, Thank you so much for letting me know about finding a pot at Rural King. I have one not too far from my house and will hopefully be able to get one there! Have a great summer.
MaryBeth, I enjoyed your article on maintaining your hens and chicks. Here in central NY I've had good luck leaving them out all Winter. You are right. Drainage is a great idea. But I also collected driftwood from one of our lakes and I discovered placing potting soil in one of the depressions, an inch or two, and adding some chicks would start another colony. Enjoy your gardening and keep well, Claudia
Thank you so much for the wonderful idea for starting a new colony, Claudia! You enjoy your gardening as well. xo