Common Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum), also known as Hens and Chicks, are low growing evergreen succulent plants that look a little like rubbery roses. They are considered alpine or rock garden plants, because of their hardiness and drought resistance. The original rosette, the ‘Hen’ produces tiny rosette offsets that are known as the ‘Chicks’.
The name for the genus “Sempervivum” is Latin for “live forever”. They don’t really live forever, but since they produce the ‘chicks’ or plantlets, they seem to last forever.
Light: Common Houseleeks require full sun and well drained, even gritty soil.
Water: As succulents, Common Houseleek plants are accustomed to very little water.
Temperature: The ideal temperature for hens and chicks is between 65 and 75 °F (18 and 24 °C). When temperatures zoom upwards or plummet down, the plants become semi-dormant and will cease growing.
Soil: Common Houseleek as with most succulents, need excellent drainage. Poor, sandy soil would be just fine. You could work some peat into heavier soil, to lighten them and improve drainage. Soil pH should be in the neutral range, 6.6 to 7.5.
Fertilizer: No fertilizer is needed.
Common Houseleek can be grown from seeds, seedlings or by dividing offsets.
Don’t plant your Common Houseleeks too deeply. Dig a shallow hole and spread the roots. Cover to the crown of the plant and tamp the soil gently so that the plant is firm in the ground. Water lightly, but you don’t need to water newly planted Common Houseleek every day, the way you would with non-succulents. Common Houseleeks need to let their roots dry out between waterings.
Seeds can be sprinkled on top of a soil, gravel mix and kept moderately moist until they germinate. Once they sprout, sprinkle some fine gravel around them as mulch. Seeds are usually started in pots and then transferred to the garden as seedlings. You can start your seeds in the fall and transplant in the spring.
Common Houseleeks will spread by underground roots. Each plant multiplies by at last 4, in a growing season, by producing little offset plantlets all around the perimeter of the ‘Hen’. These are the ‘Chicks’. The Chicks can be snapped off and replanted elsewhere at any time.
Once established, maintenance of Common Houseleeks is minimal. You’ll need to remove the old hens, after they flower, and divide chicks as needed. Except in extremely hot, dry situations, you won’t even need to give them supplemental water.
Pests and Diseases
Crown rot will occur in wet soils. Some varieties can get Endophyllum rust, a fungus disease. Both problems can be prevented if grown in dry conditions.
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