HENS AND CHICKS (Sempervivum) are also called liveforever—and who wouldn’t want a plant that “lives forever”? The truth is hens and chicks do die, but are considered forever alive because of the way they reproduce. They can reproduce from seed and vegetatively from the offsets (the chicks) that are produced by the mother plant (the hen).
The mother hen can live for many years and will produce new offsets or chicks each growing season until it finally flowers. Once the mother plant flowers, it produces seeds and dies. This leaves room for its seeds to germinate and its chicks to grow and expand.
Once considered old-fashioned, the sempervivums are popular once again, and this time they are often used in simple, contemporary landscape settings and in rock gardens.
If you are growing hens and chicks in containers, overcrowding can cause premature flowering of the mother plant and subsequent death, but that does open up room for the others.
Many hens and chicks are fully winter hardy in our area. They are evergreen and often their most colorful during their preferred cool or cold seasons. Plant in full sun to part shade in soils that are gritty or coarse and well drained.
Because they grow low to the ground, put them in locations where they won’t be hidden. They look great growing with many of the creeping sedums or thyme. If these plants get overgrown, just trim them back to let sunlight in on the hens and chicks.
When plant shopping, don’t be fooled by a close look-alike—the echeveria. Echeveria is not winter hardy in our area, but makes a good houseplant or summer patio plant. Echeveria has thicker, wider leaves and doesn’t produce offsets.
SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.