There are several fairly common plants known as hens and chicks, most notably sempervivum, echeveria, jovibarba and rosularia. These plants, members of the Crassulaceae family (making them relatives of plants such as jade plant and kalanchoe), are commonly called hens and chicks, hens and chickens, or houseleeks. They are considered alpine plants since they are found natively growing in mountainous regions all over the world.

The common characteristics of these plants which, despite being differing genuses, give them one common name are as such:
  • These plants have a common shape -- similar to an artichoke. They form striking rosettes of densly packed leaves, varying in size and colour by genus and species.
  • They propagate themselves through offshoots, or "pups". As the rosette grows, it puts out stems (called stolons) which, if they find soil, root and form clusters of new rosettes, making a dense mat. The original rosette is the "hen", the offshoots are the "chicks".
  • They are succulent plants with high light requirements, low water requirements, and the ability to store water within their fleshy leaves, making them very hardy.
There is, of course, a certain amount of variation between genuses and species, particularly in terms of size, shape and colour. Some hens and chicks have very thick fleshy leaves, others have thin and waxy leaves. Some species have rosettes which can get as big around as a dinner plate while some don't get any bigger than a few inches across. Some leaves have small hairs on the leaf margins called cilia (most sempervivums} and some are covered in downy hair (Jovibarba heuffelii) or a spiderweb-like substance (sempervivum arachnoideum). Some can be brilliant red, some are subtle grey/purple, some are green.

Almost all hens and chicks will eventually form a flower, however many of these plants are monocarpic and after flowering the plant will die. The length of time it takes for a rosette to fully mature varies from species to species, but is usually at least one growing year. The plant will cease producing pups and will form a spike from the center of the rosette. The flower, in relation to the size of the rosette, is usually surprisingly large. The rosette, after forming a flower, will die, but the pups will continue to live and reproduce.

These plants are vigorous and are excellent plants for a begining gardener. Like many succulents, they require strong light and only a little bit of water. Many species can withstand temperatures up to -5 fahrenheit, making them an excellent choice as an outdoor ground cover in many regions.
CONDITIONS PREFERRED:
As mentioned above this plant is an alpine succulent, meaning it can withstand dry conditions, poor soil, and, in most cases, moderately cold winters. The plant is very easy to keep, but optimum conditions include high light (direct or filtered sun), and well-draining, sandy soil which is allowed to dry out completely between watering. Hens and chicks can be grown indoors or out, and are readily suited to dish gardens, window boxes, and single-plant potting.
PROPAGATION:
Hens and chicks will propagate themselves, however as a potential succulent enthusiast you may find that you wish to separate chicks from the hen to begin a new plant display or to share with friends.

The easiest method of propagation is to find an offshoot which has already formed roots and to separate it carefully from the parent plant. It is best to remove offshoots during the process of re-potting the parent plant, this will allow you good access to the root system. The roots are not particularly delicate, but care should be used (primarily in terms of cleanliness). If the offshoot is still attached to the parent by a stolon, use a sharp, sterile knife or sissors to cut it close to the parent plant. The length of stolon left behind will give the offshoot a bit more root substance, making it more stable once planted in its own pot.

Offshoots which have not yet formed roots can be forced to do so. Cut the offshoot from the parent plant, and let the plant dry in a warm dry location for a day so the wound callouses. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone (such as RootOne, which can be purchased almost anywhere you buy plants) and place it into warm moist potting mix or sand. As soon as new growth is noted on the plant, re-pot.
PRUNING AND GENERAL CARE:

Pruning:
There isn't much to pruning hens and chicks. Remove chicks as the pot becomes overcrowded and remove any dead leaves as these will attract pests and rot.

Tips:
  • Use a pot at least 4" deep with 1" of horticultural charcoal at the bottom then a layer of commerical cactus and succulent potting mix to within 1/2" of the rim of the pot. Top the soil with small washed gravel to keep plants above wet soil, preventing rot.
  • Water only when the soil is completely dry all the way through. The best method of watering is to fill a sink just above the top of the pot and soak the soil until air bubbles stop rising. Then allow the soil to completely drain. Avoid getting water on the leaves. If you do get water on the leaves do not place the plant in direct sunlight until the water has dried. The water will act as a magnifying glass and will burn the leaves.
  • Keep dirt out of the rosettes. This is best accomplished with a soft paintbrush. After re-potting, brush the leaves off to remove any dirt or grit.
  • Share chicks with your friends. They reproduce so well and are so easy to take care of that anyone who has a sunny spot can grow these plants.
  • Periodic fertilization is not recommended. Instead, use a potting soil with fertilizer granules already present (most commercial potting mixes contain adequate time-released fertilizer).
Problems:
Grown indoors or out, these plants have very few problems. They can live well in low-quality soil with very little water. In many areas, these plants are grown on roofs or in crevasses in rock walls and have lasted for many many years without any specific care. For the enthusiast who wishes to have fine examples of these plants, provide clean, well drained soil, and plenty of light and you cannot go wrong.

In the event of an unhealthy plant, the first thing to examine is your watering habits. The most common problem is root rot due to overwatering. If the soil is too wet, don't hope it will safely dry out so long as you don't water it for a while. Replace the soil immediately.

One of the most common pests to houseplants is the mealybug, and your hens and chicks may fall prey to this pest. However, due to the tightly packed leaves, more often than not the mealybugs will attack the roots. This makes them far less visible than mealybugs which attack leaf-stem junctions. The symptoms of a root mealybug infestation is slowed or stopped growth. If this occurs without apparent cause, remove the plants from the pot and examine the roots. A white cottony substance on the roots and in the soil is a sure sign of mealybug infestation. Remove all soil and wash the roots gently. Remove any roots which appear damaged with a sharp sterile knife or scissors.

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