Hens and Chicks: The Hardy Succulents You Need in Your Garden
By Ryan Dorn, SouthernSeeds.com
Succulents are, without a doubt, some of the most captivating plants you can add to your garden or indoor plant collection. Among them, one variety stands out with its unique form and resiliency: the hens and chicks succulents. In this blog post, we'll unravel the charm of these tiny wonders, answer some common queries, and guide you through caring for them in various conditions.
What is the Difference Between Hens and Chicks and Succulents?
The first question that might pop into your mind could be, "Aren't hens and chicks succulents too?" Yes, they are! The term 'succulent' refers to any plant that stores water in its leaves, stems, or roots to survive in arid conditions. Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) fall under this category. However, they are distinguished by their specific growth pattern. The 'hen', or the mother plant, produces tiny offsets known as 'chicks'. This natural propensity to multiply gives the plant its colloquial name.
The Unique Blooming of Hens and Chicks
In the world of succulents, the hens and chicks plants stand out for their intriguing blooming process. Unlike many other succulents, hens and chicks (Sempervivum) are monocarpic, meaning that the mother plant or 'hen' will die after it flowers. This might seem like a tragedy at first glance, but it's simply a part of their unique lifecycle.
Usually, a hen lives for several years before it decides it's time to bloom. Once it makes this decision, the plant channels its energy into creating a tall flower stalk. This stalk can grow up to a foot tall, a spectacle that seems almost surreal compared to the usual low-profile growth of these succulents.
The flowers themselves are star-shaped, and their colors can range from pink to red or even yellow, creating a vibrant contrast with the rosette's green, purple, or blue leaves. This flowering process can take several weeks to complete. Throughout this time, the hen progressively withers as it puts its energy into blooming and creating seeds.
Once the flowers have faded and the seeds dispersed, the hen will eventually die. However, by this time, she has usually produced a substantial brood of chicks around her. These offsets will continue to grow, filling in the space left by the mother plant, which ensures the cycle of life continues.
So, although the blooming of a hen signals the end of its life, it also paves the way for new growth. It's a fascinating display of nature's cycles and just one of the many reasons why gardeners are so captivated by hens and chicks succulents.
Caring for Hens and Chicks Succulents: The Basics
Despite their delicate and intricate appearance, hens and chicks are surprisingly hardy and easy to care for. They require well-draining soil and a pot with good drainage to prevent waterlogging. Watering should be done cautiously, only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Winter Survival of Hens and Chicks: In Pots and in the Ground
Contrary to what you might think, these tiny succulents are rather robust, capable of surviving harsh winters with minimal care. When planted in the ground, hens and chicks will generally make it through winter just fine, given they have well-drained soil. In pots, however, some extra protection may be necessary. Consider moving your potted hens and chicks to a sheltered location, such as a porch or garage, to protect them from excessive moisture or severely cold temperatures.
Sun or Shade: Understanding the Ideal Light Conditions
For hens and chicks succulents, the right balance of sunlight is key. They love plenty of bright, indirect light but can also tolerate a few hours of direct sun each day. However, in extreme heat, providing some shade can prevent the leaves from scorching. Similarly, while they can handle some shade, too much can lead to leggy growth and less vibrant coloring.
Understanding Temperature Tolerance of Succulents
As for temperature tolerance, hens and chicks succulents can withstand quite a range! They are cold-hardy succulents that can endure temperatures as low as -30°F when properly cared for. However, remember that like all succulents, they are sensitive to extreme changes in temperature and excessive moisture, which can cause the plant to rot.
The Growth Habit of Hens and Chicks: A Spreading Spectacle
One of the best features of hens and chicks succulents is their ability to spread and fill up space in your garden or pot. The mother plant sends out runners to produce offsets, creating an ever-expanding, dense mat of plants. They make excellent ground covers, but also work well in rock gardens, containers, or even vertical succulent gardens.
Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a complete beginner, hens and chicks succulents can be a delightful addition to your collection. Their unique growth pattern, hardiness, and minimal care requirements make them a perfect choice for any garden. Remember, it's all about providing the right conditions, and these plants will reward you with their fascinating charm. If you have any more questions about hens and chicks or other succulents, don't hesitate to reach out to us. Happy gardening!