Not everyone is willing to invite chickens to live in their yard or home. But even apartment dwellers will agree that hens-and-chicks make suitable living companions. Few plants are as hardy, easily maintained, simple to cultivate and beautiful to boot!

Chicken pot with hens and chicks succulent

Containers are a fun and easy way to display hens-and-chicks. Be whimsical!

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Hens and Chicks

As the name suggests, the mother “hen” is surrounded by her baby “chicks.”

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Single Hens and Chicks plant

When you separate the chick from its mother, it will have a single root like this.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

Pinkish Hens and Chicks

Many hens-and-chicks will develop a deeper color in the winter months.

Photo Credit: Amy Dee Stephens

With hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum), the nickname becomes obvious: The main plant (or mother hen) surrounds herself with miniature replicas (her little chicks). This pretty succulent has a shape similar to an artichoke, but the leaves and color can vary. Leaves can be thick or thin, spiky or round-tipped, smooth or covered with fine hairs. Color variations range from pale sea green to dark olive, burgundy to red, purple to pink and even gray.

Chicks can be as small as a pea, and hens can grow as large as a dinner plate. If you haven’t already fallen in love with this plant based on its appearance, just wait until you find out how easy it is to grow:

Raising Your Chicks (No Farm Required)

What could be more versatile than a plant that does well both inside and outside, can grow from a tiny patch of soil and requires little water? Originally from the mountains, Sempervivum is an alpine succulent, which means it can withstand dry conditions, poor soil and cold winters. In other words: It’s an ideal rock garden plant. It can also grow in a small crevice, the hollow of a tree and even the crack in a sidewalk. Hens-and-chicks do equally well in a container, a clay strawberry pot or as a groundcover. (A well-drained soil works best, regardless of where you choose to plant.) When allowed to spread, it’ll form a thick mat that will travel as far as you allow (and then some).

Separating Momma From Her Chicks

Hens-and-chicks can stay together for the long term, but the beauty of this plant is how easily it can be propagated. Gently pull a chick from the mother plant and pop it into a new location. And voilà! You have a “single” chick. It’s that easy! And Sempervivum needs very little dirt to settle into its new lifestyle, too. Seriously – you can drill a bit-sized hole into a rock and your chick can take root. Soon after, it’ll have chicks of its own, and you’ll have a new colony growing. (But warning: This is a seriously addictive habit, which results in scads of hens-and-chicks being transplanted throughout your garden and filling every vacant pot in your house!)

Beware of “Fowl” Treatment

As easy as hens-and-chicks are to grow, they must be protected from certain dangers. Invariably, the worst “fox in the henhouse” is overwatering. Because “semps” are succulents (and therefore accustomed to dry conditions), you must wait until they’re completely dry before watering. Then it’s preferable to give them a drink at the roots only, so that no moisture is left on the leaves. Since hens-and-chicks prefer well-drained soil, a layer of gravel along the surface will keep them from sitting in a puddle. (Like poultry, they’ll drown in too much water!)

Age Before Beauty

Another delightful feature of Sempervivum is that when it reaches old age – varying from 1-4 years – it blooms. A single stalk shoots up about 2-5 inches to produce a surprisingly large cluster of star-shaped flowers. Bloom color can range from white to yellow to dark pink, and the flowers will remain for several weeks. Afterward, the plant dies – but don’t feel bad. By this time it will have produced dozens of chicks!

Some Final Chicken “Nuggets”

With a plant this lovely and simple to maintain, it’s easy to see the reason for this succulent’s resurgence in popularity. Here are just a few final tips for raising hens-and-chicks at your home:

  • Full sunlight is preferable, but shade will also work.
  • Keep rosettes tidy by removing dead leaves (but this isn’t required).
  • If you’re worried about cold winters, just move your plants indoors until spring. (Although hens-and-chicks are surprisingly resilient to freezing weather.)

And take pleasure in growing a plant that so readily gives back! Invite your friends to come see your green or purple chicks. Better yet, give them their own to take home. Whether city folk or country folk, they, too, will quickly see how fun it is to raise a brood of hens-and-chicks. Enjoy!