If you looked up the definition of versatility in the gardening dictionary it probably should just say “Hens and Chicks”; few plants rival its ability to adapt to a variety of growing conditions. Although it is an alpine plant native to Europe and North Africa it has been getting a lot of attention in the past few years due to its drought tolerant qualities. It’s always been a popular choice for rock gardens and xeriscaping; two types of gardening whose purpose is to reduce the need for supplemental watering, but it is also being used on green roofs, in containers and can also be a great indoor plant too. I did tell you that this plant is versatile didn’t I!
There are more than 3,000 varieties of hens and chicks, but they fall into three common categories. The category is determined by the “chick” half of the relationship. The “hen” is the main plant and the “chicks” are the smaller offspring of the plant which are attached to the hen. The chicks are how the plant spreads itself and while the hen may live for about 3 years this ability to multiply in this fashion allows these plants to “live forever.” The chicks are produced in the spring and summer and each chick is a carbon copy of the hen.
The first category of hens and chicks is known as Sempervivum and they may be the most well-known of the three categories. The chicks in this category have runners attached to the hen and they need to be pulled off of the main plant in order for them to multiply. The second category is known as Jovibarba Heuffelii and in the case of this plant the offspring actually form inside of the hen and propagation requires the use of a knife to remove the chick from the hen. The final category is known as Jovibarba Rollers and the chicks in this case are very lightly attached to the hen and they just pop off. The one thing that is universal across all three of these categories is that the chicks are very easy to transplant once they are separated from the hen. It is literally as simple as just pushing them in the ground and in a few weeks they will root, and in a year they will start producing their own chicks.
If all of these benefits aren’t enough to convince you to grow this plant let me share a few others with you. If deer or rabbits are a problem in your area they are not a problem for hens and chicks. While deer will eat virtually anything depending upon the variety of food sources available to them they generally will leave this plant alone. Hens and chicks also come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors and some of them even will send up stalks of pink or yellow flowers in the summer.
While I have championed the versatility of hens and chicks they do have an Achilles heel. Too much water will kill these plants. Soil that drains well is critical, but if you can meet this requirement you’ll have no problem successfully growing this versatile plant.