Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks
A favorite of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, hens and chicks (also called houseleek) is popular once again with gardeners looking for a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plant. The darling of today's xeriscape gardens, trough gardens, and rooftop gardens, this succulent is appreciated for its easy-care nature and tolerance for extremely dry conditions. The mother rosette (or hen) multiplies freely by runners that spread in all directions to form offsets (or chicks). Eventually the hen blooms, sets seed, and dies—leaving behind all its chicks to form colonies and carry on the botanical process. Hens and chicks grows very small, fine roots, which allows it to penetrate tiny cracks and thrive in rock gardens. This plant looks great in trough gardens and containers since its small, young plantlets will eventually trail over the sides. Hens and chicks also adds color and texture to regular gardens, to living succulent wreaths, and between pavers on patios and walkways.
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While most often found in shades of green, hens and chicks plants come in a variety of colors. Some plants even change color depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. In the right conditions, green plants will form red tips; sometimes the whole plant turns red. Other varieties form intricate cobwebbing on the tips of the leaves, which adds intriguing texture to rock gardens.
Hens and Chicks Care Must-Knows
Hens and chicks thrives in well-drained soil and full sun. Not enough sun, and the plant stays green (no color changes) and its leaves will be thin and sparse. Too much moisture, and this plant rots and dies. If grown under the proper conditions, it will slowly spread to form impressive colonies. The small plants (or chicks) can be plucked off the main plant and used to propagate new plants. Simply set the small plant atop lightly moist soil.
Due to the succulent craze, there has been an increase in new varieties. Some of them are marketed with millennials in mind. One such example: Chick Charms brand is a collection of hens and chicks plants varying in shapes, colors, and sizes. Playful plant names include Cinnamon Starburst, Cranberry Cocktail, and Appletini.
More Varieties of Hens and Chicks
'Bronco' Hens and Chicks
Sempervivum 'Bronco' is a vigorous selection that offers green foliage with purple-red edges. It grows 4 inches tall and 10 inches wide. Zones 5-10
Hens and Chicks Companion Plants
Yarrow is one of those plants that give a wildflower look to any garden. In fact, it is indeed a native plant and, predictably, it's easy to care for. In some gardens, it will thrive with almost no care, making it a good candidate for naturalistic plantings in open areas and along the edges of wooded or other wild places. Its colorful, flat-top blooms rise above clusters of ferny foliage. The tough plants resist drought, are rarely eaten by deer and rabbits, and spread moderately quickly, making yarrow a good choice for massing in borders or as a groundcover. If deadheaded after its first flush of blooms fade, yarrow will rebloom. If left to dry on the plant, flower clusters of some types provide winter interest. Flowers of yarrow are excellent either in fresh or dried arrangements.
If you have a hot, dry spot with excellent drainage, you must give thrift a try. A small, tidy plant, it covers itself with adorable bobbing pink flowers. It's a charming groundcover, edging plant, or rock garden feature. When planted in large groups, it forms a mat of attractive grassy foliage and colorful marble-size balls of flowers. Also called sea pink, this tough plant tolerates wind, sea spray, and is drought-tolerant. They do need well-drained soil to prevent root rot.
Sedums are nearly the perfect plants. They look good from the moment they emerge from the soil in spring and continue to look fresh and fabulous all growing season long. Many are attractive even in winter when their foliage dies and is left standing. They're also drought-tolerant and need very little if any care. They're favorites of butterflies and useful bees. The tall types are outstanding for cutting and drying. Does it get better than that? Only in the fact that there are many different types of this wonderful plant, from tall types that will top 2 feet to low-growing groundcovers that form mats. All thrive in full sun with good drainage. Ground cover types do a good job of suppressing weeds, but seldom tolerate foot traffic. Some of the smaller ones are best grown in pots or treated as houseplants.