Hens and chicks are small succulent plants, which vary widely in size, shape, leaf colour, and texture. These succulents make good indoor plants with interesting appearance: some people are fascinated by their overall shape and form, others for their foliage effects and beautiful flowers.
They are also called houseleeks, roof houseleeks, hen and chickens, hens and chicks cactus or hen widdies. And can easily be recognised by their tightly packed leaves with a wax or bloom covered with hairs. In some, the fine hairs are scattered over their stem. Hens and chicks are stemless rosettes that produce numerous babies (offsets) from the mother plant. The mother plant is usually referred to as the hen and the babies or offspring as the chicks –Hence the explanation of their name hens and chicks.
Hens and chicks are one of the easiest plants to look after, undemanding, require less watering, and thrive with minimal care. They can tolerate long period of dryness because their plump fleshy leaves act as water and food storage organ.
Hang-on for clear advice on all aspects of taking care of hens and chick plants, from shopping, potting and grooming, to choosing the right variety, planting mix and propagation techniques.
Types of Hens and Chick Plant
Hens and chicks plants are diverse in forms and shapes. They include species of Sempervivum, Jovibarba, Sedum, Bergenia and Echeveria.
In recent years, many hybrids have been produced from crosses between the genus Echeveria and other genera of the same family, Crassulaceae. At times the name of these plants are confusing –for instance, several species formerly belong to echeverias are now included in other genera. Even among the echeverias themselves some species and hybrids differ significantly in form.
Let’s briefly look at the forms and growing tips for the recommended echeverias.
It is a low growing succulent plant with thick wonderfully shaped leaves that are almost sharp to touch. The leaves are soft and smooth, and grow 2 to 3 inches long, which are arranged in a squat rosette with a spread of 4 inches. Leaves are pointed, waxy and ranges from very dark green to gray, and black coloration when exposed to direct sunlight.
Echeveria affinis is commonly called Black Knight, native to Mexico, and produces interestingly red flowers during winter. It is a good potted indoor plant that looks pleasant to the eyes. Safe for pets
Echeveria agavoides is also an attractive succulent plant with fleshy triangular shaped leaves that looks like an Agave. The leaves are thick, and grow 1.5 to 3.5 inches long, which are arranged in a tight rosette with a spread 5 to 6 inches.
The pale green leaves have pointed brown or red tips, with red margins when exposed to direct sunlight. The flowers are red, pink or orange tipped with yellow. It is nicknamed lipstick echeveria, and sometimes called Urbinia agovoides, native to rocky areas of Mexico.
Echeveria derenbergii sometimes known as baby echeveria or painted lady is an evergreen short stem succulent with red margins. It rapidly produces small babies which can be easily separated from the mother plant.
The fleshy triangular shaped leaves are thick, and grow 1 to 1.5 inches long, which are arranged in a small tight rosette up to 3 inches wide with red tips, and will spread 1 to 3 inches, even up to 36 inches wide over a period of years.
The flower stem grows up to 3 inches long bearing cup shaped orange to red flowers with painted red tips in winter. In some cultivar, the cup shaped flower is yellow.
Echeveria elegans sometimes known as Mexican snow ball, Mexican gem, white Mexican rose, Mexican ghost plant or pearl echeveria is an attractive evergreen succulent that forms tight rosettes 4 inches wide of pale blue to green leaves that grow 1 to 2 inches long.
The pink flower stalk grows up to 12 inches long bearing pink and yellow flowers in summer. In some hybrids, the cup shaped flower is yellow.
Echeveria gibbiflora is one of the largest species of Echeveria that grows up to 3ft. in height producing tight rosettes at the top of the stout stem 12 inches long, and will spread 16 inches. The gray green spoon shaped leaves have pink coloration underneath the surface, and grow 7 to 8 inches long.
The flower stalk grows up to 12 inches long bearing pale red tubular flowers in winter.
Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Carunculata’
Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Crispata’
Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Metallica’
Echeveria harmsii is sometimes known as oliveranthus elegans, red echeveria, or plush plant is an evergreen succulent that forms loosely arranged rosettes from the main stem.
The main stem gives rise to secondary stems bearing smaller rosettes. The light green plush leaves are lanced shaped with brown to red edges, which grow up to 1.5 inches long. The flower stalk grows up to 6 inches long bearing bright red flowers with a yellow lining in late spring and early summer.
Echeveria leucotricha sometimes known as chenille plant or white plush plant is an evergreen succulent that branches out profusely to subshrubs, and grow slowly to about 6 to 9 inches long.
The light green leaves are covered in fine white hairs with brown to red tips when exposed to bright light. The thick lance shaped leaves grow 2 to 3 inches long. The flower stalk grows up to 16 inches long bearing red flowers in fall and winter.
Echeveria setosa sometimes known as Mexican firecracker, firecracker echeveria or firecracker plant is an attractive evergreen succulent that forms tightly packed rosettes 3 inches long. The spoon shaped green leaves are covered in fine silvery hairs, grow 3 inches long, and will spread 1 inch.
The flower stalk grows up to 12 inches long bearing red to orange flowers with yellow tips in late spring and summer
Echeveria shaviana sometimes known as Mexican hens or pink frills is an attractive evergreen succulent that forms spoon shaped leaves that grow 3 inches long with crinkled edges. The blue gray thin leaves are delicate and frills, and can be pink when exposed to bright light, arranged in a rosette 4 to 5 inches across. The flower stalk grows up to 12 inches long bearing yellow flowers on the inside and pink flowers on the outside flowers in spring and summer.
Due to the fact that offsets spoil the shape of the rosette, it is advised to remove them when they appear.
Shopping for Hens and Chicks Plants
Where to buy Hens and Chicks Plant
A garden centre is often the best place to buy indoor plants: plants are provided with excellent growing conditions, and are usually well-looked after by their knowledgeable staff. The care tag attached to plants give reasonably information on required light, water, temperature, fertilizer, and growth rate or patterns.
Whereas, in ordinary shops or stores, the quality of plants sold vary greatly. In some cases, the plant might start to show signs of neglect just few weeks after you brought them home.
What to check when buying Hens and Chicks Plant
When buying from a garden centre or ordinary shop, checklist the following:
- Look for plants with firm, plump and unblemished leaves
- Check to see that the compost is moist. However, compost for succulents like hens and chicks plant can feel loose or almost dry. But if the compost is too dry, it’s a sign of neglect, don’t buy.
- Check the drainage hole: a few small roots shooting out from the bottom is a good sign. It is a sign of neglect if many roots are shooting out from the bottom because the plant is ready to be potted.
- Don’t buy when the pot is packed with a mass of roots so that little soil is visible at surface. It’s a sign of neglect, except you intend potting to a larger container almost immediately when you bring them home
- Ensure the pot plant is well labelled with care tag
- Don’t buy plants with broken or damaged leaves
- Avoid plants that the leaves are lop-sided (not turgid)
- Lastly, be bold to turn and examine the leaf underneath for signs of pests and diseases. If you see any, avoid completely.
Where to position Hens and Chicks Plant
Indoor plants can complement your chosen decor to create a different style of effects in your living rooms. If you want to get the best from your plants, it is essential to know the amount of light your plants need before deciding the best spot to position them.
Display hens and chicks plants places with bright lights on windowsill, verandas, and balconies. You can as well display them in bath tub, kitchen and bedroom provided they get adequate light.
Caring for Hens and Chick Plants
Hens and Chicks Plant flourish best when placed in brightest light possible, even direct sunlight at all times. Growth often times may slow down or stop, when exposed to long periods of inadequate light.
High light intensity helps to improve hens and chicks foliage effects and coloration. However, reduction or low light causes loose, uncharacteristic growth.
Sit your hens and chicks plants where they can get a steady level of room temperature of about 68°F to 72°F during the active growth period. During the winter rest period keep the temperature to about 55°F to 60°F
Over-watering is the cause of death of most hens and chicks plant. When watering, ensure pots have holes for effective drainage; give them a good soak when watering rather than little at a time.
Water when compost or potting mix is loose and feels dry. This short period of dryness improves foliage effects, foliage coloration and growth pattern. If your plant is sitting in a tray, discard excess water after about 20 minutes.
Apply liquid fertilizer at half strength once every month during the active growth period (follow feeding instructions on how to apply). However, hens and chick plants need no feeding if the potting mix is good enough.
Potting and repotting
Potting mix for Hens and Chicks Plant
Choose a good quality potting mix that is well draining to prevent waterlogging or moisture from rotting the roots. A cactus potting mix is best for hens and chick plants. You can as well use your own special potting mix provided it’s well-draining.
If you find it challenging creating our own special potting mixture, you can use the following recipes for hens and chicks cactus potting mix:
- 2 parts sterilized fibrous soil or compost
- 1 part coarse sand
- 1 part coarse peat moss
- Add fertilizer according to instructions on the package (optional)
When to repot Hens and chicks plant
Never be too much in a hurry to transplant hens and chicks plant. Repot to a larger pot, when you see plenty roots shooting out from the base of the pot, or when the pot is packed with a mass of roots so that little soil is visible. Established plants can be left for 2 years while topdressing with fresh mixture every 4 to 6 months.
Note: some echeverias produce aerial roots, seen hanging around the surface of the potting mix. It is essential to note that those roots are not signs that repotting is needed.
Potting Hens and chicks plant
Prepare a new pot that is one size larger than the original pot. Cover the drainage with pieces of bark or styrofoam for good drainage. To remove the plant easily from its original pot, invert the pot and tap the rim on a hard surface.
Once the plant is out, look at the root-ball. If the roots are densely bound in a pattern, having the shape of the pot, break up the pattern to loosen the roots and trim off dead or damaged roots with a sterilized sharp knife or scissors.
Put a little amount of potting mix inside the new pot to about an inch or two inches high, and slightly firm with your fingers. Sit the plant such that the root-ball sits properly and erect, and then work-in compost around the sides, turning the pots and forcing the compost down.
Once done, gently firm the compost with your fingers. Leave about 2 inches space between the compost level and the rim of the pot to accommodate watering and future feeding or topdressing.
After potting Hens and Chicks Plant
After potting, move the newly potted plant to a partially shaded area. Allow settling for one day, then reposition to a good spot where they can get adequate light before you resume moderate watering.
Hens and Chicks Plant propagation
Hens and chicks plant can be propagated from seed, easy division (from offsets or rosettes) or leaf cuttings. The last 2 methods are the quickest.
Propagating Hens and chicks plant by division
The most common and easiest way to propagate a hen and chick plant is by division method. This method is fast, efficient and easy, when compared to other methods. To propagate hens and chick plant by division method, detach the small rosettes or offsets from the mother plant with care, so as not to injure the mother.
Remove lower leaves to prevent contact with the rooting medium, and then replant each rosette or offset singly in an appropriately sized pot or container using the right rooting compost.
Root development is usually seen after 2 weeks if plants are kept at room temperature in medium light and watered just enough to keep the mixture from drying out completely.
how to propagate hens and chicks plant -A short video
Propagating hens and chick plant by leaf cuttings
Choose a leaf from any part of the plant that is in good health, with no diseases or pest problems, and no shriveling at the edges. Ensure the leaf is carefully removed from the mother plant, and then place to a depth of 0.25 inch into the rooting mix per pot.
Ensure the small-sized rooting pots have effective drainage filled with a mixture of peat moss and coarse sand.
After rooting, position the pots to bright light, shaded from direct sunlight. Water sparingly just enough to keep the mixture from drying out completely. When the plantlet is sufficiently formed, pot and treat it has a mature plant.
Note: formation of plantlets from leaf cutting is a slow process
Lifecycle of hens and chicks plant
Hens and chicks plants produce numerous babies (offsets) from the mother plant. The mother plant is usually referred to as the hen and the babies or offspring or offset as the chicks.
The hen will keep producing chicks until she dies back. The hen usually will flower and seeds before dying. Some can last several years before flowering. But once a hen does die, it has produced numerous chicks that have matured to hen leaving the next generation to pass on her genes. The cycle keeps repeating from one generation to another.
Pests and Diseases of hens and chicks plant
Usually, plant problems are caused by pathogens which can either be a virus, bacteria or fungi. Fungal attacks on plants often come from the soil and most times are difficult to treat.
Every plant is prone to pests and diseases. This is particularly so for hens and chick plant if not well rooted and in the best planting medium, or if plants are over-watered. It is easier to completely eradicate plant diseases if detected early.
Mealybugs, aphids, snails & slugs, and crown rots are the major problems commonly associated with hens and chicks plants.
These are sucking insects that feed on plant sap. Their activities result to yellowing of leaves and total leaf loss.
Mealybugs may go unnoticed over a long period until much damage is done because the tightly packed leaves provide a perfect breeding ground.
Control of Mealybugs
Detach some leaves to loosen up, and then dip a thin boarded brush in denatured alcohol and apply directly on the insects. For serious infestation use insecticidal soap -mix water, liquid dish soap, and neem oil in a spray bottle. 5mls of Neem oil and 3 drops of dish soap. Apply the treatment and repeat after 3 days until the 3rd application.
These are sucking insects that feed on buds, flowers and new growths. Their activities may not kill the plant, but cause loose, and uncharacterized.
Control of Aphids
Wash plants with jet water (you can create pressure with garden hose) or spray with soap solution. Mix 20mls of alcohol, 50mls water, and 3 drops of liquid soap into a spray bottle. After treatment move the plant to brightest light possible
Snails and slugs
Snails are chewing organisms that leave irregular holes in leaves, flowers and roots. Their activities result to great damage.
Control of Snails and slugs
Apply snail pellets at the base of your plants. Application should be done when they are most active, that is evenings.
Crown rot is mainly caused by over watering, too much moisture in the soil or potting mix. To avoid crown rot, be sure to use well-draining compost mix, and water only when the mix is almost drying out.