By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Hens and chicks have old-time charm and unbeatable hardiness. These little succulents are known for their sweet rosette form and numerous offsets or “chicks.” Do hens and chicks plants bloom? The answer is yes, but it spells demise for the flowering rosette in a life cycle that is unique among plants. Hens and chicks flowers are the plant’s way of producing seed and a new generation of beguiling succulents.
A rambunctious clump of hens and chicks has special allure to children and adults alike. The small plants are adaptable and resilient, producing flower-like clusters of varying sized rosettes. Gardeners new to the plants may say, “My hens and chicks are flowering,” and wonder if this is a natural occurrence. Blooms on hens and chicks plants are not only natural but an additional wonder with this fun, diminutive Sempervivum.
I love to walk the garden and see that my hens and chicks are flowering. This generally occurs in summer when the long warm days and bright light jar the plant’s instincts to form blooms. This signals the beginning or end of the plant’s life cycle, depending upon whether you are a glass half empty or glass half full kind of gardener.
Hens will usually live for 3 years before they form flowers but, occasionally, stressed plants will bloom earlier. The tiny, starry flowers amp up the magic of these succulents, but it does mean the plant is forming seed and will die. Not to despair, though, because the lost plant will quickly fill in with a new rosette and the cycle will march on yet again.
A blooming hen on a hen and chicks plant is often referred to as a “rooster.” The individual rosettes will begin to elongate and lengthen vertically when it is time to produce flowers. The process lends an alien appearance to the normally low-growing plants, with flower stalks that can get from a few inches up to a foot in length.
Removing the budding stem can’t save the rosette. The blooms on hens and chicks plants are a part of a monocarpic process. That means they flower, seed and then die. There is nothing to be done about it so you might as well enjoy the pink, white or yellow flowers with bristling, erect stamen.
Their work will soon be done, but the plant should already have produced many smaller rosettes, the future of the line.
As with the entire plant, hens and chicks flower care consists of neglect. You can leave the bloom until it has finished and the stem and base rosette will dry out and die.
Clip off the stem rather than pulling it out of the living cluster or you may end up yanking some of the precious offsets. You may also choose to let nature take its course and leave the dying stem as proof of an interesting life cycle, which will eventually break off and compost in the area.
The young chicks will grow larger and fill in any gaps the parent plant made when bidding its fond farewell to this world. So enjoy the flowers and the guarantee of everlasting life this plant has in its offspring.
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Here is the time to discuss wintering sempervivum. Some gardeners doubt that this gentle succulent can withstand severe frost since its “brothers” of haworthia and echeveria are unable to withstand the cold.
Hen and Chicks can survive the winter, and it is a very frost-resistant plant. They can withstand frosts USDA hardiness zone 3 without shelter. But not all species are equally hardy.
As you can see in the main picture, sempervivum decreases slightly in winter, and its shape changes. The leaves shrink toward the center of the rosette, and the rosette ‘closes’. The plant juices also stop, and the sempervivum stagnates.
Sempervivum can winter to 3 Hardiness zone (USDA) and below. That is, the plant can withstand -30-40 ° F. However, not all varieties can boast such frost resistance. I have created a table below where you can see which species can overwinter in which areas.
|Name||5 zone||4 zone||3 zone|
|Sempervivu globiferum||garden and pots||garden and pots||garden and pots|
|Sempervivum calcareum||garden and pots||garden and pots||garden and pots|
|Sempervivum tectorum||garden and pots||garden and pots||garden and pots|
|Sempervivum arachnoideum||garden and pots||garden and pots||garden and pots|
|Sempervivum macedonicum||garden and pots||only garden||–|
|Sempervivum ciliosum||garden and pots||only garden||–|
As you can see from the table, most species and varieties of sempervivum can overwinter in zone 3, both in the containers and in the garden. The exception is Sempervivum macedonicum and Sempervivum ciliosum since their distribution area is in the south. Therefore, all popular species and varieties can withstand winter almost all over the United States.
From all of the above, you can conclude that sempervivum can survive the winter without problems. In fact, it is not quite so.
Throughout the time I have been growing this sempervivum, I have encountered frost damage many times. Often early frosts occur in the second half of the fall. At this time, the plants are not yet ready for the frost, but it happens so that in November can hit severe frost for a short time.
Sempervivum suffers the most during such temperature drops, and the effects will be noticeable only in the spring. The frozen leaves turn black and begin to rot.
Sempervium damage is not so typical, about 1-2% of my Hens and Chicks were damaged by early frosts. Also, it is necessary to note that after frost damage, the plants recover quickly. In May, traces of damage are no longer visible. Of all the damaged sempervium, only a few are dying.
Another typical case where sempervivum may not overwinter well is a lack of snow. It often happens that winter is very cold, and there is no snow at all. At this time, the Hens and Chicks rosette may be damaged by low temperature, but as in the first case, they recover quickly.
I have noticed that varieties with large, broad leaves suffer most from the sudden temperature changes. This is because large leaves are juicier that is, they contain more water. In severe frost, the water freezes, and the leaves crackle, causing damage to the plant.
Varieties and species with small leaves are not damaged by frost at all. At least I didn’t have one.
From the above, we can conclude that sempervium can be damaged by cold in sporadic cases. If the autumn was mild and the temperature was decreasing gradually, the sempervivum was enough time to adapt to the winter and to survive it without problems. Next, we will talk about the care of this succulent during the winter months.
Many gardeners are unaware that hens and chicks throw off extraordinary flowers from the center of the rosettes because they can take up to three years to bloom. Unfortunately, this means that, after the bloom is past, the rosette will then die. The good news is that it is very easy to fill in the hole left by the plant. Stress or overcrowding can cause them to bloom earlier.
Depending on which substrate you use will depend on how the plants will grow. For indoor cultivation of Hens and Chicks, a mixture of garden soil and sand is best. Take half of the garden soil and half of the sand, mix thoroughly and pour into pots.
Many recommend draining drainage (pebbles, stones, etc.) to the bottom of the pot. I do not recommend this because the pots have drainage holes through which excess will flow away, and this is enough.
The downside of drainage is that cavities are formed there. The roots, when filled with these cavities on them, will develop a fungus that will harm the plant.
If you plant sempervivum in the nutrient soil, then it will grow intensively and will not have enough sunlight. As a result, plants will suffer from lack of light, in more detail about this, I wrote above.
I do not recommend planting Hens and Chicks in peat as the roots do not grow well. If the peat once dries, then making it completely moist is very difficult. Also, I do not recommend using other substrates, such as perlite, which will have more problems than benefits.
Pure clay or sand is also not suitable for planting sempervivum in pots. In the first case, it will be difficult for the plant to develop roots in clay. Sand is not suitable because it does not retain moisture, and the plant will suffer from drought.
So a poor soil-sand mix would be the best solution. I also recommend mulching the pot surface with small pebbles so the plant will look more elegant.
Occasionally a rooster will appear. A rooster is a tall shoot that is attractive while it is blooming with red or yellow flowers and the same thick leaves as the hen. You can cut these off before or after they bloom, as they are not needed for reproduction. You may prefer to cut the stalk as soon as it appears to maintain a particular appearance in your hen and chicken colony.
While succulents have a reputation for being easy to care for, hens and chicks are particularly hardy. Hens and chicks go dormant in freezing temperatures, making them popular choices for those who live in temperate climates. "These are resilient little plants," says Hugo. "They're one of the only succulents that will survive not only frost, but snow." Requiring very little soil, hens and chicks are a popular choice for rock gardens. However, they also thrive in flowerbeds and planters. Hens and chicks prefer full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. And while they prefer some space to sprawl, will generally make do with more crowded conditions. The only true threat to hens and chicks? Too much water. Like many succulents, their delicate roots can rot when oversaturated. For this reason, it's important to use a lightweight, quick-draining potting soil formulated specifically for succulents.
Concerned about the health of your hens and chicks? Examine their leaves. Swollen, mushy leaves mean your plant is receiving too much water. On the other hand, even succulents can be too dry. Shriveled leaves are a sign that your hens and chicks need a drink. When the hen is near the end of her life cycle, she'll produce a flower. Some will grow for several years without flowering, while others will flower sooner. Stressful conditions, such as overcrowding or lack of sun, can cause the hen to prematurely flower and subsequently seed-essentially, she's decided to see if her seeds land in a better place to grow. However, the chicks will live on after the hen dies, producing their own babies after one season. The name Sempervivum, Latin for "forever alive," references the plant's ability to regenerate seemingly endlessly.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ are low-growing, clump-forming succulents with green rosettes covered in a white, hairy webbing. The plant turns purplish brown in full sun and when exposed to the cold weather. Like most sempervivums, these plants grow in clumps and spread by producing offsets and pups.
At first glance, the plant looks like it is covered in spider webs. When my husband first noticed my Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘cobweb hens and chicks’ plant, he asked me if there was something wrong with it.
He thought the plant was infested with something because of all the white webs around it. I, of course, got a kick out of his reaction. These make excellent ground covers as well as container plants due to their easy-going, adaptable nature. Learn more about care, propagation and growing tips here.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ are happiest when grown outdoors where they can get the right amount of sunlight and fresh air they need. When grown indoors, make sure to provide them with some outdoor time during the warmer months to help them thrive.
USDA Hardiness Zone: Cobweb Hens and Chicks are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 5a-8b.
When growing indoors, find the brightest spot in the house to place the plant. Choose an east facing window if possible. A south or west facing window will also work. Overwatering along with poor lighting can send the plant to an early grave. You may need to move the plant around your house a few times to find the best location where it’ll be happiest.
You will soon notice the plant elongating or stretching out if it is not receiving enough light. This process is called etiolation when the plant is stretching towards the source of light. This produces weak and stunted growth. Increase the amount of lighting if you notice your plant doing this. For areas that receive poor lighting no matter the time of the year, you may consider using a grow light. Grow lights can help supplement your plants’ lighting requirements especially during those long, dark winters. Here are some of my grow light recommendations.
To read more about this topic on indoor lighting for succulents, check out my post on “Proper Lighting for Succulents Indoors” to get some helpful tips.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ can tolerate partial shade to full sun. When exposed to full sun, the plant turns purplish brown in color. When kept in the shade, it maintains its green coloring.
To prevent sunburn or sun damage, acclimate the plant to full sun. Slowly increase the amount of sunlight it receives until it is fully acclimated to the heat of the sun. Morning sun is better tolerated than afternoon sun, so you can start with morning sun first. Keep in mind that even when the plant is already acclimated to full sun, it can still get sunburned during a heatwave or intense heat. Mature plants are more tolerant of heat than smaller plants.
Sunshades are a real lifesaver for my plants during the intense summer heat here in Northern California where the temperatures can rise above 100℉ or 37.8℃. Here are some of my recommendations for sunshades and sun protection.
For further details and information on outdoor sunlight requirements, please visit my post “How Much Sunlight Do Succulents Need Outdoors?” to get some useful tidbits.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ can tolerate frost and freezing temperatures as low as -15℉ or -26℃. If you live in USDA hardiness zones 5-8, you can leave the plant outdoors all year long and they can even be planted in the ground. My plant stays outdoors all year long, and it survives the cold rains and occasional frost we experience in the winter months here in Northern California.
During severe winter conditions, you can protect your plants by using frost protection. You can use frost cloths or mini greenhouses to help them survive the cold winter. Here are some of my recommendations for frost protection.
Like all succulent plants, Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ need well-draining soil. The right type of soil goes hand in hand with proper watering. Succulents are susceptible to root rot so a well-draining soil helps keep them alive especially if you are unsure of how to water. I have been using a simple yet effective mixture that has worked well for my plants. I use a cactus potting mix combined with perlite for added drainage. I do not use exact measurements but eyeball it to about 2:1 solution of cactus mix and perlite (1:1 solution for humid areas). You can also use sandy soil. This can be achieved by mixing cactus mix or potting soil with coarse sand (about 2:1 ratio). Or you can use a combination of all three materials mentioned (1:1:1 solution of cactus mix:perlite:coarse sand).
I get most of my materials from a local hardware store. You can also purchase them online. Here are some of my soil recommendations. To read more about soil for succulents, click on “Best Soil and Fertilizer for Succulents” to get more useful information.
Watering largely depends on the climate you live in. Although these plants are highly adapted to dry weather conditions, they do much better when given sufficient amounts of water. There really isn’t a set schedule or formula on when to water succulents. My watering schedule is dictated by the very dry climate I live in.
In the summer months, I water my Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ s as often as every 7-10 days. I cut back on watering to about every 10-14 days when the weather cools down. During the winter season, I mostly rely on rainwater and hold back on watering altogether because this is when we get a lot of rain in my area. But if we don’t get any rain at all during winter then I water at least once a month or every 2-3 weeks, depending on how dry the soil gets.
Keep in mind that I live in a very dry climate. For those people in humid locations, you won’t need to water as much. And if you keep your plants indoors, you may not have to water as much especially if they are not exposed to a lot of light. Too much water and not enough light is a recipe for disaster for these plants.
One good way to tell whether it’s time to water is to check the moisture of the soil. The top inch of the soil needs to feel dry before you can water again. If you are unsure how much and how often to water in the beginning, it’s always better to underwater and increase watering as needed. Pay attention to how your plant looks and you can adjust watering accordingly.
For further help with watering techniques, consider using tools like hygrometers or moisture meters to check for moisture in the soil and air. These tools are pretty affordable and can come in handy especially if you are unsure of when to water your plant next. I have narrowed down the choices here on my resource page.
Interested in finding out more about watering succulents? Visit my post “How And When To Water Succulents” where I go into details about this topic.
Sempervivum Arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ offshoots
These offshoots will land in soil and root on their own to start new plants. You can also cut them off yourself and place directly in the soil to propagate.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ readily produce pups and offsets. The best way to propagate these plants is by separating the pups and removing the offsets from the mother plant. Of course you’d have to wait until your plant produces pups or offshoots before you can do any propagation, but you probably won’t have to wait too long.
Sempervivum Arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ produce light pink flowers that grow from the middle of the rosettes. Like most sempervivums, Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ are monocarpic, meaning they die after blooming. Also known as the bloom of death, monocarpic plants flower once and then dies. Only the plant that blooms dies, the rest of the plants surrounding the blooming plant survives and lives on as long as they don’t bloom. While it sounds tragic, it is really not as dramatic. The plant usually does not bloom until it has produced plenty of pups and offshoots so it wouldn’t have died in vain. It may take years for the plant to bloom and by then, it has already produced enough baby plants to ensure the survival of the next generation.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ are considered non-toxic to pets. Always proceed with caution when first introducing a new plant to house pets. If you suspect poisoning, contact your local veterinarian immediately or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Visit ASPCA’s website for more details.
Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cobweb Hens and Chicks’ are easygoing plants great for beginners and experts alike. They practically multiply themselves with very little help from anyone. Their unusual appearance and texture add a lot of fun and interest to any garden space.
Wondering where you can find Cobweb hens and chicks? Visit my resource page for recommendations on where to purchase these and other succulents online.
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