Sempervivum plants are rosette-type succulents commonly known as Hens and Chicks or Hens and Chicks Houseleek. I love their beautiful rose shapes and the fact that I can leave them when I go on holiday, and they still look the same when I return! So forgiving!
Native to the mountainous areas of southern and central Europe, Turkey and Iran, sempervivum plants are tough little succulents that can survive drought, cold temperatures, frosts, and snow.
They are low-maintenance, resilient and perfect for beginners or those who like to ‘set-and-forget’. They grow well indoors or outside in rock gardens and are especially popular outdoors in colder climates where most succulents would not survive.
There are over 40 varieties of sempervivum, as well as numerous hybrids and cultivars, which together form hundreds of types in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes.
In this guide, we will tell you how to care for your sempervivum plants, how to propagate them easily and introduce you to some of the most popular sempervivum varieties.
Appearance And Size
Sempervivum is a low-growing rosette succulent that spreads to form a ground-covering mat if given the space to grow and roam freely.
There are around 40 true sempervivum types but hundreds of additional hybrids and cultivars bred for different leaf shapes or colors.
Sempervivum plants form rosettes of tightly packed leaves. The leaves are oval-shaped with pointed tips and tiny teeth on the edges. The teeth aren’t sharp, but they are one feature that distinguishes sempervivum types from the similar-looking echeveria species.
Echeveria also produce offsets and are often called hens and chicks too. It can be confusing to us everyday folk to have two species, Sempervivum and Echeveria, referred to by the same name! Especially when sempervivum can survive cold, but your poor echeveria will not. So, if you have purchased a plant labelled ‘hens and chicks’, check the leaf edges for teeth to determine if it’s a sempervivum (teeth) or echeveria (no teeth).
Sempervivum leaves are thick and fleshy. They can be smooth and glossy or covered in a waxy coating or fine hairs. One variety, Sempervivum Arachnoideum (in the photo above), has so many hairs it looks like it is covered in cobwebs! Colors can range from pale green to vibrant greens, reds and purples or colored tips.
Their stout, fleshy stems are not usually visible with the base of the rosette at ground level, although chicks can appear on long stems, called stolons, that grow from between the leaves.
If your sempervivum has space to for the chicks to root themselves in the surrounding soil, your sempervivum will start to spread with the mother plant (hen) surrounded by chicks, as in the photograph below.
Sempervivum are not tall plants. They stay close to the ground and spread outwards with clumps of chicks to form ground coverage rather than growing tall.
A typical sempervivum rosette will be 3 – 6 inches (7 – 15 cm) high and 6-12 inches (15 – 30 cm) in diameter when mature. That’s just an individual rosette, however, and sizes will vary depending on the type. Once offsets take root, there can be many multiple rosettes forming one big carpet of sempervivum plants.
Sempervivums grow fairly quickly to full size, reaching maturity after about a year. But as they are not big plants, that doesn’t mean regular repotting. However, the offsets can be prolific, and you may want to remove and replant those. More about propagation later on.
How Long Do Sempervivum Plants Live For?
Sempervivum are perennials, and a healthy plant will live for many years. During its lifetime, a sempervivum plant will produce many offsets (baby plants), which will continue the lifecycle. In fact, the word ‘sempervivum’ means ‘always alive’ from the Latin word ‘semper’ for ‘always’ and ‘vivum’ for alive.
An individual rosette can live for around three years or more – one year growing and at least two years as a mature plant. Once mature, it will produce many offsets.
The ability to produce offsets also led to Sempervivum varieties being known commonly as hens and chicks plants because of the chicks – or young offsets – that grow around the mother, or hen, plant. Chicks are also known as pups.
And the ‘houseleek’ bit? Wikipedia states that the name ‘houseleek’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for plant, ‘leac’ as these hardy plants would be found literally growing on houses. Rather different to our modern-day meaning of ‘houseplant’!
Do Sempervivum Flower?
Sempervivum plants flower in the summer with cluster of star-shaped flowers on a long stem that grows from the center of the rosette. The flowers can be white or shades of pink, yellow, red or purple.
However, sempervivum are monocarpic plants, and they will only flower once in their lifetime. That means their flowers are ‘death blooms’, and the plant will wither and die once it flowers. However, only the rosette that blooms will die, and the numerous chicks it has produced will live on.
The death bloom stalk appears from the center of the plant and looks like it is essentially the whole plant growing upwards as one flower stalk. You can’t stop the process by removing the stalk. It’s best to just let nature take its course. Appreciate the flowers while they last and continue to enjoy the offsets as they grow and mature.
How To Care For Sempervivum Plants
Although there are many, many varieties of sempervivum, hybrids and cultivars, in general, the care they require is the same. The only real difference between each variety is the leaf and flower colors.
As we’ve already said, they are hardy plants, but they still do have preferred conditions and can suffer from pests and diseases. We’re going to dive into the care needs of sempervivum plants below.
Sempervivum can cope with a range of light conditions, but the optimal light for them is bright light for at least 4 – 6 hours a day. They can tolerate full sun but prefer some protection or shade from intense sun, particularly afternoon sun in hot climates.
If you live in a hot climate with strong sunlight and high temperatures, your sempervivum should be shaded from midday and afternoon sun. However, in cooler climates where the sun is less intense, your sempervivum should be fine in full sun at any time. If your plant receives too much intense direct sun, its leaves may get scorched with dark burn marks, and if this happens, you should move your plant or provide partial shade.
If you are growing your sempervivum inside, it will do best by a bright window. Sempervivums are not the plants to choose for a low-light area. Leaf colors may become less vibrant if light levels are low, and your succulent may become taller than usual and leggy. If you notice this happening, move your plant to a brighter location.
Rotate your indoor sempervivum regularly to ensure it receives light on all sides and grows evenly.
Sempervivum plants do not require much water. They are native to the nooks and crannies of rocky, mountainous areas where any rain will flow away quickly. They do not like their roots sitting in damp conditions.
Your sempervivum needs well-draining, loose soil. If you plant it in a pot, choose one with a drainage hole.
You should only water your sempervivum when the soil is completely dry. If you poke your finger or a chopstick a couple of inches down into the soil, it should come out clean and dry. If not, wait to water.
If it is time to water, you should water deeply and thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Depending on the season, the size of the pot and the temperature, that could take anywhere from seven days to a month. Don’t be tempted to water! It’s better to err on the side of underwatering rather than overwatering.
Damp roots lead to root rot, which is difficult to detect until well advanced.
If your sempervivum is in a pot with a drainage hole, water using the bottom-soaking method. Place the pot in a container of room-temperature water for 15-30 minutes. The soil will soak up the water it needs. Remove the pot from the water and sit it on a draining board or similar for a further 15-30 minutes to allow any excess water to drain away before returning your plant to its usual home.
For pots with no drainage hole, you will need to water your plant from above. Use a narrow-spout watering can or a squirt bottle to carefully add water to the soil’s surface. Try not to get water on the leaves or in gaps of the rosette where the tightly packed leaves will make it difficult for water to evaporate and escape. Water thoroughly, but don’t waterlog the soil. Allow the soil to dry completely before watering again.
Use room water temperature and water in the morning so any excess surface water, or water that’s found its way to the leaves or rosette, has a chance to evaporate before the cooler evening temperatures set in.
Excess moisture around the leaves and soil’s surface can lead to fungal and bacterial growth and rot problems.
The leaves are the best indicator of whether you are under- or overwatering your plant. Underwatering causes wrinkled leaves with brown, crispy tips. Overwatering causes soft, yellowing leaves, particularly on the lower leaves and close to the stem.
Sempervivum are winter dormant plants. That means they grow most during spring and summer and rest and recuperate during winter.
You should water as usual during spring, summer and fall and cut back on watering during winter. You may not need to water your sempervivum at all during winter. However, your plants may need the occasional water if they are inside in a heated room or your climate is still quite warm even in winter.
If you are looking to plant sempervivums in an arrangement with other succulents, look for other winter-dormant succulents, such as echeveria, ceropegia and mammillaria.
Temperature and Humidity
Sempervivum are unusual for succulents because they are cold-hardy and can withstand frosts and snow at temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius).
They can also tolerate temperatures in excess of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), but they prefer slightly cooler summers, with a comfortable temperature range of 65 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 24 degrees Celsius).
Unless you are in a particularly cold area of the world, your sempervivum should survive winter outside.
Sempervivum plants prefer mid to low humidity. These are not bathroom plants.
Excess moisture on the leaves and within the rosette or on the surface of the soil can lead to fungal diseases.
Place your sempervivum in an area with good, gentle airflow that will encourage moisture evaporation. Avoid strong draughts, however, and don’t place your plant underneath an air conditioning unit.
What Soil Do Sempervivum Need?
In their native, mountainous environment, sempervivum are found growing in rocky crevices and thin soils. Consequently, they have evolved to thrive in quick-draining soil that dries rapidly and does not retain moisture.
Their roots are used to taking up rain quickly when available and then storing water in the plant until the next rains come along. They are not evolved to survive plentiful water and may develop root rot if left in water-logged or moist, heavy soil for long.
Sempervivum are best suited to a sandy, succulent-specific soil that is light, loose and well-aerated. They will not thrive in heavy, compact soil that retains moisture.
Sempervivum grow in rock crevices and mountainsides in the wild. They do not need nutrient-rich soils and high nutrient levels can result in chemical burns to their roots. Sempervivum do not need regular doses of fertilizer. However, if you want to give them an occasional boost, do so in spring only using a succulent-specific fertilizer sparingly.
Your sempervivum plants should only need pruning to remove dead, damaged or diseased leaves. You may wish to remove offsets and repot those separately, but you only need to do that if your sempervivum is in a pot and there is no room for the offsets.
Are Sempervivum Toxic To Cats And Dogs?
Good news! Sempervivum are not considered to be toxic and are not poisonous to cats or dogs or other pets that may nibble upon your plants.
They’re not sharp either and don’t have spines or spikes. Sempervivum are pet-friendly succulents.
Pests And Diseases
While sempervivum are resilient and tolerant plants, they can still be susceptible to common succulent pests and diseases, such as mealybugs, aphids and spider mites.
If you notice small white or dark spots on the leaves and a general decline in your plant’s health, use this guide to check for pests and treat accordingly.
Like all succulents, sempervivum will suffer from root rot if left in damp soil. Overwatering or the wrong soil type is the biggest cause of root rot. Only water when the soil is completely dry and always use a well-draining succulent specific soil.
Sempervivum are not large plants and you should not need to repot your sempervivum often, other than to refresh the soil, if you choose, every couple of years.
You will, however, need to repot the offsets if there is insufficient space for them. More about that in the propagation section below.
The best time to repot a sempervivum is at the start of spring when the plant is actively growing. Choose a pot made from a breathable material, such as terracotta or an unglazed ceramic, that will allow water to evaporate through the sides. And if at all possible, choose a pot with a drainage hole.
If the decorative pot you want to use doesn’t have a drainage hole, consider potting your plant in a smaller pot with a drainage hole and hiding that inside your decorative pot. It will make watering correctly so much easier.
How To Propagate Sempervivum
By far the easiest way to propagate sempervivum plants is from the offsets, or baby plants, they so readily produce.
The best time to propagate sempervivum plants is in spring when they are actively growing.
As you can see from the image below, this sempervivum cultivar – named More Honey – is still fairly small, at less than 4 inches (10 cm) across, but it is producing offsets prolifically. At least eight mini sempervivums are growing on fleshy stems (officially known as stolons).
I will wait until these chicks are larger before separating them from the hen. In the meantime, they may develop some air roots, but there isn’t room in the current pot for them to root in the soil, so I’ll have to remove them.
We are often asked how to separate or split and transplant chicks from sempervivums. In the case above, it’s a simple job to gently pull the chick free from the base of the plant. It should separate easily with some small roots and can be potted straight away.
If it doesn’t come away easily, you can cut the stolon using a sharp, sterile tool. Cut as close to the base of the hen plant as you can without damaging the hen. Allow the cut end to callous over for a couple of days.
Plant your chicks in a small pot with well-draining succulent soil. Use a chopstick or similar tool to create a small hole in the soil for the roots.
Water lightly a couple of days later and then allow the offset to grow a little larger before transplanting to a permanent pot.
With a more mature clump of chicks such as this Sempervivum Hirtum below, the chicks will have formed roots in the soil.
The easiest way to separate the chicks is to wiggle them free and remove them from the soil with roots intact.
If the clump is in a pot and very tightly packed, you may need to remove the whole clump from its pot to give you more space to wiggle the chicks free.
If you can free them with roots, there’s no need to wait to repot them, but do remove any dry and dead leaves at the bottom of the rosette.
Pot them in a dry, well-draining succulent specific soil in a porous pot with a drainage hole. Pick a pot that is only a couple of sizes larger than your plant. A pot that is too big will have more soil than you need. The more soil you have, the longer it will take to dry after watering and the higher the risk of root rot.
Once you have potted the chicks, allow them to rest for a couple of days and then water them as usual.
Make sure you place any repotted chicks in a bright area protected from intense sun.
Can you propagate sempervivum from leaves?
Theoretically, you should be able to propagate sempervivum from leaves as you would with other succulents. In reality, it’s difficult and unlikely to be successful. It’s not worth wasting your time. Sempervivum produce pups very readily and in high numbers, and they are a much better way to propagate your sempervivum.
Popular Sempervivum Types
There are hundreds of sempervivum hybrids and cultivars.
These are some of the most common and popular sempervivum varieties, and those you are most likely to find in your local plant nursery or online succulent stores.
Sempervivum tectorum is the most common sempervivum plant and is known as the common houseleek or true houseleek.
Sempervivum arachnoideum is known as Sempervivum cobweb because of the fine hairs that cover the plant, which resemble a cobweb. Sempervivum arachnoideum cebenese is a similar plant with larger rosettes.
Image source Pinterest
Sempervivum black is a popular succulent with deep purple, black leaves.
Image source: Pinterest
Sempervivum oddity has unusual curled-up leaves that are almost tube-like.
Image source: Pinterest
Other Popular Sempervivums
Here are some additional common sempervivum types.
- Sempervivum ‘Red Beauty’: Compact rosettes with a beautiful red leaves.
- Sempervivum ‘Ruby Heart’: Deep red central leaves and green outer leaves leaves.
- Sempervivum ‘Kalinda’: Green rosettes colored deep red at the base.
- Sempervivum ‘Red Rubin’: Prized for its deep red or burgundy coloration, which intensifies in bright sunlight.
- Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’: Blue-green rosettes with a tinge of pink or purple.
- Sempervivum ‘Killer’: Green rosettes with striking deep red, burgundy color at both base and tip.
- Sempervivum ‘Crimson Velvet’: Deep crimson foliage.
- Sempervivum ‘Silverine’: Tight, silver-gray rosettes.
- Sempervivum ‘Raspberry Ice’: Deep apple-green leaves with pinkish-red tips and a frosty, silvery overlay.
There are many more. We recommend visiting your local succulent nursery or online nursery store and browsing through the different types to find your favorite.
Are sempervivum indoor or outdoor plants?
Sempervivum are both indoor and outdoor plants. Indoors, your sempervivum needs to be placed close to a window, or it won’t get enough light. Outdoors, sempervivum love rockeries and will grow in full sun or partial shade. They prefer full sun, but if you live in an area with very intense sun, they will need some shade, particularly from harsh midday and afternoon sun.
What is the difference between sempervivum and echeveria?
Both sempervivum and echeveria are rosette succulents known by the common name of Hens and Chicks. Sempervivum is sometimes called Hens and Chicks Houseleek.
The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at the edges of the leaves. Echeveria have smooth leaf edges, while sempervivum have tiny teeth or serrations on the edge of the leaves.
Sempervivum vs aeonium
Aeonium is another rosette succulent, and, to add to the confusion, aeoniums are often known as houseleeks but usually as tree houseleeks. Aeonium are usually distinguished by their woody stems (as long as they are not very young), and although aeonium leaves do have tiny teeth on the edges, aeonium leaves are less plump, more elongated and spoon-shaped.
What is the difference between sempervivum and sedum?
Sedum and sempervivum are from the same overall succulent family of Crassulaceae, but they do look quite different. Sempervivum has a tight rosette of rounded oval leaves, while sedum has plumper leaves that are usually more elongated and are only loosely rosette-shaped. Sempervivums grow low to the ground and spread by offsets. Sedums often have longer stems with multiple leaf pairs along the stem. And, the kicker, sedums don’t have tiny on the leaf edges.
Why is my sempervivum growing tall and leaning to one side?
Your sempervivum may be growing tall and leaning because of insufficient light. If light levels are too low, your plant will concentrate on growing towards a light source. If that’s only on one side of the plant, it will lean towards that light. The phenomenon of growing tall and stretch is called etiolation. To fix it, move your plant to a brighter location or rotate your plant regularly to avoid lopsided growth.
If it is just the center of the rosette that appears to be suddenly growing upwards, it may be that your sempervivum is flowering, and it is a flower stalk appearing.
Are sempervivum deer resistant?
Sempervivum plants are considered deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant too.
Why is my sempervivum drooping?
Sempervivum leaves that curl down or droop are usually caused by insufficient light. To remedy this, try moving your sempervivum to a brighter spot.
If the drooping leaves are yellowing and feel mushy, your plant has been overwatered. In this case, remove the mushy leaves and allow the plant to dry out thoroughly before watering again.
Why is my sempervivum turning yellow?
As with drooping leaves, if your sempervivum plant is turning yellow, the most common reason is overwatering. Check the lower leaves and look close to the stem. If they are soft and turning translucent and mushy, you have been overwatering your plant. Stop watering and allow the soil to completely dry before watering again.
If upper leaves are yellow and not mushy, check for a pest infestation and treat accordingly.
As you can see, sempervivum are one of the most popular succulents for a reason. They look beautiful, and there’s a wide variety of shapes and colors to choose from.
They are incredibly easy to look after, as long as you go easy on the watering, and will even survive winters outside. Sturdy, resilient, low-maintenance and stunning to boot! And if that wasn’t enough, they produce baby plants at an impressive rate that you can pot up for yourself or give as gifts.