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Hens and chicks: something to crow about

Lovingly called “semps”, sempervivums or hens and chicks are happy little succulents, perfect for groundcovers, planters and patio table centrepieces. 
These low growing perennials range from less than one centimeter to more than ten centimetres in diametre, and have a range of over 60 species. Part of their charm is their colour range, in shades of light to dark greens, red, purple and grey. Semps can withstand temperature extremes and many are hardy up to zone 4 and can flourish in anything, from an old log to rockeries with good drainage, as long as they have full sun exposure.
Full sun brings out their rich colour. Winter is their dormant period, so keep them dry. Water just after planting to help the roots adjust to the new site. Additional watering is not required, except during periods of drought. Semps don’t like being waterlogged.
Hens and chicks are called so because they reproduce vegetatively.  The mamma, or main rosette, is surrounded by smaller rosettes, her “chicks,” often borne on the end of long stems (stolons). Chicks can be left to roots around the main plant or detached and grown separately. After a few years, the hen will produce a flower spike with white or pink flowers and then die, but the chicks will eventually become hens, producing their own chicks.
The botanical name sempervivum means “always alive.” Even rosettes left dry and without soil for several months will typically survive and grow rapidly in suitable conditions. Don’t coddle them over winter; they prefer being left to their own devices and allowed to adapt to outside conditions. 


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