Succulents”_.you’ve seen them for years. These whimsical, interesting and often times oddly shaped plants are found predominantly in rock gardens, stone walls and shallow containers. Commonly know as Hens-and-Chicks, how they got this nickname is obvious when you learn and observe their growth characteristics. The main plant, known as the “mother hen”, surrounds herself with miniature replicas, known as her “little chicks”, as she grows. These pretty and unusual plants have a shape similar to an artichoke, but the leaves and colors are quite varied. Leaves can be thick or thin, spiky or round-tipped, smooth or covered with fine hairs. The color variations range from pale sea green to dark olive, burgundy to red, purple to pink and even shades of gray.
Baby succulents can be as small as a pea, while “mother hens” can grow as large as a dinner plate. If you haven’t already fallen in love with this plant, wait until you find out how easy it is to grow them and how wonderful they are to give as gifts. Believe it or not, my Hens-and-Chicks journey began with one, small, round container. But soon I was hooked. Now, each time I go to a nursery or garden center I find yet another to add to my ever growing collection.
How to raise your new “chicks” without a farm:
Succulents grow well both inside and out, in tiny patches of soil and require very little water allowing them to withstand dry conditions, poor soil and cold winters. It is an ideal rock garden plant and is definitely the gift that keeps on giving. So relentless are they that they will even grow in a small crevice, such as a crack in a sidewalk. Hens-and-Chicks do equally well in a container or as a groundcover alternative as they spread easily and in time, could travel quite a distance from their original location. Keep in mind, however, that well-drained soil offers the best results.
Removing the cling-on:
Ok, so I’m a Star Trek fan. Hens-and-Chicks will stay together for the long term, but propagating and transplanting is easy. This simple task is done by gently pulling off one “chick” at a time from the mother plant. Each of these chicks is now a self-sufficient plant that is ready to be part of a relocation program.
New plants require very little dirt in order to settle into their new location away from Mother. In time, these once small chicks will become mothers too. Funny that no male plants are needed for this transaction as mothers bear their chicks totally on their own–a lot like chickens who lay their eggs without the help of a rooster. In time, you’ll have whole new colonies growing everywhere just waiting for you to transplant. This is the perfect time to pot them and give them as gifts. Mamma would be proud!
No matter how hardy or resistant your plant can be, “hens-and-chicks” must be protected from certain dangers. The biggest offense is over-watering since “hens and chicks” prefer well-drained soil. Succulents require the soil to dry out between watering. Be sure to wait until they are completely dry before watering and pour the water onto the roots only. Additionally, succulent leaves don’t like moisture. Therefore, put a layer of gravel on top of the soil, in lieu of mulch, keeping them from touching or resting on damp soil. I use my driveway pebbles as the top dressing for both interest and function.
Your Hen House should offer:
With a plant this easy to maintain, it’s easy to see the reason for the succulent’s popularity. However, here are several tips for raising beautiful “hens-and-chicks” successfully at home:
“¢ Full sunlight is preferable, but some shade will work.
“¢ Keep plant tidy by removing rosettes and dead leaves.
“¢ Move them indoors for winter drama! Not absolutely necessary as “hens-and-chicks” are resilient to freezing weather.
“¢ Because “hen-and-chicks” are self-propagating, the transplant technique is easy and offers wonderful “Mother Nature” lessons for children.
Being a “Grand Dame” has one major benefit:
When succulents reach a ripe old age, anywhere from 1-4 years, they go out with a bang”_.actually a spray of flowers. One single stalk will emerge and reach above the plant producing a cluster of star-shaped flowers. These blooms can range in color from white to dark pink and last several weeks. Brace yourself, for having propagated their whole lives, this plant will begin to fade away and die. Luckily, their legacy continues through their children (chicks), provided you have transplanted them. Their short lives should have produced dozens of “chicks” for future generations to enjoy. Say goodbye and think happy thoughts. The years of enjoyment complete the circle of life and knowing you’ve helped in the process should make Mother Nature proud.
And there you have it.