The hen and chick or Sempervivum tectorum is a mat-forming succulent plant native to Africa and Europe. The mats are composed of tufted or fleshy pointed leaves arranged in rosettes.
The main plant is the hen, and it produces offsets, the chicks, on a thin runner, often in abundance.
The Latin translation for Sempervivum is forever alive or always, describing this plant’s unending multiplication. The chicks or offsets eventually become hens and produce other offsets, repeating the process.
Why is my hen and chick plant dying? Hen and chick plants can die due to overwatering, insufficient sunlight, underwatering, water-logged or nutrient-depleted soil, fungal infections, pests, or too much humidity. Alternatively, the plant may have reached the end of its natural life cycle.
Read on to explore why your hen and chick plant is dying and how to save it.
Reasons Your Hen and Chick Is Dying (& Solutions)
Various reasons why your hen and chick plant may be dying include:
1. Natural Life Cycle
The hen and chick plant is monocarpic. The natural life cycle of the plant involves the hen dying after flowering.
The flowers rise on a stalk the plant produces and remain in bloom for a week or more. The flower then dies, followed by the hen’s death.
To save the plant, split the central rosette or hen from the offset chicks before or after it dies while preserving the roots to allow the chicks to continue the colony.
The hen and chick plant is a drought-tolerant perennial that can stand going weeks at a time without water.
Overwatering can cause various problems that can kill the plant. Too much water can rot the plant and make the leaves swollen and mushy.
If your plant is overwatered, allow the soil to dry or relocate it to a new pot with fresh soil if the area remains overly wet.
3. Insufficient Sunlight
The hen and chick plant leaves can dry and shrivel without enough sunlight. The plant won’t be able to maintain photosynthesis, which will stunt its growth, and it can even start dying.
Hen and chick plants love the sun, and it helps them grow fast and beautifully.
Ensure you move it to a location with full sunlight at least six hours daily for optimal coloration of the foliage and plentiful offsets. It can also grow in partial shade, but some direct sun is necessary.
Just because they can endure droughts doesn’t mean you should take hen and chick plants for granted.
The plant can start dying if you fail to water it for long periods, especially if they’re newly planted. The leaves can get dehydrated and dry out or wither.
Maintain a good watering schedule depending on the time of year. Generally, watering once a week is enough.
You can increase the frequency during hot summer months or when you make new transplants to help them get established.
5. Waterlogged Soil
Waterlogged soil will create wet conditions that cause problems for your hen and chick plant. The plant can turn mushy as the leaves turn soft and wilt.
Moist conditions can also rot the plant or result in various fungal infections.
Only plant the hen and chick plant in well-draining soil. If the soil doesn’t drain well or is heavy, you can add a sand and peat mix into the soil to increase drainage and aeration.
You can get a mixture formulated for cactus and succulents (Miracle-Gro makes an excellent succulent blend) if you grow the plant in a container or pot.
6. Nutrient-Depleted Soil
Hen and chick plants can thrive in nutrient-depleted soil and grow in rocks, cracks through walls, and gravel.
However, some may not grow at their average pace in severely nutrient-depleted soil and may start to suffer.
You can add a bit of fertilizer only if the plant is not growing well or not producing enough offset chicks. If it’s thriving in poor soil, then don’t feed it.
7. Fungal Infection
Moist conditions and inadequate drainage can encourage various fungal infections and root rot.
The crown can rot in wet soil, and some varieties can develop the Adenophyllum rust disease, which causes symptoms like deformation or withering of the plant.
You can save your hen and chick plant from fungal infections by growing it in dry conditions.
Pests like aphids and mealybugs can invade the hen and chick plant, especially if you grow it indoors, in overly moist conditions, or in a greenhouse.
These pests can damage the leaves and even eat up the whole plant. Mealy bugs are contagious and can quickly spread and feed on the entire plant as well as neighboring ones.
Frequently inspect the plant, and check in all spots, including under the stem or behind the leaves. Quickly isolate any infected plants to prevent the infection from spreading.
Treat the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap (I always have good results with this organic neem), or remove the bugs with cotton soaked in rubbing alcohol.
9. Too Much Humidity
Hen and chick plants don’t do well in humid climates. Excess humidity can cause the plant to go into a semi-dormant state or rot.
Incorrect watering where you splash water on the leaves can also increase the plant’s humidity.
Avoid placing the plant in humid places like the bathroom if you’re growing indoors. Position the plant in a dry environment, and water directly into the soil without watering the plant’s leaves.
Hen and Chick Plant Care
The hen and chick plant is pretty carefree in ideal conditions.
They’re rock-garden plants that thrive in places where other plants struggle, so they only need minimal care to stay evergreen throughout the year.
Hen and chick plants prefer dry, sandy, and gravelly soil with good drainage to prevent the plant from getting waterlogged.
Although it doesn’t need nutrients, potting mixes formulated for succulents and cactus can provide nutrients to speed up growth and offsetting.
They’re best planted in spring and have a moderately quick growth rate. You’ll also need a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom to eliminate any excess water.
Hen and chick plants need full sunlight for at least 6 hours a day to thrive. They can also do well in moderate sunlight and appreciate some shade if planted in scorching climates.
They’ll be more colorful and vibrant in full sun and produce many offsets.
Watering and Fertilization
A good watering schedule is necessary to prevent overwatering and underwatering. Hen and chick plants are drought resistant and don’t require too much water, but you shouldn’t neglect them.
The soak-and-dry method is suitable. With this method, you only water them when the soil is completely dry.
Hen and chick plants don’t usually require fertilizer to thrive and grow beautifully. However, if your plant is struggling or seems stagnated or stunted, you can use a bit of fertilizer to boost growth.
Don’t overfeed the plant, as it can prompt flowering and kill the hen rosette early.
The hen and chick plant doesn’t need winter protection, but they don’t like wet winter conditions. They can stop growing if temperatures drop too low, and the outer leaves may turn brown.
Place the plant in sheltered locations if you’re in frigid winter zones. You can also bring the plant indoors, but ensure they get full sunlight.
To replant an offset or chick, you’ll first have to wait until it’s ready to be separated from the hen.
Chicks develop as tiny buds in the hen, remaining attached by a stem called a stolon. If the chick is still nestled in the hen, the stolon will have leaves, and it’s not ready to be plucked.
The leaves will disappear when the stolon moves the chick outside the hen, meaning the offset is putting out its roots and is ready for propagation or replanting.
Gently break the stem connecting the offset to the hen plant, and wiggle the offset plant loose for replanting.
Follow these steps to replant:
- Dig a shallow hole in well-draining soil. Avoid planting the offset too deeply.
- Spread out the roots of the offset in the hole.
- Cover the offset up to the plant’s crown, gently tamping the soil around the roots so that the plant is firmly set in the ground.
- Give the offset a light watering. Let the plant dry out between waterings. Under ideal conditions, the plant will grow and spread out independently.
How Fast Do Hen and Chicks Spread?
Hen and chick plants generally spread and multiply three times a year. You can expect one hen of larger varieties to produce between 3 and 6 offsets in a growing season.
Smaller types can produce 10 to 15 offsets per season.
Are Hen and Chicks Perennials?
Yes. hen and chick plants are drought-resistant perennials. The hens usually die soon after sending up flower shoots, and flowering doesn’t always occur.
Even after the hens die, the offsets continue the colony, and this constant replacement can continue for decades.
Hen and chick plants are among the favorites among gardeners, and they’re not difficult to care for.
They do well in any well-drained soil in full or moderate sunlight and are excellent for wall crevices or rock gardens.
If problems occur, it’s usually because of too much water, so ensure you maintain them in dry conditions.