Houseleek or Sempervivum, a family of wonderful drought-resistant plants

Houseleek between two stones, this is the sempervivum family

A notoriously easy succulent to grow, the Sempervivum houseleek family is a pleasure to behold.

Houseleek, key facts

Botanical nameSempervivum sp.
Common name – Houseleek, Hen-and-chicks
FamilyCrassulaceae

Type – perennial
Bearing – ground cover
Height – 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) upon blooming

Planting density – 15-30 per sq. yard (/m²)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – any type, well drained

Blooming – beginning of Summer

The translation of its botanical name means “always alive”, which appropriately describes it: it is incredibly resistant.

Planting houseleek

Growing tips to have sempervivum growing, in this case for groundcoverAs long as it has full sun, houseleek grows in any type of soil, even if it’s very shallow. You won’t need a spade to dig a deep hole for this one: a few inches (maximum 10 cm) is enough. The planting density depends on how quickly you want to cover a given surface. If you’re patient, as few as 15 or so specimens for 1 square yard (1 m²) is enough. If you’d like things to seem finished already, shell out a bit more to get about 30 plants to a square yard/meter. The covering effect of your houseleek will immediately look impressive.

Care for houseleek

Houseleek is a perennial that is satisfied with very little as long as it has lots of sun. Moreover, the astounding diversity of its many species allows for spectacular landscaping, especially in rocky terrain. In general, Sempervivums are ideal perennials if you don’t want to spend too much time gardening. Indeed, each houseleek rosette dies after having bloomed. The only thing to do is to pull it out by hand to make space for a new rosette. Rest assured: they’ll never all sprout blooms at the same time.

Propagating houseleek:

Houseleek in a pot, with smaller rosettesNo plant is easier to propagate than houseleek.

  • Indeed, all you need to do is collect the smaller rosettes (or “chicks”) that grow around the main rosette (the “hen”).
  • Then, transplant each one to where you’d like it to grow.
  • No need to pull the entire plant out.

Diseases and pests

Generally speaking, Sempervivum is a very resistant botanical genus. Nonetheless, some species show occasional traces of rust. As for pests, young leaves might be targeted by slugs and the dreaded black vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) which might cause damage on the entire plant depending on how advanced the infestation is: larvae destroy roots, while adults eat the leaves.

Use and pairing

Uses of houseleek sempervivvum in the garden, with different varietiesThe hardiness of houseleek allows for placing in very unhospitable places: rocky terrain, mangers, stone walls, pot compositions. They’re also excellent to cover the ground in flower beds. The great diversity within the Sempervivums group allows for entire compositions with only plants from the same genus – without getting boring, ever!

However, if you’d like to add even more diversity, you can pair houseleek with other excellent ground cover plants such as Polygonum, deadnettle, bellflower and creeping varieties of stonecrop. To add volume, medium-sized perennials like Heuchera, Iris and Anaphalis will do great.

A few interesting species and varieties

  • Wispy strands cover the leaves of this houseleek speciesS. arachnoideum – also called spiderweb houseleek, this species is noteworthy due to its small size and density of its rosettes and the white strands that cover them over. Flowers are stunning as well, and beget a beautiful reddish-pink hue. Very original.
  • S. ciliosum – owes its name to the lash-like silks that cover its leaves. yellow blooms in June, July.
  • S. tectorum – this rooftop houseleek is particularly resilient and its green rosettes dappled with tan-red hues at the tips are very ornamental, just like its white-to-pink flowers.