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Houseleek or Sempervivum, how to plant and care for them

Sempervivum houseleek

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

Houseleek, key facts

Botanical name: Sempervivum sp.
Common: Houseleek, Hen & Chicks
Family: Crassulaceae

Type: perennial 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: early summer

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

Planting houseleek

As 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.

Houseleek plantingThe 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.

Houseleek in a pot

As for most succulents, drainage is the most important factor. This plant needs nearly no soil: pure gravel, pebbles or clay balls is perfect.

  • Houseleek in a potMake sure there’s a hole for water to drain out.
  • Don’t sit the pot in a saucer with water: water the pot without a saucer in the sink.
  • When it’s finished dripping, then you can move it back to its saucer.

For succulents, the saucer under a pot isn’t to catch excess water: it’s simply there to protect the furniture underneath, because there should never be any water in it!

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.

Sempervivum houseleek careIn 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 once it’s dried out to make space for a new rosette.

Rest assured: they’ll never all sprout blooms at the same time.

Watering? Just let rain do its thing. Even if it only rains a few times a year, your houseleek will just keep growing – just more slowly, of course.

Propagating houseleek:

No 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

Houseleek usesThe hardiness of houseleek allows for placing in very unhospitable places: rocky terrain, mangers, stone walls, pot compositions.

Slow growth and easy control make the a great choice for adding a little plant life in a mineral rock garden.

Discover: More examples of houseleek in rock gardens

An excellent ground cover plant

Ground cover houseleek They’re also excellent to cover the ground in flower beds. This works best in dry gardens and xeriscaping, but also looks nice in temperate climates, too. The great diversity within the Sempervivums group allows for entire compositions with only plants from the same genus – without getting boring, ever!

houseleek arrangements companionsHowever, 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

  • houseleek species varietiesS. 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.

Two colorful Sempervivum varieties are described here.

Images: 123RF: Natliia Melnychuk, Georgy Dzyura; Pixabay: Hans Braxmeier, Johanna Schendel, Kezia, Manseok Kim, Martin Hetto, PowerLee; Public Domain: Nuzzenz
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