What is the Perfect Rock Garden Plant for Beginners?
Every yard has a hot spot in which nothing wants to grow. It might be an area adjacent to a sidewalk or concrete foundation, on the south side of a garage or near the alley where the soil isn’t all that fabulous. For these troublesome areas, rock garden plants such as Hens and Chicks are a wonderful alternative to the more traditional perennials.
What are Hens and Chicks?
One of my favorite rock garden succulents and certainly one of the easiest to grow are the house leeks, more popularly known as Hens and Chicks. This whimsical name comes from the plant’s very distinctive style of propagation. The central plant reproduces by sending out several tiny shoots, called stolon, which soon grow into miniature versions of the mature plant. With a bit of imagination, the plant and its new plantlets look very much like a cluster of “chicks” surrounding the mother “hen.”
Hens and Chicks are a very old fashioned plant that grow very close to the ground, with leaves that are shaped into a rosette. The Hens and Chicks in my rock garden resemble a short, squat purple tipped artichoke that opens as the weather warms up. There are however, many different species of Hens and Chicks which can range in color from light green, to purple tipped or even burgundy. The sizes also range from less than 1/2 inch in width to as large as eight inches across.
For ten and a half months of the year, the plant is cradled low to the ground and I’ll often forget that it’s even there. But, in the middle of summer, the mature plant suddenly sends up a thick, fuzzy flower stalk in an incredible burst of energy. The stalk will quickly reach nearly 12 inches in height and at its very tip will develop a delicate, star shaped flower.
Learn more about setting up a beautiful rock garden in this post
How and where to plant Hens and Chicks
Those without a green thumb will quickly discover that Hens and Chicks are easy to plant and easy to keep alive. All these plants really require to survive is a bright, sunny location and well drained soil. Once established, they will even grow in rock crevices, next to stepping stones, in shallow gravel beds or between a couple of rocks. Well drained soil is essential, however, and if the area you’d like to plant your Hens and Chicks has too much clay, adding a few shovelfuls of sand to the bed will help improve the soil conditions.
Hens and Chicks do tolerate cold temperatures up to -5 Fahrenheit which makes then a terrific ground cover for many regions across the United States.
Propagating the chicks
Once you have an established plant that is producing baby chicks, propagating those chicks is quite simple to do. I usually wait until the baby has produced it’s own root system, and then carefully lift it out of the ground with a small hand trowel. If the stolon is still attached, it is cut it with a clean knife close to the parent plant. The new baby chick in then planted in a new area of intense light and well drained soil.
Combining hens and chicks with other plants
Of course, having a rock garden with just Hens and Chicks can get a little dull after a while. If you are hankering to add a little more variety to your garden bed, do take care to plant only those varieties of plants that require the same growing conditions as that of the Hens and Chicks. Popular companion plants typically include aloe, sedum, and low water desert perennials.
For beginner rock gardeners, it’s really hard to go wrong with Hens and Chicks. These hearty plants are fairly inexpensive and can be found at most garden centers.