The succulent hen and chicks is the ideal gift plant

November 23, 2016

Toast the bumper crop of garden abundance. When a glass of wine was filled to the brim it was called a bumper. All the way back to 1759 the word bumper was slang for huge or big, so a bumper crop is a big crop indeed. The holidays are a time of abundance when we often get a bumper crop not of squash or turkeys but a bumper crop of gift plants. 

Some gift plants like poinsettias will serve as temporary decorations before being unceremoniously tossed in the trash after the holidays. But other gift plants are rightfully meant to be kept year round to purify the indoor air and to add a Zen-like calm of nature to an indoor environment often devoid of any plant life. Yet there among us are gift recipients who cringe at the sight of plants.

They are not, as they say, “plant people.” Plant people sounds a bit more like a sci-fi thriller than an aversion to gardening. Plant people or not, it is always nice to have a gift plant that pretty much takes care of itself. This is where the succulent commonly known as hen and chicks is the ideal gift plant. If you get one as a gift, congratulations; they are not only attractive but absolutely easy to care for. 

Hen and chicks, or hen and biddies in the American South, is the folksy yet descriptive common name for easy-to-grow attractive rosette succulent plants. The hen and chicks plants mimic a mother hen and her young where the mother plant, or the hen, sends out many offsets. 

These offsets start as small buds on the mother hen plant but quickly sprout their own roots. 

To give them as a gift you only need to separate them and repot the new plants into a decorative pot and you are done,use a well-draining cactus or succulent potting soil. You can mix your own succulent soil mixture by combining regular potting soil with an equal amount of pumice or Perlite. Terra cotta or clay pots breathe and let plants dry out quicker, so are ideal for hen and chicks. These plants like to be a little pot bound; that is, they do better in pots that are not too big for them. 

Because drainage is so important always use planters or pots with at least one drainage hole. Cover the hole with a stone or pottery shard, and fill with the prepared potting soil. 

If your recipient is truly not a plant person you may want to include basic instructions. Perhaps someting as simple as “Only water when soil is completely dry.” That’s it; hen and chicks are that sturdy. 

Other growing tips: Like most succulents, hen and chicks prefers full sun, so indoors a south-facing window is good. Only fertilize these succulents when they are actively growing during the summer. Use a balanced 20-20-20 controlled-release fertilizer. They will usually do just fine without fertilizer, so don’t fuss over them like, well, a mother hen. 

Most important of all, always let the soil dry out between waterings. Only water once a month during the winter when growth is slowest. Hen and chicks like average household temperatures, but try to place them away from drafts.

Even if you do not give away extra hen and chicks plants there will come a time to push the chicks not out of the nest, but out of the pot. Potting them up as gifts is a good way to make use of your bumper crop, and it is much better for the chicks than to simply bump them off.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.