Sempervivum Tectorum Houseleeks A Grower’s Guide
We had an old rock wall that needed a bit of something to liven it up. Houseleeks prove to be an ideal solution, with a bit of care they will take off.
Houseleeks are a gardeners dream plant as they are drought and frost tolerant and produce wonderful and unusual flowers for a long period in Summertime. Grown in clusters they have spirals of succulent leaves that show with a rosy glow on their tips.
Really useful for spots in your garden that need a low maintenance option.
Sempervivum Houseleeks Guide
There are around 40 species under the genus which sits in the Crassulaceae family, sitting under the name houseleeks.
Houseleeks are a group of evergreen perennials forming geometric points of star like thick leaves. A succulent native from Northeastern Sahara to the Alp mountain range, Semps are hardy from US zones 4- 9 and thrive in the UK. Well drained soil and full sun are ideal.
Ideal to grow in rockeries and hard to maintain areas, houseleeks will thrive with good drainage and form clusters to around 10cm -50cm in spread. Therefore excellent to hide and suppress weeds.
The origin of the name Sempervivum comes from the Latin Semper (always) and Vivus (living) mainly due to it’s perennial ability to hold those tight clusters of thick leaves even through cold winters and droughts. This ability for houseleeks to survive freezing temperatures make them an unusual succulent and one that is perfect for so many climates.
Other names for sempervivum include; common houseleek, St Patrick’s cabbage, bullock’s beard, bullock’s eye, devil’s beard, earwort, fuet, healing blade, homewort, imbroke, Jove’s beard, Jupiter’s beard, Jupiter’s eye, poor Jan’s leaf, red-leaved houseleek, roof foil, roof houseleek, sengreen, thunder plant and my own favorite welcome-home-husband-however-drunk-you-be.
Their is a tradition that the houseleek is planted on your roof to protect against fire and lightening. This is where it get’s several of it’s more popular names from. In Wales today you can still see this practice.
How To Grow Houseleeks Sempervivum From Seed
Not an impossible task but due to hybridization you may not get a true likeness of the hen plant. Houseleeks are a great self-sowing plant though and this is part of the attraction to new gardeners.
Harvesting Sempervivum Seed
This is quite a fun process if you are a carefree gardener and want the kids to get involved!
In Autumn / Fall your houseleeks will have flowered and started to go over. You can simply shake the dried flowerheads and the seeds will cascade. Or you can carefully cut them and pop flower first into a paper bag. The sempervivum seeds will store in this bag over winter ready for Spring sowing.
If you are storing the seeds over winter make sure to not introduce any damp or moist conditions.
Sowing Houseleek Sempervivum Seeds
This part is very cute and rewarding.
- If you have collected your seeds in October and stored them you will benefit from stratifying them first. Do this by wetting a paper towel and placing your houseleek seeds on top and folding to cover them. Then put them into an airtight container and into your refrigerator.
- Prepare a tray with cacti and succulent compost, water it well. Sempervivum seeds are like any other succulent, even though the adult plants are extremely hardy, they will need adequate drainage all of their lives.
- Sow the seeds thinly. Inevitably you will have more houseleeks than you know what to do with but after a few months from germination you can select your best to plant out.
- Cover with a thin layer of perlite as your sempervivum seeds require daylight to germinate. Keep at a constant temperature no lower than 21C. Now for the cute bit. After 3-4 weeks your sempervivum seeds will have germinated. You will see a pair of tiny leaves poking through the perlite. It is a happy day and if you have kids they will be checking each morning too!
- Make sure there is plenty of sunlight for them and gradually get them used to the idea of different temperatures. After 3-4 weeks of the first few leaves you will start to see those spiral of thick leaves appear. Your sempervivum are ready to plant outside on in pots now.
- Gently lift the new chicks and find a sunny location with well draining soil. Take care not to damage the houseleeks root system. You can plant them in Pots, old bath tubs, Belfast sinks, Wheelbarrows, Teapots, Special Succulent theatres, Picture Frames we have seen them all!
How To Grow Houseleeks Sempervivum From Division
It is always rewarding to get new plants for free from a parent plant. Houseleeks are no exception.
Unlike most succulents you will struggle to propagate sempervivum from leaves. However it is not a problem as they get their name of hen and chicks from the willingness of the ‘hen’ parent plant to produce offsets on stolon that have roots intact and can be repotted directly.
Cut the chicks from the hen with a sharp clean knife. Repot the sempervivum chicks in 4 inch pots with the same compost mix, wait three to four days and then water them in. You can plant directly in the ground outside and you will get great results in late Spring and Summer.
Growing Sempervivum In Pots
Drainage is key to your succulents health. So if you are using an old pair of jeans or a chimney pot it doesn’t matter. Add drainage where required and use free draining soil specifically for cacti and succulents. Sempervivum will need little else.
Houseleeks thrive in drought conditions and each year will put out chicks that you can repot in nearby pots or containers. A tip here is to put a thin mulch on top of the soil if you intend on growing the chicks in larger pots. This will suppress weeds that would otherwise compete for moisture.
Sempervivum in terracotta pots look lovely as part of a succulent theatre display on staged shelving.
Houseleek Sempervivum Problems
Drooping in your leaves – The main cause for this is overwatering. Sempervivum is drought tolerant but it will not tolerate soggy roots. Check you have the compost mix right, then check that when you are watering you are allowing the water to drain free and not then sitting the pot back in the water.
Sunburn – much like aloe vera, sempervivum’s love the sun but the height of the midday sun can be very drying and cause burns to the leaves. Factor this in when positioning your plants and if they aren’t in pots that can be moved look to provide alternate shade. Think about this with your garden planning, a little dappled shade goes a long way.
Mealy bugs and aphids – Seldom a major issue unless we have a particularly damp start to Spring then it seems to really lead to an infestation. Sempervivums will withstand a fair old attack of aphids and encouraging natural predators like ladybirds to a garden will help immeasurably. If they are in pots you can walk around more easily and remove by hand, sometimes it is harder depending on the location of your houseleeks.
What Next & Further Reading
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