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"Live forever" is what they'll do. Here are three ways to get them started.

The drive to live and reproduce is remarkable in sempervivums (also called hen and chickens, houseleeks, and live-forevers). Never prominent in the landscape, these low-growing succulents are famous for being able to do well where little else will: along cracks in rockeries, atop tree stumps, and beside hot garden pathways, for example.

Hardiness makes sempervivums easy to multiply. Here are three simple ways to do the job.

The easiest is taking year-old chicks away from the hens (as shown above) and setting them in planting soil. As one august sempervivum grower said, "Don't plant 'em, sit 'em," meaning that the chicks must not be sunk into soil al all or they'll rot. Just set them on a fast-draining, humus-based medium and they'll root.

A second way works with S. heuffelii, the group of sempervivums that multiplies by splitting instead of forming chicks. Slice whole hens in half or quarters vertically as pictured at left, making sure that each part has roots attached. Let the cuts callus for two days, then plant each piece and it will grow.

A third way, not foolproof, was developed in Japan. Cut the center out of a mature hen, as shown at top left, and discard. A cluster of chicks will form around the cut. Sometimes these flower and die. But if they start growing, separate them and transplant into rooting medium when the hen beneath starts to die. Each will become a new hen.

Sempervivums self-sow easily, but don't let them do it if you have more than one kind in the garden: the offspring might be hybrids, perhaps inferior to the parents. To prevent crossing, remove spent blooms after flowering.
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Title Annotation:cactus gardens
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Words:277
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