Most commonly known as hens and chicks, sempervivum are tough, versatile succulents whose name literally means 'always living'. It's an apt description of these plants that can take cold, drought and sun. With over 3,000 cultivars there's a near endless assortment of color, perfect for rock gardens, planters, ground covers, or anything else you can imagine.
These tough succulents are easy to grow, but with enough variation to be engaging for a lifetime. The rosette forms of semps grow into tight clusters that can look like rolling waves of color on the ground. When in containers they cascade over the edges and putting down roots wherever they touch soil.
Sempervivum are cold hardy succulents native to the high mountains of Europe. Their ideal growing conditions are cool, sunny, dry regions with excellent drainage. However, these guys aren't overly fussy and can be grown nearly anywhere with a little consideration. Most varieties can handle winter temperatures that plummet to -20 or -30 degrees (USDA Zone 4). However, if you're growing them in those colder ranges it usually increases survival rates to give them a little extra winter protection (crop cover blankets, move containers closer to house, etc). In warmer climates (USDA Zones 9 and above), they will grow better with shade during the most intense sunlight hours.
Being succulents, sempervivum are also drought tolerant. In the spring when they are growing most they benefit from regular watering, but other than that the water requirements are minimal. Just give them a good, thorough watering whenever the soil has dried out and they'll be happy. Although semps suffer from few diseases, rot can be a problem with over watering or if there isn't adequate drainage.
Sempervivum propagate by producing babies or offsets on stolon. Because of how they propagate themselves the common name of hens and chicks. They are monocarpic plants. This means that after a few years of growing they will flower and then die. It's always a surprise to people in summer when their little round rosettes turn into tall stalks topped with star-shaped flowers. These low maintenance plants continue growing year after year even when completely ignored, making it seem like they really do 'live forever' as their name, sempervivum, suggests.
Jovibarba are often lumped in with sempervivum as hens and chicks. They are extremely similar. The main difference is in how jovibarba produce their offsets. Jovibarba heuffelii grow chicks that are mashed inside the mother plant. Other jovibarba are called 'Rollers' because they grow babies on top of the mother plant that pop off and roll away to grow elsewhere.
For more information, read our article on how to plant and grow sempervivum.