Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks) and Sedums (Stonecrop)

A succulent is a plant that stores water in fleshy tissues to survive drought. There are over 60 plant families considered succulents. Some examples are sempervivums, sedums, aloes, kalanchoes and echeverias.

Sedums  and Sempervivums - Photo Courtesy Penn State Live

Sedums and Sempervivums - Photo Courtesy Penn State Live

Not all of the succulents named above are winter hardy in Zone 5. If a succulent is labeled as tender, it will not survive our winters and therefore, should be treated as an annual, or if grown in a container, it should be brought indoors for the winter. Echeverias are tender succulents.

Choosing a hardy succulent for Zone 5

Sempervivums (hens and chicks , house leeks)

There are hundreds to choose from, below are two common species:.

  • Sempervivum tectorum has an open face.
  • Sempervivum arachnoideum is smaller, more rounded and ball-like with webbing on the leaves.

These are easy to grow in a container, but will also do well in a garden setting.


Most varieties need at least 3-4 hours per day in sun. Few survive in full shade.


Whether planted in a container or in the garden, well-drained soil is a must. They do not like wet feet!

Sempervivums are shallow rooted and require less soil. They will even grow in poor soil.

If planting in a container, a good choice of purchased soil would be a cactus mix. If you prefer to make your own, use a good quality potting mix and add 1/3 to 1/2 builders’ sand, perlite or chicken grit. Avoid  soil mixes that include an additive to retain moisture.

Succulents prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.6-6. (A pH of 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic and greater than 7 is alkaline.)


Succulents require consistent moisture. Allow the soil to dry out between watering and then water thoroughly. Be sure the container can drain. If in a garden, let nature provide.


Most require little fertilizer. Too much nitrogen can soften the tissue and make the plants susceptible to rot. If you fertilize, choose an all-purpose liquid fertilizer with nitrogen (N) less than 12. Dilute to 1/2 strength and fertilize only during the growing season.

Sedums ( stonecrop)

Sedums vary in height from just a few inches to 3 feet. The shorter varieties are used as ground covers.

Many are hardy to zone 3. These are sun loving and will grow in poor soil.


Shorter varieties will usually root by simply laying cuttings where you want the plants to grow. The stem will develop roots and will rapidly spread during the first growing season.

For taller varieties, break off a stem and push it into the ground where you want it to grow. It will take a season or two to establish a new plant.

Once the plant are established, they will need little water. Be sure the area drains well.


A popular taller 2 foot sedum variety is ‘Autumn Joy’. This can be pruned to 6-8 inches and is hardy zone 3-11. It is not deer resistant.

Another tall variety is ‘Brilliant’. This grows 18-24 inches in full sun to partial shade, zone 3-10.

Some shorter varieties that will work in a hypertufa container are:

  • Sedum spurium Dragon’s Blood - cascading , good red color, 4 inches
  • Sedum spurium 'Tricolor' - green, creamy white and pink on leaves 4 inches tall
  • Sedum repestre ‘Angelina’ – chartreuse needlelike foliage, 3-6 inches
  • Sedums also attract bees.

Faye Rossi, Penn State Master Gardener of Wayne County