Like most succulents, hens and chicks (Echeveria spp.) are easy to propagate. The stems and leaves store water, so the cuttings maintain themselves until they root. The plants have what's called a rosette shape, and the flower stalks rise from near the center of the rosette. The growth habit is either short and clustering or taller and branching. Propagate low-growing types by separating and rooting the small plantlets, called offsets, that form around the mother plant. Use stem cuttings to reproduce taller forms. Hens and chicks grow outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11.
Root hens and chicks offsets in spring. Once the plantlets are 1 to 2 inches wide, they're ready to propagate. Gently work an offset free from the bottom of the mother plant. Place the plantlet, base down, in a pot that's filled with a cactus and succulent potting mix. The pot should be just a little wider than the offset and should have drainage holes. Place the pot in bright indirect light and wait for the offset to root. When new roots form, the plantlet resists moving when you nudge it. Water the rooted plant regularly until water comes out the drainage holes. Allow the soil to dry halfway down the pot between waterings.
For hens and chicks that branch, take stem cuttings in spring. Wipe a pair of sharp pruning shears with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. Choose a branch and cut the stem so there's 1 to 2 inches of stem below the head of leaves. Lay the cutting on its side in the shade for about a week so the cut end heals. Then, insert the stem end in a 2-inch pot filled with cactus and succulent potting mix or equal parts of peat and perlite. Again, make sure you use a pot that has drainage holes. There's no need to water the cutting until roots form.
Rooting Unbranched Hens and Chicks
For hens and chicks that don't branch, such as some of the large hybrid cultivars, you can cut off the entire rosette of leaves, leaving a bare stem. Leave 1 to 2 inches of stem below the lowest leaves. Use an empty pot smaller than the rosette's diameter and rest the head on the pot's rim. In a few weeks, roots start to sprout from the stem. Plant the rooted stem in a pot that's about as wide as the head of leaves, using cactus and succulent potting mix. The pot should have drainage holes.
It's also possible to start a new hens and chicks plant from a single leaf. Detach a mature, fully formed leaf from the mother plant by pulling it from the stem or by cutting it free with a sharp knife that's been dipped in rubbing alcohol. Make sure the leaf has its base that attaches it to the stem. If the plant has a flower stalk, you can root leaves from the flower stalk.
Place the leaf in a shallow tray or pot filled with moistened half peat and half perlite. Use a container that has a drainage hole. Tilt the leaf at an angle so only a small portion of the leaf's base is in contact with the soil. Put the container in the shade and water the potting mix occasionally to keep it slightly moist. It usually takes 40 to 50 days for roots to sprout from the leaf base, and then a new miniature plant forms above the roots. The old leaf eventually withers and can be removed.
Carolyn Csanyi began writing in 1973, specializing in topics related to plants, insects and southwestern ecology. Her work has appeared in the "American Midland Naturalist" and Greenwood Press. Csanyi holds a Doctor of Philosophy in biology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.