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Growing sempervivums

Sempervivum and jovibarba

Sempervivums, or houseleeks, are hardy, succulent, alpine plants that grow in the wild between rocks in mountainous regions. We picked out ten of the best varieties at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2009.

Sempervivum means 'always alive' - a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of Sempervivum, and the closely related genus Jovibarba (also known as hen and chickens), makes them excellent, easy-to-keep garden plants.

Sempervivum and Jovibarba species are commonly grown in containers, but they can thrive in bricks, driftwood and tufa rock, because of their ability to grow in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats.

They perform best in a sunny, outdoor position, in a well-drained compost, such as John Innes No.1 or No.2, with 25% sharp horticultural grit for added drainage. A layer of grit should be added to the surface of the compost to further aid drainage.

Houseleeks are most valued for their distinctive rosettes of succulent, spirally patterned foliage, although they also bear attractive flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant, and is monocarpic - it flowers once then dies, but is soon replaced by other new rosettes, called offsets. These offsets can be separated and planted up, and will then grow into new clumps.

Sempervivums don't need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser.

Sempervivum calcareum

Sempervivum calcareum

S. calcareum bears very striking, large, grey-green rosettes, which shade to reddish-brown at the leaf tips.

Sempervivum arachnoideum

S. arachnoideum

Possibly the most famous species, also known as the cobweb houseleek, due to the network of white hairs at the leaf tips. These hairs protect the plant against dehydration and intense sunlight.

Sempervivum 'Irazu'

S. 'Irazu'

The attractive purple rosettes of 'Irazu' are offset beautifully by their silver leaf margins. The leaves can fade to a duller pink during winter.

Sempervivum 'Reinhard'

S. 'Reinhard'

'Reinhard' is vigorous variety, which forms clumps of upright green rosettes, thrown into sharp relief by the almost black leaf tips.

Sempervivum 'Fernwood'

S. 'Fernwood'

Similar in colouring to 'Reinhard', 'Fernwood' has larger, more open rosettes. It maintains its colour well throughout the year.

Sempervivum 'Squib'

S. 'Squib'

Red houseleeks generally require high light levels to maintain their colour, but 'Squib', a dark purple variety, keeps its colour well in winter.

Sempervivum 'Moerkerk's Merit'

S. 'Moerkerk's Merit'

The velvety appearance of 'Moerkerk's Merit' is caused by the tufty hairs that adorn the leaf tips. Related to S. arachnoideum, its leaves are a delicate silver-green.

Sempervivum calcareum 'Extra'

S. calcareum 'Extra'

'Extra' bears large numbers of blue-green leaves in each of its rosettes, each with a distinctive reddish-brown tip.

Jovibarba heuffelii 'Angel Wings'

Jovibarba heuffelii 'Angel Wings'

Whereas sempervivums mostly produce red or pink flowers, Jovibarba species produce yellow, more bell-like flowers. 'Angel Wings' is a vigorous variety with sharply-pointed brown and green leaves.

Jovibarba allionii

Jovibarba allionii

J. allionii has long, tapered leaves. Jovibarba offsets separate from the clump much more readily than those of Sempervivum, and the rosettes are generally more sturdy.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Growing sempervivums
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audrey23 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I had two different ones of this plant, don't know what kind though.I had them both in a large clay pot and one overgrew the other and killed it off. I was gutted !! It is nice to see all the different kinds tho.

DavidCheetham 24/11/2011 at 15:28

does anyone have any info on propogating? I had a large full pot on a wall which got knocked off by a cat and now some of the rosettes have broken off. I am hoping that they will be ok and start to root if I replant them. I would also like to try and divide the large pot up into about three. Is it ok to carfeully divide the rosettes and replant ??? Any advice gratefully received.

17frontstreet 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I grow a number of different sempervivums in containers.My major problem is caused by birds pulling out the rosettes, completely ruining the clumps.I thought in the spring they were after nesting material but the problem has returned.I resorted to covering the containers with mesh but this spoils the appearance.Anyone have a cause and cure?

bionicwoman51 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I have had some of these houseleeks growing in pots outside for years without really doing anything to them they have survived year on year. Amazing little plants.

hels138 24/11/2011 at 15:29

my first year trying to grow houseleeks in containers. My octogerian next door neighbour has for years been growing them successfully with little attention to their care!

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