Sempervivum means 'always alive' – a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of sempervivums makes them excellent, easy-to-grow garden plants.
Sempervivums 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 and 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.
How to grow sempervivums
Sempervivums are commonly grown in containers, but you can grow them in bricks, driftwood and tufa rock, due to their ability to thrive in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats for sempervivums. They perform best in a sunny, outdoor position, in a well-drained compost with sharp horticultural grit added for drainage. A layer of grit added to the surface of the compost will stop the leaves from becoming wet from mud, preventing rotting.
Sempervivums don't need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser.
Learn how to grow new sempervivums from old in our No Fuss Guide to propagating house leeks, with David Hurrion:
More on growing sempervivums:
We've picked our favourite 10 sempervivums to grow, below.
Cobweb houseleek, Sempervivum arachnoideum
Possibly the most famous sempervivum, the cobweb houseleek bears a network of white hairs at the leaf tips, which protect the plant against dehydration and intense sunlight. Sempervivum arachnoideum bears small pink flowers in early summer.
Sempervivum marmoreum 'Brunneifolium'
Sempervivum marmoreum 'Brunneifolium' bears large rosettes of triangular-shaped, silvery bronze leaves.
'Pluto' is a beautiful houseleek, bearing large rosettes of deep green leaves with dark purple tips.
Sempervivum 'Purple Dazzler'
Sempervivum 'Terracotta Baby'
'Terracotta Baby' bears medium-sized rosettes of long, spoon-shaped leaves in dramatic dark red-burgundy. The colouration becomes darker in winter and a brighter, more intense red in summer.
Sempervivum 'Reinhard' bears medium-sized, emerald green leaves with purple-black leaf tips. Pastel-pink flowers appear on short stems in summer.
'Eddy' bears striking red spoon-shaped leaves that darken towards the centre.
Sempervivum 'Rita Jane
'Rita Jane' bears large rosettes of blue-green foliage with dark red tips.
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