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How to Overwinter Hens and Chicks in Zone 5A

By Judy Wolfe

Any plants with a botanical name meaning “Live forever” aren't likely to shrink from winter cold. Hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.), perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 9, depending on cultivar, take frigid winters in stride, withstanding low temperatures in the minus 30- to minus 50-degree Fahrenheit range and embracing snow as a warm blanket. In USDA zone 5a, hens and chicks need very little special winter care.

Getting Ready

In-Ground Hens and Chicks

Rain, not snow, is hens and chicks' worst winter enemy. As succulent plants, they don't tolerate having permanently wet roots. Where fall brings heavy rain in zone 5a, start reducing their supplemental water in September to help push them into dormancy. Water only if their soil or potting media is thoroughly dry.

Once they're dormant -- no longer producing new growth -- stop watering altogether and cover them with plastic so their roots stay dry through the winter.

Clean up and dispose of all dropped leaves and debris in the planting bed or pots.

Cover each in-ground plant with clear plastic or bubble wrap.

Secure the covering with bricks, stones or other weights.

Potted Hens and Chicks

Winter presents container-grown hens and chicks with a problem foreign to those in the ground. Their growing medium heats up and cools off much more quickly than garden soil. Once they've entered dormancy, take steps to help them cope with sudden temperature swings.

  • Place all the pots at ground level to minimize temperature fluctuations.
  • Move the small ones to the shelter of a house or other roofed structure in fall. They'll benefit from the added warmth and rain protection. If possible, provide them with southern exposure for the maximum amount of sun. 
  • To protect heavy, large pots from temperature changes, cover them in bubble wrap fastened at the top and sides with waterproof tape. Allow small gaps for air circulation.
  • Surround the larger pots with wind-blocking bales of hay or plastic yard bags filled with leaves.

Things You Will Need

  • Sand or gravel
  • Pruning shears
  • Frost covers

About the Author


Passionate for travel and the well-written word, Judy Wolfe is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Cal Poly Pomona and a certificate in advanced floral design. Her thousands of published articles cover topics from travel and gardening to pet care and technology.