Houseleek (Sempervivum) – The Complete Guide

As an extraordinary perennial, the indestructible houseleek (Sempervivum) thrives in places that other plants avoid. It retains its striking silhouette in bone-chilling cold, blistering heat, and desert-like drought.

Planting Houseleek Properly

For enchanting garden pictures to successfully take shape with the houseleek, plant the thick-leafed plant in a sunny location.

If the soil condition does not approach the sandy-dry ideal conditions, add sand, fine chippings, or expanded clay to the soil.

This is how you plant houseleeks properly:

  • Dig small pits 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart.
  • Pot out the houseleek, insert it in the pit center, and fill the hole with substrate up to the bottom two leaves.
  • Do not add compost or other fertilizer to the excavated soil.
  • Water in sips, avoiding waterlogging at all costs.

If your houseleek has the task of staging picturesque images in the planter, planting proceeds similarly.

As a substrate is suitable lean cactus soil, enriched with sand and lava granules. In addition, insert small shards of clay or pebbles between the bottom drainage opening and the substrate, so that they can act as additional drainage.

Care Tips

As a botanical ascetic, houseleek lives by the minimal principle in the bed and pot. This is probably also the reason why houseleeks are also called liveforever sometimes.

If it receives the smallest possible dose of everything, the perennial runs to top form.

This is true in terms of water and nutrient supply. The only exception is its insatiable hunger for sunlight. Consequently, the individual factors of proper care are very small.

Houseleek, as the name suggests, belongs to the same family as tree houseleek (Aeonium), the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae), and even to the same subfamily Sempervivoideae.

This is what matters in the care of houseleeks:

  • Do not fertilize houseleeks.
  • Only water during summer drought.
  • Houseleeks require no pruning.
  • Remove the withered flower along with the dead rosette.

No wintering precautions need to be taken in the bed. If the houseleek thrives in a pot, place the container in front of a rain-protected south-facing wall on a block of wood in winter.

A cover of bubble wrap or burlap will keep frost away from the root ball.

Which Location is Suitable for Houseleek?

In order for the houseleek to perfectly showcase its fireworks of colors and shapes, it requires a full sun location. Here, even the blazing sun during hot midday hours in the summer may dominate without the perennial wearing out.

You can green up with houseleek your rock garden, your dry stone wall, your gravel bed, or your sparse roof garden, because here the thick-leaf plant does not let you down.

The Right Planting Distance for Houseleeks

The majority of houseleek species reach a width of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm), regardless of their individual growth height.

Thus, you are right with a planting distance of 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) to decorate an area without gaps with the beautiful rosettes. In larger areas, we recommend 20 to 30 specimens per 10 sqft.

What Kind of Soil Does Houseleek Need?

The houseleek favors dry, mineral soil. Therefore, choose a location with sandy-gravelly and well-drained soil, which may also be calcareous.

In the common, nutrient-rich soil, the houseleek will fall far short of expectations.

In order for Sempervivum to exude its pithy charm in the pot garden, a lean cactus soil should be used as a substrate, optimized with sand and lava granules.

What is the Best Time for Planting Houseleek?

For houseleeks in containers, planting time is throughout the growing season. In order to provide the best conditions for the petite and striking perennial to start life, we recommend April/May and September/October as the ideal planting time.

Especially in sun-warm autumn soil, a young houseleek quickly takes root to surprise with a bloom in the second or third year of standing.

When is Flowering Time for Houseleeks?

From June to the end of July, the white or pink inflorescence rises above the magnificent leaf rosettes. The sunnier the location, the more colorful the display of single or double flowers.

Do not cut off the withered inflorescence too early, because the seed heads also have a very decorative effect. Since at the end of the flowering period the entire rosette dies, you can remove it along with the withered flower stalk.

Pruning Houseleek Properly

At the sight of dainty houseleeks, no one thinks to reach for scissors here. This is a good thing because these perennials do not know shape and maintenance pruning.

When the first and only flower appears at 2 to 3 years old, pruning is also out of the question. At the end of the flowering period, the rosette that produced the inflorescence dies.

Remove its remains completely from the soil, leaving the neighboring shoots and secondary rosettes untouched, as flowering is expected here the following year.

Watering Houseleek

You will rarely set out to water a houseleek with your watering can in hand. The succulent ornamental plant has its own water reservoir, which it fills up in rainy seasons to draw on in times of drought.

In contrast to drought, waterlogging, on the other hand, causes considerable problems. Therefore, water the houseleek only in exceptional cases, when life-threatening drought prevails.

Fertilizing Houseleek Properly

Fertilizing in any form impairs the vitality and colorfulness of houseleeks. This is true both in the bed and in the pot.

If additional nutrients get to the houseleek, fattening growth results, accompanied by off-color and rot. In the planter, Sempervivum will receive an adequate quantum of nutrients if repotted every so often in a fresh substrate.

Overwintering Houseleek

When it comes to overwintering, the houseleek once again proves that it is one of the easiest perennials to care for. In the bed, the houseleek survives the cold season without special protective measures.

Only in the tub or balcony box, we recommend taking the following precautions so that the root ball does not freeze through:

  • Before the first frost, place the planter in front of the south wall of the house on a wooden block.
  • Cover the tub or planter box thickly with bubble wrap.

Do not bring the little beauty into the house, because it will not survive there. Only in an unheated, bright garage, there are prospects of getting through the winter healthy.

Propagating Houseleek

Before a houseleek starts its final life achievement in the form of a flower, the plant has already taken care of its own offspring.

Runners and daughter rosettes thrive in the immediate environment so that over the years a dense Sempervivum carpet develops in the bed and tub. These offspring make excellent propagation material.

Here’s how to propagate houseleek right:

  • The best time for vegetative propagation is spring.
  • Separate fully-formed secondary rosettes from the mother plant.
  • Place in the dry-sandy soil at the new location and water lightly.

For propagation, selectively use daughter rosettes that are derived from a mother plant that is at least two years old. These are developed enough to survive the stress of separation without damage.

Houseleek in a Pot

Because houseleeks require fresh air and the cold stimulus of winter for vigorous growth, they are unsuitable as houseplants in pots.

These perennials make up for this shortcoming by accepting almost any container as a home, as long as it has water drainage.

Thus, the houseleek has already been spotted in old shoes, into which a little soil was unceremoniously poured. In disused wash tubs, Sempervivum adorns the cottage garden.

The effort for the care can be counted on one hand:

  • Only water a little when there is no rain for a considerable time.
  • Ahouseleek with wet feet inevitably dies.
  • Fertilizing and pruning are not necessary for houseleeks.

If winter is at the garden gate, place the pot on a block of wood or a polystyrene sheet. Covered with bubble wrap, the perennial lingers in the open air, as the cold stimulus contributes significantly to its vitality.

If in doubt, carry the pot into an unheated, bright garage or place it in a cold box until winter has had his way.

Good to know

In the early Middle Ages, numerous species of houseleek were said to have magical powers. Planted on the roof, the plant was said to protect the house from lightning. This belief manifested itself in an order by Charlemagne that every roof should be planted with this plant. The fact is that roofs planted with houseleek were less often struck by lightning. However, this is not so much due to magic, but to the fact that such roofs are not so dry and therefore not easily ignited, as an unplanted roof.

Is Houseleek Poisonous?

Since the Middle Ages, houseleek has been used in many ways as an ornamental, medicinal, and food plant. Even the legendary healer, nun, and saint Hildegard of Bingen praised the wide range of effects for ailments of all kinds.

Thus, the valuable ingredients heal skin irritations, relieve burns, eliminate warts, and are even said to act against deafness. Therefore, there can be no question of poisonous content in Sempervivum.

What Are the Best Planting Ideas With Houseleek?

The frugal houseleek decorates every conceivable container with its enchanting rosettes. For once, scour the entire house, all the way up to the attic. Visit flea markets and antique fairs.

We have listed some of the most beautiful planting ideas for you here:

  • In an antique pewter teapot.
  • Remove the padding from a chair, fill in the soil, and plant a houseleek.
  • Fill the curved side of a roof tile with substrate and insert houseleeks.
  • Convert discarded baking pans into planters.
  • Provide a large ladle with water drainage and plant it with houseleeks.

Embellishing old leather shoes with houseleeks has become a classic.