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Echeveria (Ghost Echeveria / Hens and Chicks)

About Echeverias

Echeverias are fairly common outdoors but in the last few years, they've become very trendy modern indoor houseplants. Although native to semi-desert areas of Central America, Mexico and northwestern South America, they still do remarkably well as indoor plants. Like many other small succulents, it's common to find them being grown in unusual and visually arty pots and containers.

Echeveria Miranda and Echeveria Elegans growing next to a bright window

Echeverias (E. agavoide "Miranda" and E. lilacina) growing happily on a window ledge

They have a few common names such as Ghost Echeveria or Hen and Chicks. Do be careful with the Hen and Chicks name as several different houseplants share the name and although similar looking they have different care requirements. In the main, most people will just call them Echeveria and that's our naming choice for this article.

How do you pronounce Echeveria correctly? Say:
etch-eh-VEER-ee-uh

Similar to the Haworthia they're fairly small houseplants but still very robust and easy going. You can forget to water them for a month and they'll not be too grumpy about it. Although, to really make them shine you need to care for them properly and we've put together an Echeveria care guide later in the article telling you how to do just that.

The leaves come in many different colors from more plain greens to some really showy colorings. These leaves grow to form a rosette shape that hardly changes during its whole life. The rosette formation allows for maximum exposure to sources of light while allowing the plants to efficiently capture and direct water down towards the roots.

Echeveria Benefits

  • They're easy going
    It's hard to mess up with Echeverias so they make excellent plants for beginners.
  • They make great presents
    Unique looking and frequently sold in stylish containers they make super simple birthday gifts that will leave a positive impression for months (if not years) to come.
  • Inexpensive
    Some of the more rare hybrids are expensive, but the more common types are really cheap to buy.
  • They don't grow fast and maintenance is easy
    Growth is slow even in ideal conditions, so you only need to repot it once ever few years.

It's usual to find these plants in semi adult form or at full maturity. Hybrids can be a little more pricey than your run of the mill Echeveria, but even then the cost is still usually on the lower scale when compared to houseplants in general. You might find some very young offsets being sold, and these will be almost certainly cheaper, have a look around to see if you can find a mature one being sold so you can get an idea of the ultimate size.

In all cases, before buying make sure you have a good look at the plant and check for any signs of rotting around the base and in the rosette itself. Once rot sets in these plants can quickly die, so don't get a dud with the hope it will recover once you get it home.

Large varieties of different Echeverias that you can buy from a store

There are huge variations when it comes to what Echeverias you can buy

The species and varieties of Echeverias is absolutely massive. There are so many different ones to name that this article would become a huge list if we did. Some of the more popular species are given below, but if you want some help with identification, feel free to post up a picture in our comments section.

E. agavoides is one of the more robust species as it grows very tightly and the leaves are thick and strong. There are many popular hybrids including "Mira" and "Miranda" (the plant at the back in the first photo in this article), which are fairly large compared to other Echeverias and have been compared to open lily pads.

E. colorata has a growth pattern that resembles the early stages of a garden rose opening. Again with many hybrids with a heavy focus on different leaf colorings. Pink hues and light reds are common.

E. lilacina leaves are flatter and have less strict geometric looks, but they're often more hypnotic with bends and waves which at certain side angels look like a fairground waltz.

E. purpusorum have some of the most defined and rigid geometric shapes, most tend to have a mottled white pattern on the leaves and are often dark green, moving towards an almost purple colour.

If you want to browse names and pictures at the same time, we recommend two great websites - World of Succulents and Surreal Succulents.

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Echeveria Care Guide

Light

Almost all Echeveria plants love bright light with some sunlight. They struggle in low light conditions and equally with constant direct intense sunlight, especially if your watering skills aren't up to scratch.

Window ledges are a perfect location for your Echeveria, but if going for one which has a southern exposure try and give it some shielding and if you notice any damage move it immediately. Leaf damage from burns will not heal and because they grow slowly and keep hold of their leaves for long periods the burn will be there for a long time too.

Watering

Out in the wild many succulents are adapted and used to heavy downpours and then a fairly long period before the next one. Lots of their traits, such as thick fleshy leaves and the way they direct water directly down to the roots all help with this.

Echeverias like good deep through watering occasionally then a wait until they dry out, either mostly or completely. They aren't cacti though, so they shouldn't be deprived of water for excessive periods. As a rough guide we treat ours as follows:

  • From Spring to Summer water deeply and regularly whenever the soil almost dries out.
  • From late Fall to Winter, water less deeply and wait until the soil dries out fully.

It's absolutely fine to water them from above and through the center of the plant. Lots of people will recommend you don't. The primary reason for this thinking is that if water "sits" in the rosette and it gets cool and very humid, this water would sit there for hours, potentially days, and risk the central part of the plant rotting away. Don't grow your plant in conditions like this (see below) and you'll be fine.

Humidity

Although easy houseplants, these are not tropical plants. Their greatest weakness indoors is the lack of good regular ventilation mixed with very humid conditions. Such places will quickly increase the possibility of your plant rotting. Try to choose a location which has some natural airflow, so near a window. But be careful about trying to grow it in constantly steamy locations like a bathroom or kitchen.

Feeding

Although these are small plants with low rates of growth, it might be surprising to know that they do respond well to feeding. A normal liquid houseplant fertiliser that's been diluted by half every month or every other month is OK. If you're feeling fancy, a specially formulated Cactus / Succulent feed is the ideal choice.

Temperature

This plant adores warmth. They'll easily cope with the hottest rooms in your home. On the other hand they can literally fall apart and turn to mush overnight if exposed to frosts or near sub-zero temperatures. To be absolutely safe we suggest not letting the temperature ever going below 5°C (41°F).

Repotting and Soil

The growth habit of the Echeveria is to spread out by creating offsets around the main plant's edges. The adult plant will rarely outgrow it's existing container (unless you're starting out with a young plant that is rapidly growing), but if you want to allow it to create offsets and spread out, then you'll need to consider repotting from time to time and making sure the container is wider than the last one.

They don't have extensive root systems so don't need a particularly deep container, and picking one like this could increase the possibility of accidental overwatering and subsequent root rot setting in. Your best bet is to choose a pot that's shallow and wide, rather than deep and narrow.

When picking the soil, a standard all purpose potting mix with added grit for drainage or a cacti mix is needed

When picking the soil, a standard all purpose potting mix with added grit (or something similar) for drainage or a cacti mix is needed. Good drainage is essential as this will help aerate the soil and give the roots space to grow and prevent them from suffocating in tight, closed soils.

Propagation

Another great trait belonging to this plant is how easy it is to propagate by removing the constant supply of offsets or runners that it generates, as well as the good success of propagation through leaf cuttings.

A group of Echeveria with multiple offsets

Echeveria with multiple offsets like this can be separated to create new plants

Offsets
If your plant is being well looked after and you've had it a while (and the pot is big enough) you will quickly find it produces small offsets to the sides. If you want to remove them to create additional plants, wait until they're a reasonable size that lets you handle them without damaging them too much.

You may need to take the adult plant out of the pot and use your hands to gently tease the offsets away. They should separate relatively easily though. Try to take the offset with some of its own roots as this will drastically give it an advantage and help it establish much faster.

Once separated it's just a case of planting it up in its own pot with a similar potting mix as it was growing in previously. Don't cover it with a plastic bag or anything like that as the increased humidity could encourage fungi to grow and causing the offset to rot.

Leaf Cuttings (1)
Using healthy leaves, push them gently into moist fresh compost / potting mix. People in general, will suggest letting the leaf ends dry for 24 hours before planting them into the mix, however we've honestly not found this increases / decreases the chances of the cuttings "taking".

It's important you're not using half dead or rotting leaves from an ailing plant, as they're likely too far gone and won't work.

Several Echeveria leaf cuttings being used for propagation

Although slower, leaf cuttings take easily and are a very reliable way to get new plants

Leaf Cuttings (2)
Until you actually try this method, you might think it's utterly crazy. I was amazed the first time I tried it and even today I still partly think "this will never work", however it almost always does and quite quickly.

All you need to get started is a moist pot of fresh compost / potting mix, and some healthy leaves.

Then just lay the leaf on the potting mix as shown in the photo above, you can put several in one pot if preferred. Just keep the potting mix moist and after a week or so you might notice small "roots" forming at the end which was attached to the plant (see those tiny pink shoots in the photo above). These will grow down into the potting mix and within a few months, new leaves will start to grow.

Speed of Growth

Young offsets and plants being grown from leaf cuttings can get quite a growth spurt on when starting out. But mature plants change very slowly, even in optimal conditions.

Height / Spread

These are almost always small houseplants in regard to their heights, growing no taller than 5-10 cm (2-4 in). Although they can spread out quite far in respect of the offsets a mature plant will eventually start producing, this can look like a living bouquet of succulent rosettes.

Flowers

After a few years, once they've reached maturity, these plants will flower every year if they're being well looked after. A long, slender stem (sometimes two), called an inflorescence will grow rapidly from near the center of the plant and at the top you will see a number of small flowers that dangle on the end like bells.

They can sometimes smell a little bit and the flowers can come in several different colors. The bell like blooms won't last more than a few weeks, and when it all shrivels up you can cut the flowering stem off.

Echeveria in bloom showing the small bell like flowers

Well cared for Echeverias will produce small flowers each year

Are Echeverias safe around pets?

There is no toxicity danger for cats, dogs or people, so yes they're safe to have around pets. The thick chunky nature of the leaves can make the plant look a little like a toy though, so if your pet is the playful type then situate it somewhere out of reach.

Anything else?

As houseplants many Echeverias can live in your home quite happily for many years. Given time though the plants will lose some of their oldest leaves or start to look a bit "leggy". It's the compact nature of these plants that are desirable so an old specimen might not be as attractive as it once was. When this happens think about propagating, that way you can create a brand new plant from an existing friend and start over.

How to Care for the Echeveria Summary

  1. Medium to Bright Light Good light is essential. Some sun for a few hours a day would be a bonus.

  2. Low to Moderate Watering To really thrive they need to be watered heavily and then left alone until the potting mix has almost dried out.

  3. Temperature Warm rooms are needed as they don't like cool temperatures (unless it's Winter and you're giving your plant a rest). Not frost hardy.

  4. Feeding Once every month or so using a liquid fertiliser.

  • Avoid growing your plant in very humid places and in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Safe around pets, but the unusual shape and compact shape could be mistaken for a play toy.

Echeveria Problems

Plant is growing taller

Obviously, a little growth upwards is what you want, good even. But when it starts to get out of control you've got an issue. Namely too little light. If not enough light is provided the plant will "stretch" out and become lanky and spindly. Move to a brighter place, although avoid direct sunlight for a few weeks while your plant gets used to the higher light intensity.

Wrinkling leaves

It could be one of two things. Overwatering or Underwatering (a helpful and conclusive answer we know!).

In most cases wrinkling leaves is usually a sign of underwatering, but you'll have to carry out one final check yourself and feel the soil. If it's bone dry, then you can be reasonably certain the plant has fully dried out and needs to be watered urgently.

If the soil is damp or wet then there is a good chance overwatering has occurred and rot is starting to set in. Assess the damage by trying to look at the plant's roots, if they're mush then the main plant might not be far behind. Consider propagating some of the healthy leaves to create new plants. If the roots are fine wait a few weeks for the soil to dry out before watering again.

Dead leaves

The older leaves at the base of the plant will go yellow in time and this is natural. They crisp up before shriveling and turning totally brown (see photo below). You can remove them at this stage, but they can cling on quite tightly so be careful and avoid "ripping" the dead leaf away.

Echeveria with dead leaves and blemishes

Photo showing a houseplant which has a dead leaf and blemishes to a few of the leaves

Leaf Blemishes

In the above photo, you can see a few blemishes on the leaves that look a bit like sores. These are frequently caused by one of the following:

  • General Damage
    Caused perhaps by scraping or knocking it against something, or a claw happy pet playing with the leaves. This causes a "bruise" as the cells of leaves are destroyed. Given time it will heal but may still result in a discolored "scab".
  • Pests
    This is a reasonably pest tolerant plant and few will succumb to them. However Scale Insects can be a problem. Decide if that's what the marks actually are and if they're present remove those bugs!
  • Sunburn
    It's much more common to see this on the upper surface of the leaves rather than underneath, but extreme sunlight, or radical exposure to the sun when a plant has adapted to a medium bright location can easily create burn marks. If moving your plant, then do so gradually so it gets used to the higher light levels.

Echeveria dying after flowering

It's quite common to confuse Echeverias with Sempervivums, especially as they can both go by the name "Hen and Chicks", the latter of which does die after flowering (monocarpic). A very small number of Echeverias will be monocarpic too, but most are not, so your plant should not die after the flowering period has finished. If this is happening check you don't actually have a Sempervivum!

Our story with this houseplant

For me, when it comes to indoor plants they need to do something. Space has always been limited in all the homes I've lived in and if a houseplant is going to live with me and take up valuable real estate, it needs to pay its way somehow. Plants which look showy, flower, are rare, unusual looking or just have some kind of presence are always welcome.

Echeverias meet none of those criteria directly, so they never made it into my home. Until recently. The truth is they're so easy to pass by without a second glance, overlooked constantly by shoppers in garden centers or shops for something better and hands up, I was 100% one of those people when it came to these plants.

So what changed? There is one thing these plants do better than almost any other out there, and that's leaf symmetry. Get an arty type person to set up your in-store display with a group of these plants in pretty containers and you've got a hypnotic geometric attraction that entices you to stop in your tracks and admire the beautiful way in which Echeverias grow.

Overhead photo of an Echeveria houseplant

Overhead photo of an Echeveria houseplant

This plant is essentially living art and when I finally realised that, they were merrily invited in.


About the Author

Tom Knight

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

(Article) Photo credit of the Echeveria varieties in a store - Victoria Strukovskaya
(Gallery) Photo credit of the Echeveria in a wooden box - Spencer Gu
(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the top down view of multiple plants - Annie Spratt


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