Baby's Breath Plant Profile

It's Not Just for Prom Corsages

A shot of many flowers in a healthy field
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Baby’s breath plants have become somewhat of a cliché in floral arrangements, but you may fall in love with them all over again in the flower garden. The plants look dainty but hang tough in dry sandy soils and cold climates, and they are deer resistant to boot. Baby's breath plants belong to the Caryophyllaceae family, which includes other flower garden favorites like the perennial dianthus (Dianthus superbus, etc.), border carnation (for example, Dianthus caryophyllus 'Clarion'), and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus).

Botanical Name Gypsophila
Common Names  Baby's breath, maiden's breath
Plant Type Annualperennial
Mature Size 4 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Alkaline, with a pH between 7 and 7.5
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9
Native Area Eastern Europe and Turkey

How to Grow Baby's Breath

These plants require alkaline soils, so, if your soil is acidic, sweeten it with an application of garden lime. Baby’s breath plants are classified as weedy or invasive in California and Washington, so Northwestern gardeners who appreciate the billowing appearance of these flowers should take steps to keep them from escaping cultivation.

Give your baby's breath support by installing grow-through stakes at the time of planting. Otherwise, use bamboo stakes and twine to keep plants from flopping as needed. 

Although baby’s breath doesn’t need deadheading, a midseason shearing will help the plants maintain a tidy appearance. Baby’s breath plants are usually pest free and drought-tolerant, and plants that don’t fare well are usually either not receiving enough sunlight, or are foundering in wet, heavy soils.

Light

Plants grow best in full sun, although they will tolerate some afternoon shade. Too much shade results in leggy plants.

Soil

Baby’s breath plants prefer well-drained garden soil. Sandy soils are better for these flowers than clay soils, so if your soil is heavy you should consider planting them in raised beds.

Water

Baby's breath is fairly drought-tolerant. Be careful not to overwater it.

Fertilizer

Work compost into the soil where you will be growing the plant.

Garden Design With Baby's Breath and Other Uses

Some like to pair the plant with roses (recalling the association of the two in floral arrangements). The airy plants do a superb job of covering up the leggy canes of rose bushes. Baby's breath also looks lovely when paired with other drought-tolerant sun lovers like lavender (Lavandula), yarrow (Achillea), or Zinnia

Place baby’s breath plants around your spring-flowering bulbs, and the emerging plants will hide yellowing bulb foliage without choking out the bulbs.

Plant baby’s breath in the rock garden, where the slightly alkaline conditions and excellent drainage will enable these plants to thrive. If you have a rock retaining wall, the creeping baby’s breath varieties will tumble over the rocks, softening the edges.

In addition to making an excellent cut flower, baby’s breath blossoms are easy to dry for crafts. The delicate flowers dry quickly, usually is less than a week. Hang cut bunches upside down in a dry place. You can also press baby's breath using wax paper and two heavy books. Use the result to create greeting cards, bookmarks, or mixed media art. 

Toxicity Warning

Gardeners with cats or dogs in the home should plant baby's breath with caution. When ingested, a chemical substance in baby's breath plants can cause vomiting and diarrhea in pets.

You can plant baby's breath in elevated containers, out of harm's way. Baby's breath in containers responds well to crowding, the prolific blooms spilling over and nearly obscuring their pots. If pets persist in exploring your plants, a non-toxic lookalike alternative is the sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) plant, an annual that produces masses of tiny white flowers with a honey fragrance.

Baby's Breath Varieties to Try

The flowers of the baby’s breath are small, not much bigger than a pencil eraser. But what they lack in size, they make up for in volume. Baby’s breath plants branch heavily in early to mid-summer, resulting in hundreds of flowers per plant. The stems are very slender, resulting in an airy effect in the garden on such tall plants. The less common creeping form of baby’s breath forms an attractive ground cover in the flower garden, growing from 3 to 5 inches high. The sparse foliage is narrow and greenish-blue.

There is a diversity to the Gypsophila genus that you might not expect if you know baby's breath only from the floral trade. Dwarf growing habits, double flowers, and even a pink cultivar await the gardener.

  • Gypsophila elegans: The simple, single blooms of this plant perform well in wildflower meadows. This form of baby’s breath is considered an annual, but its tendency to self-seed gives it longevity in the garden.
  • Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’: White, semi-double flowers similar to those used in the florist trade
  • Gypsophila paniculata ‘Compacta Plena’: Topping out at 1 foot tall, this smaller variety won’t flop and doesn’t require staking.
  • Gypsophila paniculata ‘Perfekta’: Sports the same double, white flowers as other paniculata types, only larger, about the size of a fingernail
  • Gypsophila paniculata ‘Viette’s Dwarf’: A compact type featuring pink flowers
  • Gypsophila repens: The creeping form, available in pink or white to plant between your pavers or at the edge of the border