Baby's breath plants (Gypsophila spp.) have become somewhat of a cliché in floral arrangements. But they also can look lovely in the garden. There are more than 100 annual and perennial species within this genus with varying appearances. Some have a creeping growth habit, forming an attractive flowering ground cover. And others grow in more upright and contained mounds with extensive branching of their slender stems, giving the plants a light and airy feel. Their small, narrow leaves are gray-green to blue-green in color. In the summer, baby’s breath plants are covered in tiny, five-petaled, white or pink flowers that last several weeks. The blooms are known to attract butterflies and other pollinators. Baby’s breath should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. The plants have a fast growth rate and are considered an invasive species in North America. However, be aware that the plant has toxic qualities and can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, sinus, and skin, asthma, dermatitis in humans, and gastrointestinal problems including vomiting, diarrhea, and anorexia in pets.
|Common Name||Baby's breath|
|Plant Type||Perennial, annual|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
Baby's Breath Care
Baby’s breath plants generally require very little maintenance. Plant them in a spot that gets lots of light and has good soil drainage, and they’ll practically take care of themselves.
You’ll typically only need to water during dry spells and feed annually. Once your plants mature, you might need to provide them with support, such as garden stakes, to prevent the thin stems from flopping over. You also can proactively install stakes at the time of planting that the baby’s breath can grow around.
Baby's breath has been classified as an invasive plant in the United States, especially around the upper Great Lakes. It is also considered a noxious weed in both California and Washington, and in Canada.
Baby's breath plants grow best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. But they will tolerate a bit of shade, especially from the hot afternoon sun. However, too much shade will result in leggy plants and poor flowering.
Baby's breath plants can grow in a range of soil types, as long as they have good drainage. Sandy soil works well, whereas wet clay soil does not. So if your soil is heavy, consider planting baby's breath in raised garden beds or containers. These plants also like a slightly alkaline soil pH, so if your soil is acidic, sweeten it with an application of garden lime.
Baby’s breath has low water needs and thrives in dry soil. Keep the soil moderately moist for young plants. You typically won’t have to water established plants unless you have an extended period of drought. Overwatering can cause root rot and kill the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Baby’s breath can tolerate a range of temperatures within its growing zones. Some species have more cold tolerance than others. These plants prefer a dry climate over a humid one. So if you have high humidity, it’s imperative to make sure your plant has excellent soil drainage and isn’t sitting in constant moisture.
These plants aren’t heavy feeders, and too much fertilizer can cause floppy growth. To promote healthy growth and profuse blooms, simply work some compost into the planting site every spring.
Types of Baby's Breath
There is a diversity to the Gypsophila genus that you might not expect if you only know baby's breath from the floral trade. Here are some different varieties of the plant:
- Gypsophila elegans: This species is considered an annual, but it tends to self-seed and comes back in the garden year after year. It features notably large, open blooms compared to other baby’s breath species.
- Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’: This cultivar sports double blooms that are white and roughly 1/4 inch wide. It grows in mounds that reach around 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
- Gypsophila paniculata ‘Compacta Plena’: This is a compact variety that grows in mounds only around 15 to 18 inches tall and wide. Its flowers are very similar to those on the ‘Bristol Fairy’ cultivar.
- Gypsophila paniculata ‘Perfekta’: This variety can grow up to 3 feet tall and wide. Its flowers are very similar in appearance to the ‘Bristol Fairy’ cultivar, except that they’re around twice the size.
- Gypsophila paniculata ‘Viette’s Dwarf’: This is another compact cultivar that only reaches around 12 to 15 inches tall and wide and thus typically won’t need staking to keep it upright. It features double flowers in pink that slowly fade to white.
Pruning Baby's Breath
These plants can be deadheaded by removing the spent blooms back to where the next spray is growing. They can also benefit from light pruning after the first flowering, which will help to maintain their shape and hopefully promote another bloom.
After the second bloom, during the fall season, cut the stems of the perennial baby's breath to about one inch above the ground, for overwintering. The plant will come back in the spring.
Propagating Baby's Breath
Baby's breath propagates easily and does it well from cuttings taken from a mature plant. Here's how:
- Cut pieces, about 4 to 5 inches, of healthy stems.
- Remove any leaves in the 1/3 portion of the lowest part of the cutting.
- Plant the cuttings in a small container filled with alkaline soil and mist often, keeping the soil moist, not soaked.
- The cuttings should be rooted in approximately four weeks, which you can then transplant outside.
How to Grow Baby's Breath From Seeds
This plant can be grown from seeds. Start by planting the seeds indoors in a seed-starting mix about six to eight weeks before planting in the spring. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and seedlings should appear in about 10 to 14 days. Once the threat of frost has passed, you can transplant them in a sunny area of your garden.
While this plant is self-seeding, spreading about on its own, you can also directly sow the seeds into the garden. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained area, and cover them lightly with soil. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Plants should be spaced about 12 inches apart.
Common Pest & Plant Diseases
Baby's breath has a few issues with pests and diseases. Pests for this plant include aphids, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, slugs, and rabbits. You might notice discolored leaves or holes in the leaves, which are an indication of a pest problem. There are non-chemical ways you can control some of these pests, such as a citrus spray or soap spray. Common diseases for baby's breath include fungal infections and root rot, which can be caused by overwatering.
How to Get Baby's Breath to Bloom
Baby's breath is known for its tiny delicate flowers which bloom in late spring through the summer. To help this plant bloom better and longer, simply follow the pruning steps to help promote a second bloom and then winterize it before the first frost. The plant will come back each spring and rebloom every year.
How long does baby's breath last after being picked?
Freshly picked baby's breath will last up to eight to 10 days in a vase with fresh water.
Does baby's breath blooms have a smell?
There is a slight smell to baby's breath flowers which some people find not very appealing. Their blooms are not sweet-smelling, that's for sure.
Is baby's breath an annual or perennial flowering plant?
With over 100 species, baby's breath offers both annuals and perennials. The perennial plants come up every year, and the flowers come in pink and white colors. Annuals may potentially self-seed themselves and return the following year.