Baby's Breath Flower Profile

Baby's Breath

David Joyce / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Baby’s breath plants have become somewhat of a cliché in floral arrangements, but you may fall in love with this plant all over again in the flower garden. The plants look dainty but hang tough in dry sandy soils, and they’re deer resistant to boot.

Get to Know Baby's Breath

Baby's breath plants belong to the Caryophyllaceae family, which includes other flower garden favorites like the dianthus and carnation. Flowers in the Gypsophila genus usually go by the common name of baby's breath but are also called maiden's breath. In the wild, baby's breath plants grow in Eastern Europe, especially in Turkey.

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 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 plants that can grow up to four feet tall. The less common creeping form of baby’s breath forms an attractive groundcover in the flower garden, growing from three to five inches high. The sparse foliage is narrow and greenish-blue.

How to Plant Baby's Breath

In spite of their ethereal appearance, baby’s breath plants are quite hardy. You can grow them successfully as a perennial flower in zones 4-9. Plants grow best in full sun, although they will tolerate some afternoon shade. Too much shade results in leggy plants.

Baby’s breath plants prefer average, well-drained garden soil in a sunny spot. Sandy soils are better for these flowers than clay soils, so if your soil is heavy you should consider planting them in raised beds. These plants require alkaline soils, with a pH between 7 and 7.5. If your soil is acidic, you can sweeten it with an application of 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.

Care and Maintenance of Baby's Breath

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.

Garden Design With Baby's Breath

Why not give a nod to this flower’s frequent pairing with roses in floral arrangements, and use it as a companion plant with your rose bushes? 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, yarrow, or zinnias. 

Place baby’s breath plants around your spring-flowering bulbs, and the emerging plants will hide yellowing bulb foliage of tulips and hyacinths 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. 

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 plant, an annual that produces masses of tiny white flowers with a honey fragrance.

Baby's Breath Varieties to Try

There's more to the Gypsophila genus than the standard baby's breath seen in 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 form 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’: The familiar white semi-double flowers similar to those used in the florist trade
  • Gypsophila paniculata ‘Compacta Plena’: Topping out at one 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