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.
|Common Names||Baby's breath, maiden's breath|
|Plant Type||Perennial, annual|
|Mature Size||2–3 feet tall and wide|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and animals|
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. Plus, they rarely have serious issues with pests or diseases.
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. These plants don’t need deadheading (removing spent blooms). But they can benefit from a light pruning after flowering, which will help to maintain their shape and might promote another bloom.
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 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. But then 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 each spring.
Is Baby's Breath Toxic?
Baby’s breath can be mildly toxic both to people and animals, and some are more sensitive to it than others. Symptoms can arise both from skin contact and ingesting any part of the plant.
Symptoms of Poisoning
From skin contact, some people and animals might develop itching, redness, or a rash. They also might experience allergy-like symptoms, including itchy eyes and sneezing. If baby’s breath is ingested, it can cause mild gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea. For most, the issues resolve quickly on their own, but you should still consult a medical professional if you suspect poisoning.
Baby's Breath Varieties
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 come 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.
Toxic Plants (By Scientific Name). University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Schroeckenstein, DC, Meier-Davis, S, Yunginger, JW, Bush RK. Allergens Involved in Occupational Asthma Caused by Baby's Breath (Gypsophila paniculata). Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 86, 2, 189-93, 1990, doi:10.1016/s0091-6749(05)80065-x
Baby's Breath (Gypsophila paniculata). Montana State University, 2015