How to Grow and Care for Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila spp.)

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Baby’s breath is a group of roughly 150 flowering plants belonging to the genus Gypsophila, and the pink or carnation family, Caryophyllaceae. There are a few species that have been heavily cultivated for the florist industry as “florist fillers” such as G. paniculata, however, they are also well-loved as ornamental plants for meadow, cottage-style, and rock gardens!

The group is made up of both annual and perennial species, which are sometimes evergreens, as well as several popular cultivars! They are well-suited for container planting, and because of their tolerance of salinity, they also make fantastic choices for coastal gardens. 

History

Native to Eurasia, these plants can be found growing in sandy, rocky areas, usually with calcareous soils such as meadow steppes, woodland margins, and beaches. The genus name is derived from the Greek words “gypos” which means gypsum, and “philos” meaning friendship. It is a reference to the fact that these plants are normally found growing in areas with high levels of gypsum, a calcium-rich mineral.  

Baby’s breath was first introduced to North America in the 1800s and since then has become widely naturalized in grasslands, sand dunes, and pastures, and is considered an invasive weed in some parts! It was a particular favorite in Great Britain during the Victorian Era as a cut flower and for bouquets, due to the delicate and lacy appearance of its blooms.

These wonderful plants come in both single, semi-double, and fully double-flowered varieties as well as different shades of white and pink. They are lovely for adding texture to borders, and for filling the spaces left behind by early spring bulbs!

Plant Facts

Scientific nameGypsophila spp.
Common namesBaby’s Breath
GenusGypsophila
FamilyCaryophyllaceae
Height0 ft. 6 in. – 3 ft. 0 in. 
Width1 ft. 0 in. – 3 ft. 0 in.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone3 – 9 (depending on variety)
OriginEurope, Asia
Flower colorsWhite, Pink
Blooming seasonApril – August (depending on variety)
Plant/Flower special featuresSprays of delicate flowers

How to Plant and Grow Baby’s Breath

Baby’s breath flower can easily be purchased online or in nurseries as bare root stock or container plants. Alternatively, some varieties can be grown from cuttings at home and planted out later on. Plant them in the garden or containers in late spring to early summer once the risk of frost has passed.

These plants do not like to be moved once they are established, so take care that the chosen planting site is the final one. 

Growing Baby’s Breath Flowers in Beds

First, prepare the bed by thoroughly de-weeding and adding lime if necessary. For established plants, gently remove them from their containers and carefully tease the roots if they were circling the container. Dig a hole deep enough and wide enough to fit the root ball, and place the plant inside just burying the roots. Firm down the soil and water well. Leave at least 2 feet between plants. 

To plant bare root stock, first, dig a hole wide and deep enough for the clump. Then plant the clump just deep enough to bury the roots, with any new shoots above the ground. Firm down the soil and water well to settle in. Plant them 2-3 feet apart. 

Growing Baby’s Breath Flowers in Containers

To grow baby’s breath in pots, choose a 12-inch container for single plants, and a larger one if growing multiple plants. Make sure they have a good number of drainage holes. Terracotta pots are recommended as they are resilient to winter conditions. Fill the container with a well-draining, soil-based compost and follow the above recommendations for planting. Leave a 1-inch space between the soil line and the top of the pot to allow for any water to soak in. 

If growing multiple plants, they may need to be spaced closer together for an attractive container display. Container plants require regular watering but take care not to overwater them as these plants do not like overly wet conditions. Make sure to combine baby’s breath with plants that have similar watering needs.

How to Propagate Baby’s Breath

Baby’s breath can be propagated from cuttings, specialized root grafting, and seeds. However, specialized root grafting requires a high skill level, so generally speaking, propagating from seeds is the easiest and most recommended method, especially for annual varieties.

Propagation from Seeds

To grow baby’s breath from seeds, wait until the danger of frost has passed before sowing seeds directly onto the garden bed. First, prepare the bed by thoroughly de-weeding and loosening the soil. Since this plant is normally grown in wildflower, meadow, and cottage-style gardens, broadcasting or scattering the seeds is a popular method for a more natural look.

Scatter the seeds onto the bed, then use the back of a rake or a similar garden tool to firm the seeds gently into the ground. Cover them with a shallow layer of soil around ¼ of an inch deep and water the bed with a watering can fitted with a sprinkler head. Expect germination within 2 weeks and keep the soil moist. After a month, seedlings may need to be thinned out to prevent overcrowding. Follow the same guidelines for sowing in containers. 

Propagation from Cuttings

Perennial baby’s breath plants can be propagated from basal cuttings. In spring, select 3-4-inch strong shoots with leaves that are just unfurling. Use a clean, sharp knife to take cuttings as close to the base as possible.

Take off any lower leaves and pinch out the soft tip. Dip the end in rooting hormone, either liquid or powder, and place it in a tray of seed compost inside a pre-made hole (made using a dibber or a pencil if there’s nothing else available). Place the tray in a closed propagator with a bottom temperature of 64-75°F or cover it with a plastic bag and put it in a warm area with indirect light.

Make sure the soil stays moist but not overly wet, and twice a week remove the plastic covering for 10 minutes for ventilation. Within 2-4 weeks the cuttings should be rooted and will need to be hardened off before being potted individually. This should be done by gradually increasing the ventilation of the propagator or plastic bag. Plant them out once there is no risk of frost. 

Care and Maintenance

Here are some baby’s breath growth and care tips:

Soil

Plant baby’s breath flowers in light, well-draining soils. They prefer slightly alkaline soils, so adding lime to acidic soils is recommended. These plants will not do well over winter in poorly drained soils.

Water

They are fairly drought tolerant, so once established water them sparingly. They should be given a light watering roughly once a week but this will vary depending on the climate. 

Excessive rain and moisture may cause root problems, and when watering, aim for the base of the plant as wet foliage and flowers may lead to fungal issues. 

Fertilizer

These plants do not require feeding, however, they will perform best in calcium-rich soils.

Sunlight

Plant them in areas that will receive full sunlight. 

Temperature and Humidity

Generally, baby’s breath plant is fairly winter hardy, however double-check before purchasing the tolerance of specific varieties as some types may be less tolerant. For example, G. paniculata is hardy in USDA zones 3-9, whereas G. aretioides is only winter hardy down to zone 5. 

Pest and diseases

Generally trouble-free, these plants can be affected by botrytis and aster yellows. Monitor the plants for any signs of infection, and if spotted cut away and dispose of any infected parts. In the case of aster yellows disease, remove and dispose of the whole plant.

In overly wet environments they are prone to root problems and can also get stem rot. 

Pruning

Cut back baby’s breath plants after flowering to encourage more blooms. Taller varieties may need staking. With perennial varieties, trim them lightly as they begin to die back in fall as required to neaten up the border.

Overwintering

In extremely cold conditions, perennial varieties will benefit from a layer of mulch over winter once they’ve died down. Remove the mulch in early spring before they begin to grow again.

Container-grown perennial types should be sheltered from excessive rain in a cold greenhouse or on the leeward side of a wall. 

Toxicity

Baby’s breath plant is mildly poisonous to people and pets. Consuming these plants may cause an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some people, the sap may also cause contact dermatitis so wearing gloves when handling is recommended for those who are sensitive. Dried flowers can also cause eye, sinus, and nose irritations in some cases. 

Uses of Baby’s Breath

Baby’s breath is a highly popular flower in the florist industry and is used as a filler alongside more showy blooms, especially in wedding bouquets. They make lovely cut flowers for the home too!

Traditionally, their large taproot was used for washing clothes and hair as it contains saponins, a naturally occurring compound that foams when in contact with water. Today they are used as part of the manufacturing process for detergents, soaps, and shampoos. 

There is also research exploring the positive effects of baby’s breath when used alongside well-known anti-cancer drugs and treatments. 

Common Varieties and Cultivars

Here are some of the most popular Gypsophila varieties and cultivars:

  • (G. aretioides) Alpine Baby’s Breath – this is a low-growing, evergreen perennial that has mats of gray-green foliage and small, white, star-shaped flowers. Grow it in containers or rock gardens!
  • (G. cerastioides) Pretty Maid – Pretty Maid is a semi-evergreen plant that produces masses of sweet-scented, pale pink blooms that have dark pink veining. It is mound-forming and well-suited to containers due to its semi-trailing growth habit!
  • (G. paniculata) Common Baby’s Breath – one of the most well-known baby’s breath varieties, this flower is a favorite for bouquets and has white, single, or fully double blooms and blue-green foliage. It may grow as tall as 3 feet.
  • (G. paniculata) Bristol Fairy – Bristol Fairy grows between 2 and 3 feet high with sparse gray-green foliage. Flowers are small, white, and fully doubled.
  • (G. paniculata) Rosy Veil – this lovely cultivar has a compact, bushy habit with gray-green foliage and pale pink, fully double blooms. It is a wonderful choice for cottage-style gardens alongside other favorites like lupines and delphiniums!

Conclusion

Baby’s breath flower is a group of roughly 150 plants that belong to the genus Gypsophila. They can be annuals or perennials, and some species are highly valued in the florist industry for bouquets. They are low-maintenance plants that don’t require feeding, need little pruning and are drought tolerant.  

They are originally from Europe and Asia and are often found growing in areas with gypsum deposits in the ground as these plants love calcium-rich environments. Since their introduction into the US in the 1800s, they have become widely naturalized and are even considered weeds in some parts of the country where they grow freely in meadows, pastures, and sand dunes.

Their flowers can be single to fully double and come in shades of white and pink! Their blooms have a delicate, lacy appearance making them popular for meadow, cottage-style, and coastal gardens!

~ image source: depositphotos/megaflopp