One busy Valentine’s day at my high school co-op job in the local flower shop, someone ordered a bouquet of so many roses I could barely wrap my fingers around the stems as I assembled it.
Imagine fifty deep red roses surrounded by dark green leatherleaf ferns. Gorgeous, right? But my favorite part was the liberal sprinkling of snowy white “gyp” nestled between the roses.
That’s what my boss called baby’s breath, that white cut flower with the tiny blooms you’ll find in almost any bouquet. It was one of my favorite fillers.
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Simultaneously hardy and delicate, I often saw it growing in the grasslands near my home, and began cultivating it myself in my wildflower garden.
Read on to learn how to grow this perfect garden and bouquet filler at home!
What You’ll Learn
Cultivation and History
Baby’s breath belongs to the Gypsophila genus, part of the Caryophyllaceae family, aka carnations or pinks.
The name Gypsophila translates to lover of gypsum, and it fits well, because this plant loves alkaline soils and grows well in lime or chalk soils.
Gypsophila is native to the steppes of Europe and central to western Asia, and was often used as an ornamental in Victorian gardens.
Also known as soap root in Europe, the roots of plants in this genus contain saponins, which foam and possess cleaning properties when mixed with water.
Some species are still used today as a soap substitute in Europe.
In 1828, G. paniculata was introduced into the United States, where it became known as baby’s breath.
People fell in love with the dainty, airy blooms and florists saw its potential as a versatile cut flower. It’s a staple in every flower shop, and is used in bouquets for every occasion, from weddings to funerals.
Its widespread cultivation in gardens and as a cut flower crop, the fact that each plant can produce over 13,000 seeds each year that readily germinate, and the ease with which it grows in dry, rocky, and sandy soils all contributed to it naturalizing in North America.
G. paniculata is now a common weed in pastures, grasslands, and sand dunes in Canada and the US, and is listed as a noxious weed in Washington and California.
Find out if unwanted spread is an issue in your area via the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Plants Database before you plant it.
There are over 150 species in the Gypsophila genus, with habits ranging from creeping to bushy, and they come in both perennial and annual forms.
Three commonly grown species are panicled, showy, and creeping baby’s breath.
G. paniculata, aka common or panicled baby’s breath, is a tall perennial that grows a 13-feet-long storage taproot.
Small white or pink flowers bloom from the summer to fall, and this species is the favorite among florists. Most cultivars are hardy in Zones 4-9.
G. elegans, showy baby’s breath, is an annual and it produces larger flowers that bloom wide open. This airy plant will bloom for four to six weeks.
This was the baby’s breath I saw growing in the grasslands, and which I unknowingly had sprinkled around my wildflower garden.
G. repens, creeping baby’s breath or alpine gypsophila, is a short, mat-forming perennial species native to the mountains of Europe.
It comes in a variety of colors from white to lilac, and most cultivars are hardy in Zones 2-9.
When dried, all parts of the plant are poisonous, and handling can irritate some people’s skin. Luckily, the effects are often short lived.
When fresh it is mildly toxic to cats if they eat it, so keep your kitty from playing with this plant if possible.
In nature, baby’s breath propagates itself readily via the countless seeds it produces. Transplants can also be purchased from nurseries.
You can collect seeds from your plant, or purchase them online. Each plant produces hundreds of flowers, and each flower may yield four small seeds.
Bag the blooms after they’ve faded to catch the seeds before they self-disperse.
You may direct sow the seeds in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Prepare the soil by loosening the top three inches, making sure it’s moistened (but not soaking wet), and leveling the surface with a rake.
Broadcast the seeds and cover with about three millimeters of soil. Seeds germinate within 10-20 days.
Thin seedlings to six to eight inches (15-20 centimeters) apart. G. elegans makes a beautiful ground cover when planted en masse, so this species may not need thinning.
If you choose to grow the annual type and wish to have blooms all season, direct sow a new batch every two to four weeks until July.
While direct sowing is easy and works well, if you want to start the seeds indoors, sow six to eight weeks before the last frost in a tray of moist propagation medium, as deep as you would in the ground.
Keep the medium moist and at 70°F in a spot out of direct sunlight. Transplant the seedlings into individual pots after the first true leaves appear.
Harden off the plants by slowly introducing them to the outdoors, and transplant into your garden after the last frost.
While some perennial varieties can take two to three seasons to bloom, most will bloom in a year when started from seed.
If you bought a potted perennial variety from a nursery, plant it in the fall if possible. If you plant in the spring or summer, it will need to be watered regularly during that first year, especially G. repens cultivars.
Make sure you choose a spot that is well draining, preferably on the sandy side. Consider doing a soil test to make sure the pH is in the neutral to alkaline range.
Water the plant well before transplanting. Dig a hole slightly larger than the size of the pot, loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole, insert the root ball, and backfill.
Water in after planting.
How to Grow
Perennial baby’s breath is drought and salt tolerant, and all varieties are easy to grow.
While most cultivars are hardy in Zones 4-9, baby’s breath can be sensitive to temperatures under 40°F.
Growers cultivating this plant in controlled environments as a cut crop say ideal temperatures are 59°F at night and 77°F during the day.
Give your plants well-draining, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in a sunny spot, and they will grow splendidly. Compact and acidic soils are a no-no.
The ideal pH range is 7.0-7.5, but slightly acidic levels as low as 6.5 will be tolerated.
Gypsophila will grow in soil types many other plants don’t care for, like dry and gravelly, sandy, or chalky soils, so it is a perfect choice for xeriscaping!
It will do well planted in ordinary garden soil, but make sure to not plant in rich soils. Avoid fertilizing this plant.
Providing too much water can quickly cause issues like root and stem rot, so avoid watering unnecessarily and only water lightly during very dry periods. Water in the morning to give the plants ample time to dry off.
Certain cultivars make great container plants. You can choose from a variety of container types for planting, from hanging baskets to patio planters, as long as you fill it with a well draining soil mix or soilless medium.
Keep an eye on soil moisture, as container-grown plants may dry out faster and require more frequent water than those planted in the ground.
- Plant in lean, dry, neutral to slightly alkaline soil
- Ensure that soil drains well, and do not overwater
- Select a sunny location
Pruning and Maintenance
Prune panicles back after flowering to encourage another bloom and to reduce unwanted seed dispersal. This can be an important strategy in preventing spread outside of your garden.
When the plant is dormant, cut it down to an inch above ground level and cover with a layer of mulch to improve its chances of surviving the winter. If you don’t cut it back, the dry, dead plants can break off and tumble through the garden in winter winds.
Double flowered cultivars may be grafted onto hardier single flowered rootstock. If you purchased a grafted plant from a nursery, avoid pruning below the graft union.
If your plant is leaning or having trouble standing up, stake it with a piece of bamboo inserted in the ground near the base of the plant for extra support. Baby’s breath tends to flop over when it receives too little light, so make sure to plant in full sun if possible.
Cultivars to Select
There is a variety of cultivars to choose from within the three species of Gypsophila that are commonly grown in home gardens. Here are some of our favorites:
Showy baby’s breath lives up to its name, and looks great planted on its own or sown in between a bunch of bright wildflowers.
This annual compact variety produces gorgeous star-shaped rose red flowers on stems that grow up to 18 inches tall. Hardy in Zones 3-10.
This annual branched variety has small, white, wide open blooms, and it grows up to 24 inches tall, making it an excellent cut flower.
Packages of 800 seeds are available from Burpee.
The species most popularly used in bouquets, panicled or common baby’s breath is the tall plant in the family.
Thousands of tiny white double blossoms grace the billowing, branched flower heads of this popular perennial beauty. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
Packets of 30 seeds from The Clayton Farm are available on Amazon.
‘Festival Star’ features snow white flowers on a compact perennial plant that is hardy in Zones 5-11, and doesn’t require deadheading for continuous, summer-long blooms!
Plants in quart-size containers are available at Nature Hills Nursery.
‘Bristol Fairy’ in pink form! This cultivar features double pale pink flowers on tall stems.
Alpine gypsophila, or creeping baby’s breath, makes a beautiful ground cover and comes in a wider variety of colors than the other two species described above.
Masses of bright white star-shaped flowers cover the surface of this mat-forming perennial. Also makes an excellent, eye-popping ground cover.
Hardy in Zones 2-9 and container friendly.
This perennial, creeping cultivar will bloom with rose pink flowers continuously throughout the season, and also works as a ground cover.
Hardy in Zones 2-9 and container friendly.
Managing Pests and Disease
Though baby’s breath is generally a hardy, low maintenance plant, issues can arise, especially if there is too much moisture.
We’re not the only ones that love baby’s breath. Several insects find it pretty delicious.
A common pest of many plants, aphids seem to enjoy sucking on leaves of baby’s breath too.
It’s easy to identify these soft bodied insects, even though the damage they cause is often not obvious until the leaves begin to curl.
If the undersides of the leaves are crawling with aphids, try applying a horticultural oil like this one, available at Arbico Organics.
Learn more about how to manage aphids in the garden in our guide.
Japanese beetles chew characteristic, unsightly holes in plant leaves. You can pick the beetles off by hand early in the morning and dispose of them in a bucket of soapy water.
If there are too many adult beetles to hand pick or shake off and you want to try a spray, consider BotaniGard Maxx, which is also available at Arbico Organics.
These bugs spook easily, and as their name suggests, will bounce away when disturbed – so they can be hard to identify. You may notice tiny hopping insects when you get close to or brush up against your plant.
Leafhoppers suck on plants, leaving light green or yellow stipples behind on the leaves, and they serve as a vector for diseases such as aster yellows (read more about that below).
Most control options are best used before populations are established. Unfortunately, once the damage is visible, leafhopper populations tend to be high.
However, if you do notice leafhopper damage and want to catch them before they cause more damage, you can try applying BotaniGard Maxx to rid the garden of these pests as well.
Surprise, surprise, another leaf eater. Slugs are occasional Gypsophila pests that will chew holes into or sometimes eat entire leaves. You can handpick these as well.
Though generally disease-free, several diseases can affect the stems and foliage of baby’s breath, mainly during wet periods.
Alternaria Leaf Spot
In warm and humid or wet weather, fungi in the Alternaria genus produce round reddish-brown spots, sometimes with gray centers, on the leaves.
To prevent spread, remove diseased plant parts and prune to improve airflow.
If that doesn’t help, try applying BioSafe Disease Control spray, available at Arbico Organics.
If you notice your plant is stunted, growing excessive branches, and its flowers are deformed and maybe have green petals, you might suspect aster yellows.
This is caused by a phytoplasma vectored by leafhoppers.
To control aster yellows, you will need to manage leafhoppers and keep the surrounding area weed free.
If the soil is wet or not draining well, baby’s breath can suffer from root rot. You may notice yellow or wilting foliage. Stop if you are watering.
Unfortunately, this plant doesn’t respond well to being transplanted, so rehoming plants to better locations is not a good strategy.
Make sure to start with well draining soil in the first place, to prevent this disease.
G. paniculata is a popular bouquet filler in floristry. The airy white blooms add dimension, texture, and a pop of white.
To use your own baby’s breath plant as a cut flower, snip stems when half the flowers are open and add to bouquets of flowers, greenery, or just display it on its own!
To dry it to use in arrangements later, cut early in the morning and hang upside down in a dry, dark place for at least two weeks.
You can use any species of baby’s breath as a filler in the garden too! It looks beautiful planted in small groups, in rock gardens, as a border, or in between wildflower plantings.
It is often included in flower seed mixes, such as this one from Botanical Interests.
Try it in a pretty pot on your patio or a hanging basket on your deck.
The taller cultivars work as an excellent screen to mask the dying stems and foliage of early bloomers such as spring bulbs and oriental poppies.
Let mat-forming ground cover cultivars cascade over rocks or concrete walls, or use as a thickly flowered edging plant.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Flowering annual or perennial||Flower / Foliage Color:||Pink, white/green|
|Native to:||Europe, central and western Asia||Maintenance:||Low|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||4-9||Tolerance:||Deer, drought, salt|
|Bloom Time:||Summer to fall||Soil Type:||Average to sandy|
|Exposure:||Full sun||Soil pH:||6.5-7.5|
|Spacing:||6-10 feet||Soil Drainage:||Well-draining|
|Planting Depth:||3 millimeters (seeds), depth of root ball (transplants)||Attracts:||Butterflies|
|Height:||4-24 inches, depending on species||Uses:||Borders, ground cover, mixed plantings|
|Spread:||12-24 inches, depending on species||Family:||Caryophyllaceae|
|Water Needs:||Low||Species:||Elegans, paniculata, repens|
|Common Pests:||Aphids, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, slugs||Common Diseases:||Alternaria leaf spot, aster yellows, root rot|
Baby’s Breath: Exactly as You’d Imagine It
The common name says it all: these flowers are delicate and cute. Unlike a new baby though, Gypsophila is easy to care for and does well without much attention.
Broadcast the seeds and let it fill in bald areas of your garden, add texture and volume to wildflower plantings, and enhance your home garden bouquets. Ta-daa!
It’s a filler that never gets old. Where have you spotted it… a wedding, at a baby shower, in a romantic gift from a special someone? Tell me in the comments below!
Plus, if you grow it, which species do you have and where do you grow it in your garden?
Find some amazing ideas on where and how to use baby’s breath, including some fun ways to arrange it in these guides next:
- Grow Your Own Cut Flower Garden
- Make a Romantic Blooming Heart Centerpiece in 6 Easy Steps
- Put Your Green Thumb to the Test: Arranging Foliage from Your Garden
Photo by Sylvia Dekker © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Arbico Organics, Botanical Interests, Burpee, Nature Hills Nursery, and The Clayton Farm. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.