How can anyone name a sweet little flower "baby's breath"? After all, babies put everything into their mouths, and if you don't keep those rugrats away from the litter box, baby's breath can get pretty foul.
We don't sell Infantus halitosis seeds and we never will. We promise. What we do sell are Gypsophila elegans seeds, and there's no doubt that they're more fragrant than stinky babies.
When you think of baby's breath, do you think of the tiny white pom poms that always seem to accent floral arrangements, bouquets, and boutonnieres? We've always thought of Gypsophila paniculata—the most recognizable variety—as the florist's answer to parsley. And when you think of parsley, you might make the connection between the green garnish and its ability to combat bad breath after the fish course.
But like parsley, baby's breath comes in different forms and each deserves to shine in the spotlight. No, we are NOT going to say, "don't put baby's breath in the corner," because that's just trite. Neither are we going to focus on the most recognized, puff-ball variety, which—if you're really honest about it—looks like what babies chirp up after downing a bottle of milk. Today, we're highlighting Gypsophila elegans which, unlike its highly-invasive cousin, is grown as an annual and is easier to keep from escaping and wreaking havoc
You know, like a toddler.
The Gypsophila genus belongs to the expansive Caryophyllaceae (carnation) family. The name Gypsophila means "chalk lover," and baby's breath does prefer an alkaline, sandy soil. Gypsophiles are native to Europe, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Asia, and the perennial varieties have naturalized and become invasive in many places across the globe.
Baby's breath, according to Victorian botanical symbolism, represents purity, innocence, and love, and as noted, florists love to use them to lend texture, color, and structure to bouquets and arrangements. All baby's breath varieties make excellent cut flowers, and some brides have opted for spectacular bouquets and decorations made entirely of these tiny flowers.
Peru is the forerunner in commercial production, though baby's breath is easily grown at home, either as a phenomenal garden plant or for abundant cut flowers.
Gypsophila in the Garden
Have you figured out that we recommend G. elegans over G. paniculata as a garden ornamental? Would you be surprised if we smirked as we told you the latter is called "common baby's breath," while our champion is known as "showy baby's breath?" This isn't an ugly baby contest; we're just partial to our own chil—we mean, varieties. But from here on out, we'll refer to G. elegans as plain ol' baby's breath, though for the most part, both the perennial and the annual varieties are grown and used much the same.
Really, we'd love G. paniculata just as much if it behaved, but since the perennial variety has tendency to become invasive but doesn't thrive in containers—we're more inclined to recommend the annual Gypsophila elegans.
Before we share some ideas for using baby's breath in your landscape, let's take a look at its growing habits and requirements.
USDA Hardiness Zones: Baby's breath thrives in Zones 3 through 9.
Sunlight: Baby's breath requires full sun. Shade will cause it to "reach" for sunlight, making it leggy and unstable.
Moisture: Dry to moist soil; baby's breath is drought tolerant. Overwatering will lead to root rot. (You know...the plant version of diaper rash).
Soil Quality: Sandy to loamy well-drained soil with a pH range between 6.5 and 7.5, leaning towards alkalinity.
Plant Size: Each plant generally grows 18" to 24" tall and wide, though it typically takes on a more spreading (rather than vertical) growth habit. Don't be surprised if your plants reach three feet in width and height.
Flowers: Baby's breath flowers are tiny, about 1.5 centimeters across. Depending on the variety, they can be bell-shaped or have multiple or single cymes (layers of petals). We carry both white and pink varieties, and yeah, they're adorable.
Perennial Gypsophila varieties tend not to bloom until their second year, so our annual varieties score yet another point.
Bloom Time: Baby's breath can begin blooming as early as late spring. Deadheading will encourage bloom production up until the first fall frost.
Foliage: Long (2 to 9 centimeters) oval, narrow leaves grow sparsely from multi-branched, delicate stems.
Pests and Diseases: Leaf-hoppers are vectors for various plant diseases to which baby's breath is susceptible, so keep an eye out for these pests as well as aphids and whiteflies. Poorly-drained soil and crowding by denser, air flow-restricting plants will encourage root rot.
Maintenance: Don't fertilize your baby's breath once it's established, but consider mulching around the base (keeping the stem free) if you're in an extremely arid region. At the end of the season, remove the stems, roots, and debris, or if you've grown a perennial variety, cut it to within an inch of the soil level.
Baby's Breath as a Landscape Design Element
Gypsophila elegans makes wonderful mass plantings or single specimens in both formal and informal gardens, and there are many ways dirt worshippers can capitalize on baby's breath's explosion of abundant, tiny flowers. From a distance, it's difficult to see the wiry green branches, and the plant's blooms appear suspended in space. (This effect is best experienced by gardeners who've accidentally buried their glasses somewhere near their gardenia beds.)
While baby's breath doesn't do particularly well in pots, it does very well in raised or terraced beds. It's also a fabulous rock garden specimen.
One of baby's breath's biggest strengths is the way it acts as a transition between taller and ground-hugging plants. You might use it in front of towering long-stemmed ornamentals such as roses, or amid spring bulb flowers such as irises, lilies, and tulips to provide a visual "blurring" effect between these and lower-growing ornamentals.
We love to pair baby's breath with other members of the carnation family, such as dianthus. Try planting baby's breath near poppies, foxglove, or larkspur for the classic "cottage garden" look, or plant pink baby's breath along a dry riverbed feature to evoke the illusion of Japanese cherry blossoms.
Because of the plant's drought resistance, it really does make a fantastic xeriscaping specimen, adding softness to the shrubbier or stouter plants most commonly used in low-water gardens. Plant it near catmint, columbines, and echinacea (coneflower), or among shrubbier plants like sage, rosemary, and lavender. Baby's breath performs as a "filler" for floral arrangements, but just the same it can fill the spaces between herbaceous perennials without impeding the air circulation these plants need to fend off root fungus.
Do you enjoy landscaping with native grasses? Plant baby's breath in between the larger varieties, such as blue avena or pink muhly grass. Gypsophila's rounded silhouette of leaves and delicate flowers add islands of softness between clusters of short, spiky, blue-green fescue grasses.
Here's an idea to try: If you've planted vines or climbing roses to adorn an arbor or trellis, plant some baby's breath at the base. Trim a few sprigs of your baby's breath as the plants grow and stick them amid the leaves of your climbing plants, or attach them to the structure itself.
And that's as far as we'll delve into baby's breath as a cut flower. You can cruise Instagram and any number of bridal sites to find out why baby's breath is more than an old-school arrangement standby, and how it's being used as the focal point of floral designs instead of an accent. Our goal is to make sure Gypsophila gets a little credit for its value as a living, breathing garden ornamental.
Baby's Breath and Pet Safety
Have you ever heard the old wives' tale about cats stealing the breath from babies? Well, baby's breath isn't going to turn the tables on your putty tat. Plants in the Gypsophilia genus are thought to be only mildly toxic to cats and dogs and is generally safe to plant wherever your pets live and play.
There's a lot of conflicting information out there, so we typically defer to PetPoisonHotline.com:
Baby's breath and other Gypsophila species plants contain gyposenin, a saponin, which may cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract following ingestion.
The ASPCA concurs and considers baby's breath to be non-toxic to pets.
Growing Baby's Breath from Seed
Baby's breath is easy to grow from seed. Once you've selected the right spot and removed any weeds, plant debris, and large clumps, you can sow it directly in your garden. We recommend direct-sowing since these delicate plants don't transplant well, and they don't really need much coddling to get going in the spring.
- Planting Time: Plant baby's breath as soon as all danger of frost has passed.
- Soil Preparation: Incorporate some well-rotted compost into the planting site, especially if your soil is compacted or clay-like. If your soil is too acidic, mix in some lime to achieve the preferred pH balance. Don't enrich the soil too much; baby's breath prefers medium to poor soils.
- Seed Depth: Plant your baby's breath seeds no more than 1/4" deep.
- Spacing: Plant or thin your baby's breath seeds and seedlings to 18". Too much crowding will lead to leggy, "floppy" plants as they compete for sunlight.
- Germination: Gypsophila germinates in 7 to 10 days.
If you're planning on growing baby's breath from seed as a cut flower crop, plan for successive seeding every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest. Baby's breath grows and blooms quickly! You can harvest sprigs or entire stems and dry them on screens or in (carefully!) inverted bouquets in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area.
Adopt Your Baby's Breath Seeds from Seed Needs
Gardening is all about nurturing, but if you're hoping to cultivate Infantus halitosis, you're at the wrong website. If you're looking for fresh baby's breath seeds with optimal viability, you've struck gold. Seed Needs promises to deliver the freshest, highest-quality seeds available, whether your forte' is growing herbs, vegetables, or ornamentals.We package our seeds by hand and are happy to accommodate custom orders. If you're planning on growing an abundant crop of baby's breath for an upcoming event or for your market garden, let us know and we can hook you up with larger quantities. We also create customized packets for wedding favors, and baby's breath is a wonderful choice to gift to your guests!