Baby's Breath

White baby's breath flowers lying on a wooden table
Baby's breath flowers on a table Credit: Exposure Studio on Unsplash

Gypsophila panniculata (Often referred to as gypsophila or "gyp")

Baby’s breath is well known for its cloud like sprays of tiny flowers. They make excellent bouquet fillers and they’re great as dried flowers, too.

They’re a longstanding florist’s favorite as a bouquet filler, and it’s making a big comeback in popularity these days. That’s because of its ability to hold its cloudlike shape and be used in so many ways. It’s especially good for events where they can be crafted into garlands and such without needing water.

The two most often used types of baby’s breath are the perennial baby’s breath (G. panniculata) and the annual one (G. elegans). My preference is definitely for the perennial because it’s so easy to grow and it obviously doesn’t need planting each year.

It’s especially suited for a cottage garden style. Mix it into your flower bed where it will blend with other flowers and they may even pop through the baby’s breath to make a nice display.

It’s said to be deer resistant. And it comes from central Asia and central to eastern Europe.

But there’s a caution here: both perennial and annual baby’s breath are listed as invasive plants in the US. So please keep an eye on it to not let it escape into the wild. Invasive plants have contributed to the decline of 42% of endangered or threatened species in the US. So please take this seriously.

Annual baby’s breath (G. elegans) has larger flowers and is not used by the floral industry. And is not useful in crafting. It has the same cultural requirements and the perennial species (see below), is said to deer resistant, and is good for cutting and drying. It also can be sown repeatedly to give a continuous supply of flowers through the season.

But this page is about the perennial baby’s breath, which I think is easiest to grow. (Remember, plant it once.)

What Baby’s Breath Flowers are Like

Flowers are white, about ¼ in. wide, and single on the species. The best flowers for cutting and drying are the double flowers that form pretty little balls of petals. ‘Bristol Fairy’ for double white flowers and ‘Pink Lady’ for double pink flowers are great ones to use.

Sorry, but they have a rather unpleasant odor as the flowers open. That’s because they release methylbutyric acid which is to attract a certain fly to pollinate them. But it doesn’t last long.

Vase life is long, mostly because if harvested at the right time it will dry in the bouquet.

Bloom time is early to mid-summer.

Cluster of pink baby's breath flowers
'Pink Lady' baby's breath flowers Credit: Jessica Johnston on Unsplash

What the Plants are Like

They form an airy mound up to 3-4 ft. tall and wide. They’re herbaceous perennials, they die back in the winter.

Some varieties are shorter, like the ‘Pink Lady’. It grows to 12” – 24”.

How to Grow Baby’s Breath Plants

Full sun; Zones 4-9; soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline; basically well-draining, average garden soil. Do not overwater! You can let it go fairly dry between waterings as these are fairly drought tolerant.

Plant these where it can stay a long time, they doesn’t like to be moved or divided once their established. Cut all the stems back after they bloom and you may get some repeat bloom.

How to Harvest Baby’s Breath Flowers

Harvest when the flowers are almost all open. If you cut too early the stems will wilt. And harvest a little later for drying them. You can even bunch them and stick them in a vase and they’ll dry right there.

My Favorite Varieties of Baby’s Breath

The following are sold as plants:

‘Bristol Fairy’ is the standard variety grown for floral use.

‘Festival White’ is what I have now, it’s a little shorter.

‘Pink Lady’ is a beautiful pink, double flowers. I had it but I think I overwatered it…

The following is available in seed: (See my instructions on how to start seeds)

‘Snowflake’, gets just as tall as the others

Sources for Baby’s Breath Plants

It’s not always easy to find these plants. So when you’re out plant shopping in the spring, snatch them up. You won’t regret it!

Bluestone Perennials has ‘Bristol Fairy’

American Meadows carries ‘Pink Lady’

Swallowtail Seeds has ‘Snowflake’ seeds; it’s a double, grows to 3-4 ft tall

I got my ‘Festival White’ and my ‘Pink Lady’ at a local nursery one year, but it was a rare offering.

Flowers that Bloom at the Same Time as Baby’s Breath Flowers

Dried bouquet of baby's breath