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Often used in various floral arrangements, ‘baby’s breath’ or ‘babe’s breath’ are known for their delicate appearance and lovely blossoms. There are about 150 different annual and perennial species of baby’s breath around the world which bloom in hundreds in summer and fall.
Depending on the said species, these can be grown as creeping, widespread ground covers or tall, wide shrubs. Despite its frail appearance, baby’s breath is known as a resilient flowering plant that can survive in many climates with very little maintenance.
About Baby’s Breath
Botanically named “gypsophila”, baby’s breath belongs to the carnation family, also known as “Caryophyllaceae”. Indigenous to Turkey, Australia, Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa, the plant later gained popularity in many other regions around the world as well.
Baby’s breath produces little, dainty flowers with button-like petals and bluish or greyish-green foliage with slender, linear leaves. They can be grown in USDA zones 3 to 9.
Types of Baby’s Breath
Here’s a look at some of the most common types of baby’s breath plants grown in gardens and used for floral decorations around the world:
1. Gypsophila Paniculata
This is the most common variety of baby’s breath used in flower arrangements as a type of filler flowers. They have airy, pure white or pinkish white blooms that appear from early summer to early fall. They can grow to a maximum height of 4 feet.
2. Gypsophila Muralis
Also known as “Annual baby’s breath”, these plants are ideal for indoor and outdoor hanging baskets, but can also be grown in other containers, flower beds or borders. They produce white, purple, or pink flowers in semi or fully double form in the spring to late summer.
3. Gypsophila Pilosa
These plants are called “Turkish baby’s breath” due to the fact that they’re indigenous to Turkey in North African regions. They have broad leaves and pink or white flowers that are often used in bridal bouquets.
4. Gypsophila Repens
Unlike many other varieties of baby’s breath, these plants creep and spread along the ground and rocks. They’re also known as “alpine gypsophila” and are native to Southern Europe. It has starry-shaped flowers that bloom in white and a few shades of purple.
5. Gypsophila Elegans
When grown and taken care of properly, these plants produce flowers throughout the whole year. They’re also known as “Showy baby’s breath” as their flowers are larger and more ‘showy’ in comparison to many of the other types of baby’s breath.
6. Gypsophila Arabica
These shrubs grow up to about 80 cm high and produce beautiful blossoms. They come in various colors including white, purple, and lilac. Mostly found in Middle East regions, these are also called “dessert baby’s breath”.
How to Plant Baby’s Breath
Baby’s breath are invasive plants that spread out quickly and compete with other plants for nutrients, water, space, and other growth factors. In some regions of USA and Canada, they’re considered a type of wildflowers.
There are special guidelines on planting baby’s breath flowers so if you’re planning to plant some, remember to check whether there are any that apply to your area. These guidelines can be checked through the Plants Database of “USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service”.
The best time to begin planting is either in the late spring or early summer, after the winter frost has disappeared completely. When planted on time and taken good care of, baby’s breath will start producing flowers by summer due to its fast growth rate. The flowers continue to bloom for about 5-14 days.
Propagating Baby’s Breath Plants
Baby’s breath can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. Here’s how to do it:
Propagating Baby’s Breath from Seeds – Outdoors
- When sowing seeds directly in the ground, first choose a location with well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight.
- Remove all the weeds, rocks, and other debris to prepare the garden beds. To improve better drainage, you can try making raised garden beds or tilted ones.
- Sow the seeds, keeping them about 9 inches (23 cm) apart.
- Cover them with a thin layer of soil about ¼ inches (6 mm) thick, and pat down firmly.
- Water the beds weekly, enough to keep the soil moist but not too wet.
- Once the seedlings have sprouted, thin them to avoid overcrowding.
Propagating Baby’s Breath from Seeds – Indoors
- Start the process 6-8 weeks before replanting the plants outside.
- When choosing containers, pick small ones with enough drainage holes.
- Add a seed starter mix when preparing the soil.
- After sowing the seeds, spread a very thin layer of fine soil over them and keep them in a place with a temperature of about 70-72 Fahrenheit (21-22 C) for a better germination. If you want to quicken the germination process, you can try using a heating mat.
- Place the pots somewhere in direct sunlight and water them enough to keep the soil moist continuously.
- After the frost is over, replant or move your plants outdoors.
Propagating Baby’s Breath from Cuttings
- To propagate these plants from cuttings, choose a well-established, healthy plant from which you can take the cuttings.
- Make the cuttings about 3-5 inches (7-13 cm) long. Remember to make each cut just below a leaf and to remove the leaves from the bottom third parts of those cuttings.
- Plant the cuttings in containers with potting soil by burying the bottom inch of the stems. For better results, you can dip the cuttings in some hormone powder before planting.
- Cover the plants with clear plastic bags to keep them warm and place them away from direct sunlight.
- Water the cuttings only to keep the soil moist until the roots grow and the plants get well-established.
- After about a month, you can either re-pot them or transplant them in the garden beds.
Baby’s breath thrive in well-drained, alkaline soil that’s slightly sandy and rich with organic matter. The pH value of the soil should be between 6.0-7.5 which is the optimal range. Plants that are grown in soil with a lesser or higher pH level than that can have various complications.
If the soil isn’t up to the said standards, you can increase its richness by adding good organic compost or mixing some grit and organic mulch. If you need to increase the pH level, add some garden lime to the soil.
Sunlight, Temperature and Humidity
Baby’s breath is a sun-loving plant that needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, in the hottest weather conditions, they can grow well in partial shade. There are both annual and perennial varieties so their temperature and humidity requirements can differ depending on the variety.
For example, the annuals can withstand more heat while the perennial types are more tolerant to cold climates. However, one thing that’s common for all varieties of baby’s breath is that they all prefer dry climates with low humidity.
Baby’s breath plants can thrive with little water in normal weather conditions, so they’re not picky when it comes to watering. However, the young unestablished plants need to be watered well to retain soil moisture they’re strong and stable enough to survive in dry weather conditions.
In such cases, water your plants well at least once a week until the top 1 inch of the soil surface gets wet. For plants that are already mature, one inch of watering is enough per week and you can either increase or reduce the amount of water according to any climate changes. The best time of the day to water your baby’s breath is the morning as it will give the foliage time to dry out by evening.
Baby’s breath plants are light feeders that don’t require heavy fertilizing. If the soil is in ideal condition, an occasional supply of organic compost is enough to keep the plants thriving.
To boost plant growth, however, feed the plants monthly with an all-purpose fertilizer, especially during the growing and blooming seasons. Use a fertilizer that includes nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in equal amounts for best results.
Common Pest Infestations
The common pests that harm baby’s breath plants include:
- Japanese beetles
If any of these pests are attacking your baby’s breath plants, you’ll notice sticky residues on the plants as well as, damaged, distorted, and blotched leaves and flowers. In the early stages, you can handpick these insects and pests to remove them but in case of a heavy population use a stream of soapy water to wash them off of the plants. Avoid using strong soaps and detergents, however, because they can kill the plants off, along with the pests.
Spray the plants thoroughly with a good pesticide or insecticide to repel the remaining insects and prevent attracting new ones. The use of natural predators such as wasps and lady beetles is also a good way to control some pests like aphids since they feed on them.
Controlling Infections and Diseases
Baby’s breath is prone to some diseases and fungus infections such as:
- Root rots
- Aster yellow
- Crown rot
- Alternaria leaf spot
While few of these are spread through insects and pests, most are caused due to nutrition disorders, under- or over- watering, and bad air circulation. Many of these can be prevented beforehand by taking care of your plants properly.
When a plant is infected, you can identify these diseases and infections by paying attention to the following symptoms:
- Discolored, distorted, wilted, and spotted leaves, stems, and flowers,
- Deformed plants
- Excessive or lack of growth
- The lack of blooming
- Gray or white mold
- Rotting or decaying parts
Infected plants cannot be fully cured, so remove and separate them from the healthy ones and then burn or bury them to avoid the infection from spreading to other plants. Finally, use a suitable fungicide to spray the plants, their surrounding atmosphere, and soil to destroy any remaining spores.
Baby’s breath is a diverse flowering plant that’s extremely easy to grow and care for. Just a bit of attention in their early stages of growth and after that, they practically grow by themselves. Not only do these lovely plants add a glamorous touch to their surroundings, they also save the effort and a lot of time in the course of gardening.