How to Grow Baby's Breath
Despite its soft, sweet name and wedding-bouquet reputation, baby's breath (Gypsophila paniculata) has a dark double life as an invasive weed. The tiny white blossoms that fill out flower displays grow on perennial plants that grow to 3 feet tall and wide. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, baby's breath has escaped cultivation and naturalized across much of the northern United States and Canada. If you decide to grow baby's breath, consider the annual plant (Gypsophila muralis), which is not invasive.
Locate your baby's breath plant in full sun for fastest growth. The plant also grows in partial sun. Select an appropriate location the first time around, because baby's breath does not do well if transplanted.
Plant baby's breath in any well-drained soil that is alkaline, with a pH range from 7.0 to 7.5. In the wild, the plant grows well almost anywhere, on sandy, grassy or loamy soils in disturbed areas, beside roads, and even in ditches and cemeteries. As long as the soil drains well, your baby's breath should do well.
Space the plants a yard apart -- each should grow some 3 feet wide. If you plant in a windy area, stake the plants when they are young. As a baby's breath plant matures, it becomes stiffer, and staking without breaking becomes more difficult.
Water weekly after planting for the first few months. Irrigate infrequently if at all after the plant is established in your garden. Baby's breath prefers dry soils and tolerates drought.
Avoid fertilizer. Baby's breath grows vigorously on dry, infertile soil and generally does not suffer from pest attacks or disease.
Deadhead wilted blossoms by clipping them off at a leaf node. This encourages the plant to reflower. Be sure to sterilize your pruners before using them by wiping with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol.
Occasionally baby's breath may be susceptible to botrytis blight, a fungal disease. You can head off this problem by spacing your baby's breath appropriately, never using fertilizers on the flowers and limiting irrigation, especially overhead watering.
If you decide to plant perennial baby's breath, keep an eye on your plants. Even small plantings spread over time and infest wild areas. Each plant produces some 14,000 seeds that remain viable for two years. The dense stands it forms are very difficult to eradicate.
Don't eat this plant. The flowers and foliage, when dried, are poisonous. It also can irritate skin on contact and cause asthma.
Teo Spengler is a docent with the San Francisco Botanical Garden and a staff writer with Gardening Know How. She has written hundreds of gardening and plant articles for sites like eHow Gardening, Gardening Know How and Hunker. She holds a JD in law from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.