Baby's Breath

Baby's Breath
Baby’s breath or gypsophila is a familiar cut flower. This filler flower is so common in the floral industry. Also known as gyp, the stems are available year-round commercially. The fresh stems have a vase life of about a week or so.

Originally from cooler areas of Europe, this is native to the Caucasus, Pyrenees, and the Alps. However, it is adaptable enough to grow in other climates. In fact, this deserves a place in every cutting garden.

Baby’s breath is by no means flamboyant or spectacular. However, the masses of tiny, fragrant blossoms are eye-catching nonetheless. The delicate blooms open in flat-topped clusters or branched panicles. As cut flowers, they are often combined with vivid blossoms of other colors.

The tiny flowers are bell-shaped. At the most, they will be about ½ inch across. Appearing in large numbers, these open on rather bushy shaped plants. Depending on the variety, the blooms may be single or double.

The stems look dainty and thread-like. But, they are actually quite sturdy. Though these blossoms are often white, there are numerous pink varieties available as well. The foliage tends to be inconspicuous.

Whole stems of baby’s breath are used in bouquets and other floral arrangements, especially for weddings. In addition, small clusters of the flowers are used for boutonnieres and corsages.

When you are working with fresh baby’s breath stems, keep them in a cool place if possible. At higher temperatures, the blooms don’t last as long.

One nice thing about baby’s breath is that it is used both as a fresh flower and as an everlasting. It is hardly any trouble at all to let the stems air dry. Just cut the stems, and hang them in bunches in a shady spot where there is plenty of air movement.

Baby’s breath is an excellent choice for cutting gardens. Most of the time, baby’s breath does best in full sun. The exceptions are usually farther south where they benefit from some shade during the afternoon.

Baby’s breath prefers a well-drained soil, either neutral to alkaline.

The seeds of baby’s breath germinate in about one to two weeks. These should be lightly covered. Most varieties will start blooming in about eight to ten weeks. If you live in an area with a long growing season, you could direct sow these seeds in the cutting garden where they are to grow. In some cases, this method works out very well because baby’s breath doesn’t always transplant very well.

In addition to seed, baby’s breath can be grown from cuttings. This method would be used mostly for perennial kinds.

In the cutting garden, baby’s breath should be spaced about 1½ to two feet apart. This allows the plants to produce lots of stems. For cutting gardens, I prefer to grow the perennial types so I don’t have to replant every year.

Normally, baby’s breath is pretty much free of most insect and disease problems. The only ones I’ve seen are aphids. These can easily be controlled by using insecticidal soap or a spray of water from a hose. It may be necessary to apply the water several times. But, it eventually gets rid of the insects.

So far as varieties are concerned, there are many kinds of baby’s breath available. Some of the dwarf types were bred for garden use rather than cut flowers. I would recommend the taller varieties. Perennial baby’s breath grows to about three feet.

Covent Garden baby’s breath is one of the most popular annual varieties of baby’s breath. This grows to about 1½ feet in height. The single-type blossoms are pure white. Of the perennial types, Double Snowflake baby’s breath is just delightful. Growing to about 2½ feet tall, this has snow white blooms.

Thompson and Morgan offers seeds of these varieties and others for 2006.

The word gypsophila comes from two root words. Gypso refers to gypsum,
while philo means love as in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.

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