Fronds of Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’
The Perennial Plant Association has named Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year. This perennial low-maintenance Japanese painted fern is one of the showiest ferns for shade gardens. It is popular due to its hardiness nearly everywhere in the United States, except in the desert and northernmost areas in zone 3. ‘Pictum’ grows 18 inches tall and as it multiplies can make a clump that is more than two feet wide. ‘Pictum’ produces 12- to 18-inch fronds that are a soft shade of metallic silver-gray with hints of red and blue. This lovely fern, which prefers partial to full shade, makes an outstanding combination plant for adding color, texture, and habit to landscape beds and containers.
The magnificent texture and color of the fronds electrify shady areas of the garden and make the fern a wonderful companion for a variety of shade plants. Japanese painted fern provides a nice contrast to other shade-loving perennials such as hosta, bleeding heart, columbine, astilbe and coral bells. A popular combination is Japanese painted fern with Hosta ‘Patriot’ and ‘Ginko Craig’.
Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ does well in shady conditions.
For something different, try Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. Another friendly companion plant for the Japanese painted fern is Tiarella (foam flower). One of the most unique possibilities is to use this fern with sedges. Carex (sedges) are shade-loving, easy-to-grow grasslike plants. Try Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’ or Carex siderosticha ‘Silver Sceptre’. Other selections that are excellent compliments to Japanese painted fern include Brunnera macrophylla ‘Langtrees’, ‘Silver Wings’, or ‘Jack Frost’; Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’ and ‘Purple Dragon’; Astilbe ‘Snowdrift’; Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Sprite’; and Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’. Use these selections with white flowers or variegated leaves to echo or pick other colors for contrast. Most any plant will make a great counterpart to the graceful, attractive, and versatile Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’.
This fern needs a well-drained, compost-rich soil and flourishes where moisture and humidity abound. ‘Pictum’ grows best in part- to full shade. The best frond color results in light shade. In the south, a few hours of morning sun will bring out the high colors.
This fern stars with other perennials.
In the north they will take more morning sun without sunburning. The colors are more intense in the spring or in cooler temperatures or in cooler climates such as the Northwest. Add 2-3 inches of compost or peat moss to the beds each spring or fall. This fern is extremely reliable when grown in the proper environmental conditions. Its colorful foliage should be vibrant from early spring until frost, when it will go dormant and reemerge with its excellent foliage the next spring.
Propagation can be done by tissue culture, spring or fall divisions or by planting spores. Growth habit and color uniformity is not ensured by spore propagation. Tissue culture may be used to clone exceptional plants, which are selected for excellent frond color and growth habit. Excellent selections of Japanese painted fern may also be produced by clump division. It is easy for a homeowner to buy the more colorful and uniform plants in the quantity needed or buy a few and divide the clumps yearly as needed. A well-grown plant can be separated in early spring into 3-4 divisions and replanted. Fertilize at one-half the rate of other perennials with an organic or time-release fertilizer.
Hardiness: Grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Light: Part to full shade. The best frond color results in light shade.
Soil: Japanese painted fern needs well-drained, compost-rich soil.
Uses: The Japanese painted fern makes an outstanding combination plant for adding color, texture and habit to the shade garden.
Unique Qualities: The low-maintenance Japanese painted fern is versatile and provides impressive contrasting foliage that brightens landscape beds and containers. Fronds are 12 to 18-inches long and are a soft, metallic, silver-gray with hints of red and blue.
Planting Information: Japanese painted fern performs best in well-drained but moist soil with added organic compost or peat moss. It flourishes where moisture and humidity abound.
– from the Perennial Plant Association webpage (www.perennialplant.org/ppy/04ppy.htm)
- Anisocampium Species, Japanese Painted Fern
- Plant of the Week: Painted Fern, Japanese
- Japanese Painted FernLatin: Athyrium nipponicum pictum
- How to Grow a Japanese Painted Fern
- Japanese Painted Fern
- More Information About Athyrium
- Athyrium: Lady Fern
- Landscape Uses:
- Medicinal Uses:
- Some varieties you can often find at Portland Nursery include:
- Athyrium filix-femina ‘Cristatum’
- Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’
- Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’
- Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’
- Athyrium niponicum: Japanese Painted Fern
- Athyrium niponicum: ‘Pictum’
- Athyrium niponicum: ‘Burgundy Lace’
- Athyrium niponicum: ‘Silver Falls’
- Athyrium ‘Ghost’
- Athyrium otophorum: Eared Lady Fern
- Japanese Painted Fern: Learn How To Grow A Japanese Painted Fern
- Types of Japanese Painted Fern
- Where to Plant Japanese Painted Ferns
- Japanese Painted Fern
- Colorful Combinations
- Japanese Painted Fern Care Must-Knows
- More Varieties of Japanese Painted Fern
- Plant Japanese Painted Fern With:
Anisocampium Species, Japanese Painted Fern
View this plant in a garden
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Partial to Full Shade
Grown for foliage
12-18 in. (30-45 cm)
15-18 in. (38-45 cm)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
Where to Grow:
Unknown – Tell us
Unknown – Tell us
Unknown – Tell us
Unknown – Tell us
Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:
San Francisco, California
Thousand Oaks, California
Fruitland Park, Florida
Marietta, Georgia(2 reports)
Cherry Valley, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois(2 reports)
Mount Prospect, Illinois
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
West Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Cedar Springs, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Royal Oak, Michigan
South Lyon, Michigan
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Young America, Minnesota
Kansas City, Missouri
Manchester, New Hampshire
Neptune, New Jersey
Bellmore, New York
Coram, New York
Hannibal, New York
Jefferson, New York
Montauk, New York
Port Washington, New York
Ronkonkoma, New York
Sag Harbor, New York
Raleigh, North Carolina(3 reports)
Belfield, North Dakota
Cincinnati, Ohio(2 reports)
Columbus, Ohio(2 reports)
Dayton, Ohio(2 reports)
North Ridgeville, Ohio
Saint Marys, Ohio
Gold Hill, Oregon
Oregon City, Oregon
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Wakefield, Rhode Island
Conway, South Carolina
Hampton, South Carolina
North Augusta, South Carolina
Rock Hill, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina(2 reports)
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Austin, Texas(2 reports)
Fort Worth, Texas(2 reports)
Mc Kinney, Texas
Missouri City, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Salt Lake City, Utah
South Jordan, Utah
Newport News, Virginia
Ames Lake, Washington
Port Orchard, Washington
Union Hill-Novelty Hill, Washington
Charleston, West Virginia
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Plant of the Week: Painted Fern, Japanese
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.
Japanese Painted Fern
Latin: Athyrium nipponicum pictum
Ferns make a shade garden. Their delicate, wispy fronds cool the mind almost as effectively as the air conditioner cools the body. And of the ferns, the favorite woodland fern of most gardeners is the beautiful silvery-white Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum pictum).
The Japanese painted fern is a hardy, deciduous fern that grows to 18-inches tall and wide. The fronds are twice compound with the blades silvery-white and suffused with green. The stem of the frond (the rachis) is red or purple, giving a delightful blend of colors that give rise to the common name.
I find no reference as to when the Japanese painted fern was introduced into our gardens, but it was probably one of the innumerable new plants Victorian gardeners introduced during the middle of the 19th century.
During the height of the Victorian period, ferns became popular in parlors and in gardens. In parlors, ferns were encased under glass bell jars or sometimes used as part of elaborate table decorations. A non-green fern such as the Japanese painted fern must have caused quite a stir when it was introduced.
A few years ago, I became a bit more acquainted with this fern than intended, thanks to some unused space on my Visa card. At a nursery trade show, I came across a fern supplier selling all manner of fern liners – small fern starts that had been grown in tissue culture. Individually, the price was low, but because I had to buy them by the flat and because enough flats had to be purchased to fill a case, I soon found myself the proud owner of more ferns than I knew what to do with and no longer bothered by pesky space on my Visa card.
The Japanese painted fern quickly proved to be my favorite. Painted ferns that were planted away from the sprinklers and into clayey soil on my dry hillside are about the same size today as they were a decade ago. Plants that were planted into well-amended soils with ample organic matter and irrigation have grown well and make an attractive foot-tall groundcover bed that shines in the shade.
But the painted ferns that have done the best are some planted in a bed filled with old potting soil. This bed receives sun from noon to 4 p.m. but is far enough from the trees that there is no root competition. These plants are nearly 2-feet tall and wide. They are so happy in this site that new sporelings are popping up at the margins of the planting. Japanese painted fern is not normally adapted to sunny sites, but because this bed is uniformly moist, they seem to tolerate the midsummer sun without a fuss.
Of the dozen or so ferns I have grown from spores, the Japanese painted fern has proven to be the easiest species to work with. Growing ferns from spores takes lots of patience but little actual work. I collect spores from the standing fronds in the garden sometime in November. After drying the fronds for a week or two in an envelope, the dust size spores can be easily harvested by gently tapping the fronds on a piece of white paper. Fill a new plastic pot with fresh, moist potting soil and then dust the spores across the surface of the soil. Seal the pot inside a plastic bag and place it on a warm windowsill where it gets good light but not direct sun. Then wait.
In about 10 weeks, a green algae-like film should begin growing across the surface of the pot. In another couple months, some of this green mat will begin to develop small ear-shaped structures called prothali. Up until this stage it’s best to keep the pot sealed in its plastic bag and maintain moisture and humidity near 100 percent.
After another couple months, these prothali will produce small fronds and the plastic should be removed in stages to acclimate the new plants to the real world environment. When the first fronds begin forming the individual plants can be teased apart and transplanted into bedding plant trays.
In another three to four months, the plants will be large enough to transplant into a larger container prior to moving to the garden.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – June 27, 2003
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
How to Grow a Japanese Painted Fern
The vibrant colors of a Japanese painted fern look beautiful growing next to other flowers or under any tree. The fern thrives on partial sunlight and highly acidic soil. The Japanese painted fern is fairly easy to take care of, and it grows next to other plants without fighting over root space or water. Many gardeners consider this fern as the prized jewel in their gardens.
Tools You May Need:
(Read through entire article to determine which tools you need.)
* Japanese painted fern
* Compost or mulch
* Garden shovel
* Sharp kitchen knife
Step 1 – Plant or Transplant the Fern
Whether you are planting a new Japanese painted fern or are transplanting an existing one to save it, finding a good spot for the plant is the hardest part of caring for it. Japanese painted ferns need to have partial sunlight, so planting the fern under the east side of a tree will give it the perfect morning sunlight and shade it from the harsh noon sun. Plant the fern with plenty of natural compost or mulch to give the fern acidic nutrients.
Step 2 – Water the Fern
Make sure to water your fern right after planting, to eliminate any air pockets that may have formed during planting or transplanting. Make sure to water the fern about once every 2 weeks, or once a week if you live in areas with extreme heat, such as in the desert. Japanese painted ferns are hardy plants, and they do not need to be watered often, but if you forget to water your fern every 2 weeks, it will lose it color and begin to droop.
Step 3 – Deal with Bug Problems
Any garden can encounter a bug problem, especially if the garden hosts plants that harvest food. If you encounter a bug problem with your Japanese painted fern, you can use a weak bug spray or buy some ladybugs to remove other bugs without harming any plants in your garden. If you realize this bug problem too late, the bugs will eat the leaves completely off the fern. If this happens, don’t panic; the fern should grow back next year just as full as it was before.
Step 4 – Divide Your Fern (Optional)
Dividing your fern is completely optional, but it can be a good way to have more Japanese painted ferns around the yard without you buying more. To divide the fern, remove it from the soil and cut right down the middle of the fern with the sharp knife. Make sure to cut down the middle of the bulb as well so there are roots on both sides. If the plant is not properly divided, the smaller half of the fern will die. After dividing the fern, plant both sides of the fern separately. If you are planting the ferns side by side, make sure to leave about a foot between them.
After you replant the ferns, make sure to care for them as explained above, and you can enjoy the painted ferns for years to come.
Japanese Painted Fern
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Other Species Names: Crested Japanese Painted Fern
Plant Height: 18 in.
Spread: 24 in.
Plant Form: arching
Emergent Foliage Color: indian red
Summer Foliage Color: olive
Minimum Sunlight: shade
Maximum Sunlight: partial shade
Japanese Painted Fern’s attractive ferny bipinnately compound leaves emerge indian red in spring, turning olive green in color with showy silver variegation throughout the season. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant. The burgundy stems are very colorful and add to the overall interest of the plant.
Japanese Painted Fern is a dense herbaceous fern with a shapely form and gracefully arching fronds. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect.This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and usually looks its best without pruning, although it will tolerate pruning. Deer don’t particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics. Japanese Painted Fern is recommended for the following landscape applications; Mass Planting, Border Edging, General Garden Use, Groundcover, Naturalizing and Woodland Gardens
Planting & Growing
Japanese Painted Fern will grow to be about 18 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. Its foliage tends to remain dense right to the ground, not requiring facer plants in front. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 15 years.This plant does best in partial shade to shade. It prefers to grow in moist to wet soil, and will even tolerate some standing water. It is particular about its soil conditions, with a strong preference for rich, acidic soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone over the growing season to conserve soil moisture. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America, and parts of it are known to be toxic to humans and animals, so care should be exercised in planting it around children and pets. It can be propagated by division; however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.
More Information About Athyrium
Athyrium (Lady fern) has long been prized (especially during the Victorian fern craze) for being an easy-to-grow and spectacular group of deer-resistant, hardy, deciduous, garden fern. Although Athyrium niponicum (Japanese painted fern) came into the picture much later, it’s popularity has now surpassed that of the lady fern.
The sheer number of named selections of the Athyrium filix-femina lady ferns, boggles the mind. The two most popular of the Victorian lady fern selections that have stood the test of time include Athyrium ‘Frizelliae’ (Tatting fern), and Athyrium ‘Victoriae’ (cross fern). The most popular of the new lady fern plants is the wonderful Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’. Despite the popularity of the genus Athyrium, most gardeners have never grown more than a fraction of the 80-plus species and many do not realize that some species are North Carolina native plants.
The Asian species Athyrium niponicum (Japanese Painted Fern) is also extremely popular and was selected as the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year. The diversity of Japanese painted fern foliage color has led to wonderful cultivars such as ‘Burgundy Lace’. In recent years, several fern hybrids have entered the market, most between the Lady fern and the Japanese Painted fern. The most popular continues to be Athyrium ‘Ghost’, with its lovely silver upright foliage.
As you can imagine by their popularity, most members of the genus Athyrium are quite easy to grow in a wide variety of garden conditions. As a rule, moist well drained soils produce the best results.
Plant Delights Nursery has a huge collection of over 1000 hardy ferns in our garden. If you are looking to buy a fern plant, especially a hard-to-find, cold hardy, garden fern, check out our list of ferns for sale.
Check out our blog posts about Japanese Painted Ferns and about other Athyrium.
Athyrium: Lady Fern
For us avid gardeners in the Pacific NW, where our damp winters create perfect climates for ferns, it is hard to imagine any garden without them.
On hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, it is the ferns growing out of a rotting log, on the side of a living trunk, or on a stone cliff face near a waterfall, that make me feel at home and deeply cared for. Ferns do not flower and may rarely be the specimen centerpieces of the home garden, but they are often responsible for the difference between a garden I want to look at from a window and a garden I want to hang out in.
These particular deciduous ferns have thrilled the gardening world with cultivars offering highly varied frond textures, red stalks or colorful foliage in shades of red/purple, orange, silvery/blue, and white. Athyriums are upright growers ranging from 6 inches to 5 feet but generally compact and tidy. The 180 species (and hundreds more cultivars) in this genus offer so much variability that it is somewhat difficult to even talk about the genus as a whole.
However, we are focusing on describing the forms commonly available in the gardening trade. In contrast to ferns in the Polystichum or Dryopteris genus, Athyriums are more delicate, in texture and structure, without any strengthening tissue in the fronds. They can be easily broken and are best used in quieter areas of the landscape, out of the wind, and where kid and dog traffic is minimal.
The Greek word athorus means good at breeding, and most Athyriums are known for being very strong growers. Spores germinate readily and divisions are well-tolerated. Given this, most Lady Ferns are best planted in the landscape, especially in drifting mass plantings, not in containers. A quiet spot under a mature tree will be softened and energized by Athyriums encouraged to spread freely. These ferns offer a wonderful foundation for beds of mixed shade perennials or shrubs.
Athyriums blend seamlessly with more delicately textured perennials, such as bleeding hearts, tricyrtis, or tiarella for the woodland fairy feel. Or they can balance and lighten the energy of strong-textured or large-leaved shade perennials like Carex, Mondo grass, or Bergenia species for a more dramatic design statement. Drifts of Athyriums can also play a vital role of cover for a stream-side habitat planting. Some of the cultivars of A. niponicum ‘Pictum’ are more adaptable to container plantings or possibly even as houseplants.
There are a wide range of ailments reportedly treated with Lady Fern, including many conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Consult a medical professional, however, as raw shoots of this fern can be toxic by robbing the body of its vitamin B supply.
Some varieties you can often find at Portland Nursery include:
An incredibly variable, but generally feathery, species with over 300 forms! This is the species most responsible for the name Lady Fern; in older Greek traditions, this fern was considered the feminine, lacier counterpart to the more robust ‘Male Fern’, Dryopteris filix-mas. These names have nothing to do, however, with how they propagate. The crowns grow erect out of the soil, so dividing and replanting crowns lower and even with the ground every several years will renew the plant’s vigor. Hardy in zones 4-8.
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Cristatum’
Crested Lady Fern: Flat, fan-like crests adorn the tips of the fronds, creating a ruffled look. Green and red stalked varieties are common. Grows 1-2’ tall and wide.
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’
Fronds look more like a string of frizzy flat beads, hardly like a typical fern at all. Though captivating, this variety can sometimes revert to the more wild type of the straight species. Grows 10-12” tall and wide.
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’
Victorian Lady Fern: Leaf-lets are criss-crossed, fringed and tiny, giving the overall plant an almost fuzzy texture. Grows 18” tall and wide.
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’
Red stems offer dramatic contrast to bright green fronds. Grows 3’ tall and wide.
Athyrium niponicum: Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum: ‘Pictum’
With tri-colored fronds and burgundy colored stems, it is easy to see why this fern was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2004 (Perennial Plant Assoc) and continues to be one of the most popular gardening ferns in the U.S. Keep this one in shade to avoid washing out those great colors. In loose and moist soil, new fronds will keep appearing all summer and into fall. The clump size can easily double in one year and is well tolerant of division. Grows 12-18” tall and wide. Hardy in zones 4-9.
Athyrium niponicum: ‘Burgundy Lace’
Offers deep burgundy new growth on plants only 12-15” tall. Zones 4-9.
Athyrium niponicum: ‘Silver Falls’
Large and very silvery fronds on plants about 12” tall. Zones 4-9.
A steely grey-colored hybrid between Lady Fern and Jap Painted Fern. Plant in at least part shade for best frond color. Tolerates a bit drier soil than close relatives, but do not let soil completely dry out. Grows to 24-36”tall and wide. Zones 4-9.
Athyrium otophorum: Eared Lady Fern
In milder winters, this Athyrium may be evergreen. New growth of striking lime and burgundy colors appears earlier in the spring than many other deciduous ferns. Older fronds mature to a grayish green. Grows 18-24” tall. Zones 6-9.
This beautiful multicolored fern may look delicate and tender, but it is actually a super-tough, very dependable hardy perennial! Japanese Painted Fern is among the most highly recommended shade plants, because it is not only lovely from spring through fall each year, but it will actually naturalize over time into great drifts of silvery-gray, maroon-red color!
This fern leafs out late each spring, its fiddleheads unfurling into large, elegant, triangular fronds that point up and out. (The older the plant becomes, the more dramatically it cascades!) Wonderful in indoor arrangements, the foliage adds glints of color to the shade, and makes a fine choice for mass planting in woodland areas as well as accents in the border.
Each frond will be slightly different, but generally the stems are bright red and the foliage is gray overlaid with silvery accents and a wash of maroon color near the center. There is simply no other perennial like it, making Japanese Painted Fern a fine companion planting to hostas, astilbes, solomon’s seal, and more.
Eventually reaching about 18 inches high, Japanese Painted Fern spreads a foot wide within the first season or two. Never invasive, it meanders gracefully, especially when given continuously moist, reasonably fertile soil. Rabbits tend to leave it alone, so it looks as good in September as it did in June!
Best in partial shade, Japanese Painted Fern can also withstand deep shade, though its variegation may not be as boldly colored. Find just the right spot for this rugged perennial and begin enjoying many seasons of delicate beauty and robust garden performance!
Japanese Painted Fern: Learn How To Grow A Japanese Painted Fern
Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) are colorful specimens that brightens the part shade to shady areas of the garden. Silvery fronds with a touch of blue and deep red stems make this fern stand out. Learning where to plant Japanese painted fern is key to the success of growing this attractive plant. When you’ve learned how to grow a Japanese painted fern, you’ll want to use it in all areas of the shade garden.
Types of Japanese Painted Fern
Several cultivars of this plant are available to the gardener, with varying shades of color. The name derives from the fact that Japanese painted fern plants appear to have been delicately painted with shades of green, red and silver. Look at different types of Japanese painted fern to decide which you prefer for your garden.
- The cultivar ‘Pictum’, with its attractive silver and red color, was named perennial plant of the year in 2004 by the Perennial Plant Association.
- The cultivar ‘Burgundy Lace’ retains the silvery shimmer and features deep burgundy stems and coloration on the fronds.
- ‘Wildwood Twist’ has a muted, smoky, silver color and attractive, twisted fronds.
Where to Plant Japanese Painted Ferns
Japanese painted fern plants thrive when light and soil conditions make them happy. Gentle morning sun and a rich, composted soil are vital to the proper care for Japanese painted ferns. Consistently moist and well-draining soil optimizes growth. Soil without good drainage can cause roots to rot or cause disease.
The right care for Japanese painted ferns includes limited fertilization. Composting the soil before planting provides necessary nutrients. As with all composted areas, mix compost in well and amend the area a few weeks (or even months) before planting Japanese painted fern plants. Additional fertilization may be a light application of pelleted fertilizer or liquid plant food at half strength.
Depending on the summer heat of your garden, Japanese painted fern plants can be planted in light to almost total shade. More southern areas require more shade for successfully growing this plant. Avoid planting in hot afternoon sun that may burn the delicate fronds. Trim back browning fronds as needed.
Learning how to grow a Japanese painted fern allows the plant to reach its optimum height of 12 to 18 inches around and in height.
Now that you know how to grow a Japanese painted fern and where to locate them in the landscape, try growing one or several types of Japanese painted fern in your garden. They brighten shady areas when planted in mass and are attractive companions to other shade loving perennials.
Japanese Painted Fern
Ferns are one of the first things that cross people’s minds when they think of a shade garden, and you would be hard-pressed to find a fern more beautiful than the Japanese painted fern. A beautiful addition to any shade garden, Japanese painted ferns offer unique and intricate texture and color in a world of greens. These ferns have a much finer texture than many other hardy ferns. For the greatest effect, plant them in groups to really magnify the beauty these ferns have to offer.
Unlike other ferns, Japanese painted ferns are not a simple green texture. They are one of the best silver-leaved plants for your garden. Many ferns offer great texture to a space, but few can say they bring as much to the table as Japanese painted ferns. The fronds of these leaves have such interesting and unique patterns of colors that many look hand painted. In shades of steely gray, frosty white, and deep burgundy, every frond is a piece of art to be admired.
The rachis, or midrib, of each of the feathery fronds is typically a lovely burgundy color that bleeds into the smaller, gray-green leaflets that begin to flush silver-white as they progress to the tips. They are truly pieces of natural art and accent other garden plants so well—whether they act as a stand-alone star or as a soft complement to bold colors and textures in the garden.
See some of the best ferns for your garden.
Japanese Painted Fern Care Must-Knows
As you might guess by their delicate appearance, most ferns can be more temperamental than your average garden perennial. The most important thing to remember is that these ferns cannot tolerate full sun. Particularly in the harsh afternoon light, the delicate leaves can burn and scorch, ruining their beauty. However, because of their colorful nature, Japanese painted ferns can tolerate part sun quite well, and will typically sport the most vibrant colors with some direct sunlight. The best exposure is morning sun, so there is less risk of burning from afternoon sun and heat. They can also do well in full shade—just expect the colors to be a bit more muted but no less beautiful.
Another common association with most ferns is that they need constant moisture. While this is mostly true, once established, Japanese painted ferns can actually be quite drought tolerant. Regardless, it’s best to keep these plants evenly moist for the most vigorous growth. Their ideal soil condition is rich in organic matter and well draining.
One reason ferns make great garden plants is because they typically have very few problems. Japanese painted ferns are fairly slow growing, so there is little risk of them becoming too aggressive and choking out neighboring plants. In ideal conditions, they can form nice large clumps and can be considered groundcovers. Over the years, you can dig up and divide your Japanese painted ferns to help continue to spread them around. If they are extremely happy plants, you may even see some sporelings pop up.
More Varieties of Japanese Painted Fern
Lady in Red lady fern
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ has distinctive red stems. Compared to most other ferns, it is relatively tolerant of dry soil. Zones 4-9
Branford Beauty fern
Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’ is a plant with stunning upright silvery fronds with red stems. Zones 5-8
Crested Japanese painted fern
Athyrium niponicum ‘Applecourt’ bears textural, crested fronds marked with silver and burgundy. Zones 5-8
Japanese painted fern
Athyrium niponicum pictum is one of the best-known ferns. Its silvery fronds tinged with burgundy make an elegant container or garden accent. Zones 5-8
Painted lady fern
Athyrium ‘Ghost’ has silvery white fronds and an upright growth pattern. Plants reach 2 feet tall and produce new fronds all summer long. Zones 4-8
Silver Falls Japanesse painted fern
Athyrium niponicum ‘Silver Falls’ has pinkish red stems and reddish purple veins. It is most colorful when it gets a few hours of sun per day. Zones 5-8
Athyrium filix-femina ‘Frizelliae’ is a dwarf, 1-foot-tall plant with rounded ball-like leaflets attached to the main stem, resembling a lacy string of beads. It is a type of lady fern. Zones 4-8
Plant Japanese Painted Fern With:
Lady’s mantle looks great in the garden and in a vase. Its scalloped leaves catch rain or dewdrops, making them look dusted with jewels. The chartreuse flowers appear in playful, frothy clusters above the foliage. Lady’s mantle is ideal for softening the edge of a shaded path or creating a groundcover in dappled shade.
In early spring, the brilliant blue, pink, or white flowers of lungwort bloom despite the coldest chill. The rough basal leaves, spotted or plain, always please and continue to be handsome into winter. Planted close as a weed-discouraging groundcover, or in borders as edgings or bright accent plants, lungworts are workhorses with good looks. Provide high-humus soil that retains moisture. Although lungworts tolerate dry conditions, be alert for mildew.
Ajuga is one of the most indispensable groundcovers around. It has many uses and looks great much of the year. Also known as carpetweed or bugleweed, ajuga forms a 6-inch-tall mat of glossy leaves that always seem to look neat and fresh. In many cases, the leaves are colored with shades of purple, white, silver, cream, or pink. Individual plants grow as a rosette, but they intertwine to form a solid carpet that withstands some foot traffic. Blue, lavender, pink, or white flower spikes adorn plants spring to early summer. Ajuga is great in rock gardens, at the front of beds and borders, under leggy shrubs or small trees, along paths, and just about any other place in the landscape you want to cover the ground with attractive foliage and little flowers.