Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Ursula’s Red’

Is this plant suitable for growing outside in a pot? If so what size should the pot be – is it better to have a wider shallower one or a tall deep one ?


2015-03-02 2015-03-04 The dimensions for this plant are given here as 30/40 cms hgt and 1.2 metres spread.All other sources of information give the dimensions as 30/40 cms hgt and spread ( which is ideal for my requirements). I would be very grateful if you could clarify this for me.



Hello, This is a new fern that has not been grown for any length of time. Therefore its eventual spread is still a bit of a mystery. It does spread by rhizomes however, and its parent will just keep on spreading (slowly), so I suspect it is likely to form a good-sized clump over time. If you want to restrict its spread, then all you need to do is divide the plant in spring.



Hi, could you please tell me if this fern would be suitable to grow in a pot in a heated swimming pool area or would the atmosphere be too hot for it. If not could you recommend one please, Sincerely Brenda Robinson.



Hello, The ferns we sell are all best planted outside, so I don’t think they would survive in a heated environment. Perhaps then your best option would be to try to find an indoor fern such as the maidenhair fern (Adiantum).



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.

Plants & Flowers

Common name: Japanese painted fern

Synonymous: Athyrium nipponicum
Asplenium niponicum
Asplenium uropteron
Athyrium uropteron
Athyrium goeringianum

Family: Athyriaceae

Athyrium niponicum

Distribution and habitat: Athyrium niponicum occurs in temperate regions in shady places in the lowlands. The species originates from East Asia, primarily Japan, North China, Korea and Taiwan.

Description: Athyrium niponicum is a deciduous herbaceous plant with a weeping habit, being one of the most colourful garden ferns. It is a terrestrial fern with creeping rhizomes and with a whorl of fronds growing from the basal rootstock. The fronds are triangular shaped blades, 25-40cm (10-16 inch) tall and 15-25cm (6-10 inch) broad, pinnate, with 6-10 pairs of pinnae 4-9cm (1.5-3.5 inch) long and 2-3cm (0.8-1.2 inch) broad, deeply lobed. The fronds are bright green with a dark red-brown stem in the wild plant. Fertile fronds form the spore-bearing sori on the underside of all of the pinnae.

This fern has a low and mounding habit, slowly spreading by rhizomes to form dense colonies. The fronds are positioned in a way that creates a horizontal layering effect.

The foliage colors of this fern are more intense in the spring or in cooler temperatures or in cooler climates such as the Northwest. 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. Mature fronds hold color and contrast with emerging fronds to form a compact clump.

Gardening: Athyrium niponicum has a medium growth rate, being an easy plant to care for. It will make the garden attraction for spring, summer and fall seasons. Leaves may be trimmed to the ground in late fall or early spring.

It is an trouble-free landscape plant that prefers evenly moist soils, but will tolerate long periods of drought once it is established.

Position: Athyrium niponicum can be grown in sheltered location with partial shade to full shade. To obtain best frond color place these ferns in light shade.

Full sun is tolerated with intensive watering. Leaves color up more with a bit of sun exposure, but their growth will be more vertical and less attractive if they receive too much sun.

Soil: Normal or sandy or clay soils will work well for these ferns. Incorporate lots of well-rotted leaf mould, composted pine needles or garden compost into the planting hole. They will perform well in any rich, evenly moist soil. In cold areas in late autumn protect the crown of the plant with a dry mulch of straw or bracken.

Athyrium niponicum is very cold hardy. It goes dormant in winter by wilting its folds and stopping the new growth of fronds in late fall when temperatures drop to freezing points. Then reemerges with its excellent foliage the next spring.

Water: Good irrigation practices are important. Ferns should be kept moist during active growth period. Water thoroughly the ferns and allow the substrate to dry slightly between waterings. It is best to water early in the day to allow the fronds plenty of time to dry before night time.

Ferns need to be kept consistantly moist at all times. They do not however want to be soggy or water logged.

Fertilising: Athyrium niponicum thrives best when are added 5-8cm (2-3 inch) of compost or peat moss to the beds each spring or fall. This treatment should suffice and no additional fertilising is require.

Adding controlled release fertilizer on the soil surface should be done at low rates, as recommended on label. Ferns are sensitive to high salt levels, so moderation should be considerate when decide to fertilise them.

Propagation: Propagation can be done by spring divisions or by planting spores.

Growth habit and color uniformity is not ensured by spore propagation. Surface sow in a pot of sterile compost in a shady part of the greenhouse and keep moist, this is most easily done by putting the pot in a plastic bag. Pot up small clumps of the plants when they are large enough to handle and keep them moist until they are established. Plant out in late spring of the following year. Division in spring as plants come into growth. Larger divisions can be planted straight into their permanent positions whilst smaller clumps are best potted up and kept in a cold frame until they are growing away well.

Excellent selections of Athyrium niponicum may also be produced by clump division. Plants are easily divided in spring, every 3 to 4 years. A well-grown plant can be separated in early spring into 3-4 divisions and replanted.

Uses: Athyrium niponicum is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and suits for containers too. It is wonderful for edging the shade border, in the rock garden or in mixed containers. It is suitable to be used in designing woodland gardens, shade gardens or shaded border fronts. Also effective in shaded areas along streams or ponds. It is one of many ferns suitable for the alpine & rock garden. Succeeds in a semi-shaded bog-garden or in damp woodland, also in garden borders in full or part shade. It can be used as groundcover and mass planting and is good for erosion control.

The fronds work well in cut flower arrangements, providing lasting color and soft texture.

Athyrium niponicum is a good companion of other garden plants with which can share the same environmental conditions and contrast in form and texture such as: Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ (Hosta), Brunnera macrophylla (Brunnera-Heartleaf), Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats), Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (Snakeroot-Black), Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff), Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’ (Lily-turf-Blue), Astilbe ‘Rheinland’ (Astilbe-Japanese) or Aquilegia ‘Cardinal’ (Columbine).

Recommended varieties:
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Japanese Painted Fern) with pale silvery-green fronds and a bright red stem

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Red Beauty’ with yellow fronds and a bright red stem

Athyrium niponicum ‘Metallicum’ is noted for its variegated silver, green and red foliage.

Height: 30-60cm (12-23 inch)
Spread: 30-45cm (12-18 inch)
Hardiness zone: 4-9

Cutting Flowers, Ferns, Garden Plants, Ground cover Athyrium niponicum, Athyrium niponicum Metallicum, Athyrium niponicum Pictum, Athyrium niponicum Pictum Cristatum, Athyrium niponicum Red Beauty, Athyrium nipponicum, Japanese Painted Fern

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