- 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
- Faux Purple Fern Plant Stem
- August 2003 Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ By Paul Pilon
- Plant of the Week: Painted Fern, Japanese
- Japanese Painted FernLatin: Athyrium nipponicum pictum
- 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
It’s easy to see why Japanese Painted Ferns are a favorite for many gardeners. Tri-color pastels, as if from an artist’s palette, adorn the tri-pinnatifid (three-times-divided) fronds of this fern. Glowing burgundy stems meld into the soft green pinnae, finishing in a spray of creamy to chalky white at the edges and tips. The long, pointed, triangular shaped 1-1 1/2′ fronds tend to arch down in a pleasing cascade, making it an excellent and highly visible foreground companion for other shade and moisture-loving perennials in the garden. Because they have a colonizing rhizome, clumps of Japanese Painted Ferns will spread in favorable conditions, and put fronds up from multiple locations rather than a central crown (caudex), making for a profuse, almost hedge-like display that is perfect for shady borders and low accents.
This cultivar exhibits a tremendous range of color and texture variation when grown from spore, and some plants will tend to be heavy on the burgundy accents, while others tend more toward chalky white tones. When selecting Japanese Painted Ferns, try to pick one whose texture and coloration is pleasing to you, since they vary somewhat! This is all natural variation within the species cultivar. While specimens tending toward burgundy are impressive as stand-alones, or against contrasting colors of other perennials, specimens with good white coloration often show up much better in the shady, moist locations that where these ferns thrive. Good coloration is best achieved with early morning or late afternoon dappled sun, while taking care to maintain a humus-rich moist root run. Japanese painted ferns do not like to be dry even when they are dormant in the winter!
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
Everyone knows ferns have green fronds, but obviously no one told the Japanese painted fern. This plant is unusual in that it has multicolored foliage. That attribute alone would be enough to ensure its popularity, but it is also an easy-to-grow fern that would be attractive even if it were all green.
Description of Japanese painted fern: The deeply cut fronds grow to 1 feet long and about 1 foot high. Each leaflet is a spectacular combination of purple, lavender, and silver on a green base. The fronds are deciduous, dying back when touched by hard frost. Ease of care of Japanese painted fern: Easy.
Growing Japanese painted fern: Plant in rich, damp soil in partial to full shade. The Japanese painted fern is slow growing, forming clusters that gradually increase in size over a number of years.
Propagating Japanese painted fern: By division or spores.
Using Japanese painted fern: An attractive fern for border and foundation plantings and also along pathways in shaded areas. It can also be grown indoors in pots.
Related species of Japanese painted fern: Lady fern (Athyrium felixfemina), native to both the Old and New Worlds, reaches 3 to 4 feet in height with lacy, yellow-green fronds on red or light green stalks. It has a general vase-shaped growth habit: narrow at the base, broad at the top. It spreads quite abundantly when happy.
Scientific name of Japanese painted fern: Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’
Want more information on gardening and great plants you can grow? Try:
- Shade Gardens: You don’t need loads of direct sunlight to create a lush retreat in your yard, garden, or patio space. Learn how to plant a vital shade garden.
- Shade Garden Plants: Find out about stunning options for planting that will make your shade garden unique and lovely.
- Garden Types: There are many ways to cultivate a lush oasis around your home. Read about all the different types of gardens you can create.
- Gardening: Get great tips on how to keep your garden healthy and thriving.
Faux Purple Fern Plant Stem
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Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’
By Paul Pilon
By Paul Pilon
Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ has great landscape appeal, with its silvery-gray, almost metallic looking, fronds. The delicate tri-color fronds have maroon midribs that intensify its landscape appeal. Despite the fragile appearance of the Japanese painted fern, it is actually one of the easiest ferns to grow, both in the landscape and when produced in containers. It survives to temperatures of -32º F, giving it hardiness in USDA Zones 4-8.
Plants have a great landscape habit, reaching 12-18 inches tall and wide. Clumps of Pictum will spread slightly each year by means of underground rhizomes but remain clumplike and non-invasive. Japanese ferns have great texture and can be used in group plantings as garden accents or in combination pots with other shade perennials such as astilbe, heuchera or hosta.
With so many landscape uses, ease of production and wide availability, it is no wonder this Japanese fern is gaining popularity and receiving national recognition. Pictum was the recipient of the 2002 Growers’ Choice Award by the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association and most recently selected by the Perennial Plant Association as the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year.
Pictum can be propagated by spores or division. Spore propagation is time consuming and is best left to the experts. Not to mention, Pictum propagated from spores are often not true to type — frond coloration may vary.
This Japanese painted fern is best propagated by clump division. The crown can easily be split into halves, quarters or even further if it has enough growing points.
Plants are best divided in early spring as they begin to emerge. Some growers divide in the fall after the foliage has died back, but I prefer to divide in the spring to ensure plant establishment. If necessary, plants can be divided during the growing season, but making the divisions without damaging too many fronds will be difficult.
Growers usually transplant small liners such as 72-count plugs into 4-inch to 1-gal. containers. Pictum can be planted in any good soil-less medium or perennial mix, preferably one with good water-holding capacity. Pay particular attention to your watering practices when producing ferns. They like to be kept moist at all times. If they are allowed to dry too much, damage will most likely result and possibly even plant death. Conversely, ferns do not tolerate excessive moisture; when left in standing puddles of water, they will get root rot. To prevent potential foliar problems, it is best to water early in the day to allow foliage time to dry before night.
Ferns being produced in 1-gal. pots for spring sales (between April and June), must be planted during the previous summer to allow an adequate amount of time for bulking or filling up the container. Pictum grown in 4-inch pots will finish in 8-10 weeks when grown at an average temperature of 68º F.
I find it beneficial to apply a preventative fungicide drench of Cleary’s 3336, OHP 6672 or FungoFlo after planting. To prevent the fronds from becoming sun scorched during the summer months, Pictum should be grown under at least 50-percent shade in the North and up to 70-percent shade in the South. Growers should filter out excessive light levels from the production area, as ferns only require 1,000-2,000 foot-candles.
Pictum requires a relatively small amount of fertilizer in comparison to most perennials. In fact, high salts may cause the roots to be injured, leading to potential problems with plant pathogens such as Pythium and Phytopthora. The pH should be kept within the range of 5.5-6.5. Most growers prefer to use water-soluble fertilizers at low concentrations, such as 50-75 ppm nitrates, to deliver nutrients to their fern crops. A few growers, including myself, deliver nutrients to ferns by incorporating a low rate of controlled-release fertilizer into the media at planting.
The rate of time-release fertilizer to incorporate should be half of that used for most perennials. For Japanese painted ferns, incorporate no more than one-half pound of elemental nitrogen per yard into the growing media. Historically, the main concern with using controlled release fertilizers on ferns was the fertilizers’ tendency to continue releasing during the winter months, causing salts to build up and leading to plant injury or even loss. Today, there are still some suppliers whose formulations behave in this manner, but there are many formulations and technologies that do completely shut down during the winter months and do not release nutrients. Check with your fertilizer distributor about their technology and release patterns.
Pictum does not have many major insect or disease problems. Aphids may occasionally feed on them, but their presence is extremely rare. Slugs and snails are the most common pest to ferns and can be easily Á controlled using baits such as Deadline or Sluggo. Botrytis is the main foliar plant pathogen and can usually be controlled by providing adequate spacing, air circulation and shade. Diseases affecting the roots, such as Pythium, can usually be prevented by managing the moisture and fertility levels of the growing medium. Allowing ferns to become overly dry or excessively wet will most likely lead to root injury and ultimately root rot.
Successful over-wintering of Japanese painted ferns is easy, provided a few simple steps are followed. Growers usually over-winter containerized ferns in coldframe structures. In the fall, let plants go completely dormant; they are deciduous, and the fronds will completely die back. Group the pots in a pot-to-pot configuration, and cover with a thermal blanket to help provide additional insulation. Before spring forcing, the dead foliage can easily be removed from the top of the pots. The old fronds should be removed to reduce the likelihood of diseases when active growth resumes.
Athyrium nipponicum Pictum is widely produced as both a plug liner and finished container. Contact your local perennial producer or plant broker for availability of this variety.
Paul Pilon is head grower at Sawyer Nursery, Hudsonville, Mich. He can be reached by E-mail at
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.
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.
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