Japanese Painted Fern: Learn How To Grow A Japanese Painted Fern

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) are colorful specimens that brighten 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 the 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 (30.5 to 45.5 cm.) 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.

This article was last updated on

Deciduous Ferns (Royal Fern, River Fern, & Japanese Painted Fern)

Hi, I am Millie Davenport, a horticulture extension agent with the Clemson University Home & Garden Information Center.

Today we are going to look at Deciduous Ferns.

Today we here in the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and we are looking at a few deciduous hardy ferns. Basically, deciduous just means that these plants lose their foliage during the late fall, winter months and they reemerge with new growth in the following spring. Now, we are going to look at a couple of different species. And, the first one we are going to look is one of the ones that has the most potential to get the tallest.

This is the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis. This plant is a native fern and in fact at first glance it doesn’t even look like a fern. It looks like possibly a member of the legume family. But it is actually a fern. The Royal Fern is really nice for foundation plantings or background plantings because of its nice height. Although here you can see it is much shorter. So, it is going to be really nice toward the border of your garden. One thing about the Royal Fern is that it has a clumping root system. So, it has a massive clumping root system, it does not spread. This fern has a nice, really showy fertile frond. The tips are the fertile portion where the spores are housed in these little capsules called sori. All of these kind of give the appearance of almost a flower on the fern. So, that gives it another common name called the flowering fern. The Royal Fern will really do well in a nice wet boggy area, part sun to full shade location.

Now, here we are with the River Fern. This is really a nice fern that is also a native to South Carolina. It is going to get a little bit taller than the Royal Fern. You can tell that this plant is actually happier in this environment, because it is much taller than the Royal Fern that we just looked at. The River Fern has these really nice arching, soft textured fronds, about 2 to 3 feet long. You can even see some of the fronds unfurling here. It is really nice to watch the fiddleheads open up. The height of this plant also makes it a really good plant for foundation plantings or background plantings in your shade garden. The nice thing about the River Fern is that it does spread by rhizomes, so it is not a “clumper” like the Royal Fern that we just looked at. It is going to take off and it’s going to send underground roots and shoots through the soil surface and send up new fronds. The River Fern is native to the coastal region of South Carolina although it will grow throughout the whole state in all regions. Where you typically will see this plant is growing on a rocky slope in a wooded environment.

This is the Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’. The really cool thing about this is that it has this beautiful, silvery gray foliage that also has kind of purplish stems and darker shades of green as well. Now these fronds are going to reach around 18-24 inches tall. You do want to have these in a part shade area, if it gets too much sun then this plant is going to wash out and not be quite as beautiful in color. The Japanese Painted Fern is kept adequately moist all summer long, then you are going to continue to get beautiful little fronds emerging from this plant as you can see here.

Whether you are choosing the Royal Fern, River Fern or the Japanese Painted Fern they are all going to do well in an area that has part sun or full shade in that area. You want to make sure that you amend the soil with leaf litter or some type of organic matter to help retain some moisture in that area. It’s a great way to add different colors, different textures like the coarse texture of the Royal Fern or the finer texture of the River Fern. They will work great in any of your shade gardens.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.


Millie Davenport, Director of Home and Garden Information Center, Horticulture Program Team, Clemson University

Great Design Plant: Japanese Painted Fern Weaves a Garden Tapestry

Seasonal interest: Japanese painted fern sends up fronds almost overnight in midspring. It frequently takes on the form of caricatures, with interpretation left up to the imaginative gardener. By midsummer, when many ferns are looking tired, this fern holds its own with style.
When to plant: This fern is best planted in spring and fall.

Distinguishing traits. This fern’s coloration is what sets it apart from all others. Its sultry blend of silver-gray with welcome burgundy notes is an attention getter.

Japanese painted fern is at its best when paired with pink or burgundy accents, such as are highlighted in this rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum, zones 10 to 11). Other worthy companion plants include strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera, zones 6 to 9) and Chinese fringe bush (Loropetalum chinense, zones 7 to 9).

Use multiple plants if you’re planting it in a predominantly green border so that it doesn’t become lost in the crowd. A lone painted fern in a sea of green is a sad sight.

This painted fern is also useful in seasonal pot displays. Here it is beautifully paired with beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens ‘Magilla’, zone 11) and caladium (Caladium bicolor, zones 9 to 11). The secret is to use this fern to subtly reinforce the foliage color of its neighbors while using its foliage to best advantage to create contrast.

Planting notes. Plant it in moist soil with plenty of organic matter added in the form of mushroom compost or composted manure.

Japanese Painted Ferns - Knowledgebase Question

Often, when one plant out of a group does poorly it is due to a rooting problem. It is possible they were rootbound at planting and have failed to root into the surrounding native soil as a result. Or, perhaps there is a large rock underneath them preventing them from rooting downward, or maybe there is a tree root competing with them for water and nutrients. Or, and this is what I suspect is happening since you are seeing that discoloration, perhaps they are in a drier spot than the others or in more sun than the others which would contribute to moisture stress.

Tassel fern or Polystichum is actually a bit more tolerant of drier soil than the Japanese painted fern. I have also found that the Athyrium will tolerate more sun with wetter soil and conversely in less sun can tolerate drier soil.

Since your other ferns are doing well you must be caring for them well. Usually however it is better to water deeply but less often rather than sprinkle lightly every day. That way you will be encouraging deeper rooting where the soil naturally stays moister longer, and the plants will not be dependent on you to water daily.

Japanese Painted Fern Plants - How To Care For Japanese Painted Ferns - garden

Japanese Painted Ferns for Shade

The Japanese Painted Fern is one of the more colorful low growing ferns. Slow spreading with soft gray green fronds, Japanese Painted Ferns are accented with silver and burgundy shades. A great way to brighten up shade gardens, woodland gardens or container gardens.

You will find Japanese Painted Ferns are hardy through out the United States except in the desert regions. Named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2004, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum is a popular cultivated fern with slow spreading clumps. Plant in shade gardens, near streams or ponds. Part to full shade.

Japanese Painted Fern

Beautiful color combination

Beautiful color combination

We have received your request. You will be notified when this product is in stock.

  • Evokes feel of Oriental garden
  • Fronds appear "painted" with silver
  • Grows easily, deer dislike

We ship this item in Spring.

Cannot ship to: AE AK GU HI PR

Watch the video: Japanese Fern tree, grows wide. Give her lots of room. Max height 25 ft.

Previous Article


Next Article

Date palm