Though the silver-frosted fronds of this gorgeous fern look delicate, Japanese painted fern is actually a pretty tough customer. It makes a great ground cover in shaded areas, forming a dense stand that keeps weeds at bay. The fern's outstanding feature is its foliage, which combines dusty green and silvery white leaflets with bold red-to-purple central leaf stalks. The shimmering foliage is a standout in the shade and combines beautifully with other shade-tolerant ferns, perennials, and sedges.
Common name: Japanese painted fern
Botanical name: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum
Plant type: Deciduous fern
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 8 to 12 inches
- Sun: Filtered or light shade.
- Soil: Moist soil with plenty of organic matter.
- Moisture: Keep evenly moist.
- Mulch: 1 or 2 inches of fine textured organic mulch such as pine needles, shredded leaves, or compost will help keep soil moist.
- Pruning: Cut back old foliage in late autumn, if desired.
- Fertilizer: Usually not needed, especially if you mulch with leaves or compost.
- Divide plants in spring as new growth starts.
- Pests and diseases
- No serious insects or disease problems.
- Foliage may show browning if soil is too dry or plants get too much sun.
- Leave some spots in your shade garden for shade-tolerant annuals. White-flowered impatiens provide a cool complement to Japanese painted fern's silvery fronds.
- For a silver-frosted foliage combo, plant Japanese painted fern with silver-spotted lungwort (Pulmonaria) cultivars and the crackled silver of ‘Jack Frost' Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost').
- ‘Silver Falls' has very silvery fronds.
- ‘Wildwood Twist' has fronds that twist slightly as they ascend.
- ‘Ursula's Red' is noted for prominent wine-red stems.
All in the family
- Another well-known member of the Athyrium genus is lady fern (A. filix-femina), a common woodland fern. The cultivar ‘Branford Beauty' is a hybrid of Japanese painted fern and lady fern, combining the best of both species.
- The genus Athyrium contains over 100 species native to places as diverse as tropical Africa, much of Asia, northern regions of Europe, and several areas within the United States.
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo by Amy Sumner)