By Becca Badgett
(Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden)
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.