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japanese painted fern

Growing and Caring for Japanese Painted Ferns | A Complete Guide for Gardeners


The Japanese painted fern, scientifically known as Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, is a popular ornamental plant that is native to Japan and Korea. It is known for its striking foliage, which features a mix of green, silver, and burgundy hues, making it a favorite among gardeners looking to add color and texture to their landscapes. Japanese painted ferns are easy to care for and are generally pest and disease resistant, making them an ideal choice for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.

In this guide, we will provide you with everything you need to know about growing and caring for Japanese painted ferns.

Planting Location

Japanese painted ferns prefer a cool, shady environment and are often grown in woodland gardens, shade borders, or near water features. They will tolerate some sun, but too much exposure to direct sunlight can damage their delicate foliage. When choosing a planting location, consider a spot that receives morning sun and afternoon shade or a spot that is shaded throughout the day.

Soil Conditions

Japanese painted ferns prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They also prefer soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH level between 5.5 and 7.0. Before planting, amend your soil with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. This will help to improve soil structure and provide the plant with essential nutrients.


Japanese painted ferns prefer consistently moist soil, but they do not like to be waterlogged. Water your plant deeply once a week, or more often during hot, dry weather. If you are growing your fern in a container, be sure to check the soil regularly to make sure it does not dry out completely.


Japanese painted ferns do not require a lot of fertilizer, but they will benefit from a light feeding in the spring. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can cause the plant to become leggy and reduce the quality of its foliage.


Japanese painted ferns do not require much pruning, but you may need to remove any dead or damaged fronds to keep the plant looking tidy. You can also remove any fronds that are turning brown or yellow to promote new growth.


Japanese painted ferns can be propagated through division. This should be done in the spring before new growth begins. Carefully dig up the plant and separate the clumps into smaller sections, making sure that each section has a healthy root system. Replant the divisions in a prepared soil mixture and water well.

Pests and Diseases

Japanese painted ferns are generally pest and disease resistant. However, they can be susceptible to slugs and snails, which can damage the foliage. To prevent slug and snail damage, use a slug bait or trap, or handpick the pests off the plant.

Another common issue that can affect Japanese painted ferns is leaf scorch, which can be caused by exposure to too much sun or dry soil. To prevent leaf scorch, make sure your fern is planted in a shady location and that the soil remains consistently moist.


There are several varieties of Japanese painted ferns available, each with its own unique color and texture. Some popular varieties include:

  1. Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Burgundy Lace': This variety features a mix of burgundy and silver foliage.

  2. Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Metallicum': This variety has silvery-green foliage that shimmers in the sunlight.

  3. Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Silver Falls': This variety has silvery-gray foliage that cascades down over the edges of pots or hanging baskets.


Japanese painted ferns are relatively low-maintenance plants, but there are a few things you can do to help keep them healthy and looking their best.

Mulching: Mulching around the base of your plant can help to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weed growth. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or bark, to a depth of 2-3 inches.

Watering: As previously mentioned, Japanese painted ferns prefer consistently moist soil. During dry spells, make sure to water deeply and avoid letting the soil dry out completely.

Fertilizing: In addition to the spring feeding, you can also fertilize your fern in the fall to promote healthy root growth. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as bone meal or rock phosphate, and apply according to package instructions.

Winter Care: Japanese painted ferns are deciduous plants and will die back to the ground in the winter. If you live in an area with harsh winters, you can cover your fern with a layer of mulch or leaves to protect the roots from freezing.

Companion Planting

Japanese painted ferns make great companion plants for a variety of other shade-loving plants. Some good companion plants to consider include hostas, astilbes, heucheras, and tiarellas. These plants all share similar growing requirements and will complement the colors and textures of the ferns.


Japanese painted ferns are a beautiful and easy-to-care-for plant that can add a pop of color and texture to any garden or landscape. They prefer a cool, shady environment and soil that is rich in organic matter. They are relatively pest and disease resistant but can be susceptible to slug and snail damage and leaf scorch if not planted in the right location. With proper care and maintenance, your Japanese painted ferns will provide you with years of beauty and enjoyment.

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rosalind - September 14, 2023


Anna Bryant - August 23, 2023

Dear Gardeners: It is a terrible idea to plant this invasive fern! The one in my garden has spread, crowding out cardinal flowers, hostas, ajuga — everything. Nothing can grow where its massive rhyzomes spread. And to remove them, you have to completely destroy the whole area. There are many better fern options !

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