Japanese painted fern – info, planting, care and tips

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum)
Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) - by Derek Ramsey

The Japanese painted fern is a striking fern with metallic leaf coloration. This is how you plant and care for it.

Profile of Japanese painted fern:

Scientific name: Athyrium niponicum

Plant family: ladyfern family (Athyriaceae)

Other names: Japanese lady fern

Sowing time: –

Planting time: spring or autumn

Flowering period: –

Location: partially shady to shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: single position, group planting, underplanting, natural garden, rhododendron garden, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6 (-20 °C / -5 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: No

Plant characteristics and classification of Japanese painted fern

Plant order, origin and occurrence of Japanese painted fern

The Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum), also called Japanese lady fern, is a fern species from the family of the ladyfern plants (Athyrium). This wild species, which is native to the light forests of Korea and Japan, is not available in many countries. Instead, the variety Athyrium niponicum ‘Metallicum’ is available, which is also sold under the name Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’.

Characteristics of Japanese painted fern


The compactly growing and perennial Japanese painted fern grows between 40 and 60 centimeters (16 to 24 in) high. The plant spreads with its flat creeping, multi-headed rhizomes over the years.


The upright, two to three times feathered fronds are long-stemmed and become up to 70 centimeters (28 in) long. The pinnate leaflets are serrated. The variety ‘Metallicum’ is one of the few garden ferns with colorful fronds. The pinnas shimmer metallic silver-grey and have purple-red veins and a midrib of the same color.


In summer, the spores of the Japanese lady fern sit on the undersides of the leaves.

Japanese painted fern – cultivation and care


The Japanese painted fern needs a partially shady to shady place in the garden.


The soil should be humusy, nutrient-rich, loose and slightly moist.


You can plant the Japanese painted fern in spring or autumn. Loosen the soil in the planting hole a little and enrich the excavation with some humus if necessary before refilling. Press the soil well after planting and water the fern. Ensure a planting distance of about 60 centimeters (24 in), so that the long fronds have enough space.


In long-lasting summer drought you should make sure that the plant gets enough water.


In spring some compost can be worked in the soil, but this is only necessary if there is no fertilization by a layer of rotting leaves or the ferns withered fronds left on the ground.


Once grown, Athyrium niponicum requires no special care. The dead leaves and the fallen leaves collecting in them offer the best winter protection for this fern. In particularly cold locations, protection with leaves or brushwood is recommended. Withered fronds should be removed only in early spring. They serve as additional protection.


You can propagate older specimens of the Japanese lady fern well by dividing them in spring or early fall. The new parts are then simply replanted in another place in the garden.


The easiest way of propagation is to divide the fern in spring or autumn. Theoretically it is also possible to propagate by spores, but this is much more complex.

Diseases and pests

Like other ferns, the Japanese painted fern is relatively insensitive to diseases and pests.


The Japanese painted fern is hardy down to -20 °C / -5 °F. A layer of leaves is a good winter protection and offers some additional nutrients for the plant.

Use in the garden

The Japanese painted fern, which belongs to the lady ferns, thrives ideally in the protection of shrubs and bushes. The plant also achieves its effect in combination with other fern species. In order that the decorative coloring of the fronds is shown to its best advantage, you should make sure that neighboring shrubs or bushes do not shade the fern too much. It looks very pretty even in single position.


Besides ‘Metallicum’ there is also the variety ‘Pewter Lace’ with silvery fronds, which get darker towards the reddish leaf vein. Athyrium niponicum ‘Burgundy Lace’ is characterized by a reddish-silver coloration of the fronds.

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