Painted Ferns for Shady Gardens

Painted Ferns for Shady Gardens

Last Updated on November 7, 2018 by Kimberly Crawford

The charming Japanese Painted Fern is a hardy and colorful addition to any shade garden design.

It is easy to see why the Japanese Painted Fern variety “Pictum” was chosen Perennial of the Year in 2004. Rising in a graceful arch, its lacy silvery-green fronds unfurl from a blood red stem to display a soft painting of silver over a pale green leaf. These beautiful Painted Ferns are a glowing and rich alternative to flowers in a shady spot.

A Hardy Plant for the Shade Garden

Japanese Painted Ferns

A native of Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, Athyrium niponicum, is hardy to USDA Agricultural Zone 3. They can be grown anywhere there is hummusy, damp soil and plenty of shade. While Painted Ferns can be grown in many areas, they will not appear to their very best in places with extended hot spells or very short summers.

Coming up later than most perennials in the spring, Painted Ferns grow rapidly reaching a mature size of two feet tall and spreading two feet in diameter. The rich color of Japanese Painted Ferns holds until a hard frost when the leaves suddenly disappear for the winter.

Japanese Painted Ferns require a rich moist soil with full to partial shade to show their best colors. A few hours of sunlight in the early morning or late afternoon will add vivacity to their color.

Before planting, work plenty of compost and peat into the planting hole. Adding 2-3 inches of peat and compost every spring will ensure beautifully colored plants for many years.

Painted Ferns are easy to divide and can be divided yearly. A happily growing Japanese Painted Fern can be split into 3 or 4 divisions and planted 20-24 inches apart to rapidly fill a shady flower bed.

Painted Ferns in Shade Landscaping Plans

Painted Ferns in Shade Landscaping Plans

The delicate lacy foliage of the Painted Fern pairs nicely with bolder hostas or with the equally delicate Bleeding Hearts. White shade flowers, such as impatiens, planted around or in front of the ferns will bring out their rich color making them glow softly in the shade.

Besides “Pictum”, there are a few other Japanese Painted Fern varieties with slightly different color variations.

“Pewter Lace” has rich red stems and a metallic pewter shading on mint green leaves.

“Ursula’s Red” is a fairly new introduction and has a flush of burgundy in the center of each leaf.

The leaf of “Metallicum” starts as dark metal grey and quickly changes to pewter with a silver band.

Lucky is the gardener who can find a home for these beautiful shade garden plants.

Painted Ferns for Shady Gardens