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Planting a Memorial Tree

The New York Times cartoon “everybody wants to be a tree these days” really hit home for me.  I’m a landscape designer, former garden center owner, and now an online retailer providing affordable caskets and cremation urns nationwide. Trees and funerals come easily for me.

If I had to describe a memorial tree, it’s living, it’s beautiful in many ways, and it is well planned and placed to live a long time. It is a memorial, just like any gravestone, with real opportunities to create a strong outdoor display or achieve a certain function.

From there, it can be anything you want it to be. The cost is low compared to traditional burial.  The general thinking is your ashes or body is laid to rest along with the tree. It is not necessary, it could just be a dedication ceremony and tree planting.


What tree will you be? Will you bloom in spring, provide summer shade, or magnificent fall color?  A large shade tree facing western sun works wonders lowering electric bills about 20% average all year.  That's a nice way to be remembered.

To pick your tree, pick your place and study its conditions first. Take the following into consideration.

  • size of the space to accommodate growth at tree maturity
  • sun exposure, full sun or shade, facing east or west
  • soil conditions
  • surrounding architecture and background-color
  • and the availability of maintenance and irrigation.
I highly recommend planting native trees because they require less maintenance and will grow well in your climate. It’s just the right thing to do these days in most cases.


Family, friends and helpful gardeners are out there in their opinion as well in selecting a tree. Discussing your memorial tree should be a conversation at the kitchen table. It's a lot lighter when talking about death then talking about what cemetery.

Additional sources for help include your local garden center, visiting an arboretum, searching the Internet, or calling your county agriculture extension or master gardening program. 

Where to plant a tree is as big of a decision as to what to plant.  Pick the space first and study its conditions as mentioned above. 

Here are some common mistakes to avoid.

  • Forgetting the background color. The color should contrast not blend. This will make your memorial pop.
  • Not calculating the size of the tree at maturity or planting under electric cable lines.
  • Placing it smack in the middle of the defined space.
  • Not having access to irrigation. Not watering in dry conditions.
  • Compacting wet soil around the tree with your feet. 

While surveying a site, always wear safety goggles, gloves and appropriate clothing that will provide some sort of defense. Wearing protective eye gear is the minimum.

When to plant a tree is important and the very best time is in the fall.  The tree will naturalize better. Temperatures are cooler. Usually, there’s more rain this season. I like the fact the tree will “sleep” through winter and then wake up strong in spring.  Those that wait until spring to plant will have a lot more watering to do in the summer and it always interferes with summer holiday plans.  Planting in the fall is worry-free.

How you plant is equally as important. Dig a hole wider and deeper a good half foot on each side and plant it “proud.” Proud means planting about an inch above the ground line so there is a slight pitch down from the trunk.  And never overdo it with the mulch. It’s not necessary and damaging to the tree.

For big holes, I like using a pickaxe and shovel and up to a jackhammer for hard surfaces. I once planted, however, an 8’ Zelcova Elm tree at my garden shop in just about a half cup soil over asphalt. It grew so big and pretty; providing great shade and protection from the direct western sun.

The success of your memorial tree will be in the planning. If the memorial is for yourself, you are taking a bold step to pre-plan your affairs and not leave it up to distressed family members.  On average funeral cost double every ten years. 

The best time to plan is now. Please share and add your comments below. For more information, contact Joe Carmack directly at 928-607-0132.

The author Joe Carmack is the owner of All Things Funeral, an online retailer of affordable caskets and cremation urns. He studied landscape design at George Washington University in Washington DC. He now lives on the far outskirts of eastern Phoenix where the desert meets the Tonto National Forest in a small town called Apache Junction.

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