In some cultures, many people feel that one of the best ways to honor and respect the dead is through decorating their graves with flowers, wreaths, or other symbolic gifts and gestures. Some feel a deep responsibility to complete this task, and think of it as a sign of disrespect if their relatives’ graves go unadorned. This is especially true in smaller communities where friends and neighbors frequent the same cemetery.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Understanding General Rules & Etiquette for Flowers at Cemeteries
- Choosing & Laying the Right Flowers for a Grave
While this is a guide on the etiquette surrounding cemetery decorations, those unwritten guidelines are generally trumped by the individual cemetery’s rules. Before decorating your loved one’s grave, make sure you understand the standards at each location. If the rules aren’t available on the website, call or stop in the office to make sure your decorations follow the parameters set forth by the staff. They may also be able to provide a written policy if you email the cemetery superintendent.
You may also be able to determine the general rules by looking at the other graves in the cemetery. If you see that the only fresh flowers are used, then you may learn that silk arrangements are not allowed. If you see that there are no displays placed in the ground near the headstone, it is probably a good guess that the cemetery staff usually removes such decorations.
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Understanding General Rules & Etiquette for Flowers at Cemeteries
Again, you must make sure you understand the cemetery’s rules before spending time and money on a display. Here are some general rules that many U.S. cemeteries ask you to follow.
- Generally, fresh or silk floral displays are allowed. Some cemeteries only allow fresh flowers. If this is the case, the cemetery staff typically removes the wilted flowers once a week. In some places, silk flowers are permitted in indoor mausoleums. If they're allowed, consider purchasing silk flowers online to make an affordable custom display.
- Funeral flowers from graveside burial services are usually removed in less than a week. Since fresh floral arrangements are typically used for a funeral, those displays are removed by the staff within a week. If you would like to remove ribbons or buds from the displays, it is best to do so sooner rather than later.
- Some cemeteries, like national cemeteries, only allow you to decorate graves around the holidays. National cemeteries allow people to decorate around Easter and Memorial Day. They also allow families to decorate graves for a more extended period around Christmas. Other cemeteries may allow decorations for the previously listed holidays, but they also include Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and All Souls Day.
- Some cemeteries allow loved ones to place items into the ground near the headstone. Floral displays, often shaped like a cross or a wreath may be placed in the ground next to the headstone. One can also buy plastic vases that have a long, pointed stem, that can be placed in the ground, like this cemetery vase from Amazon. Some cemeteries allow such decorations as long as they do not interfere with the work of the grounds crew.
- Some cemeteries allow decorations outside of the mowing season. Maintaining the grounds of a cemetery can be a difficult job. Mourners cannot expect mowers to remove each decoration before mowing and to replace the item after the job is done.
- Some cemeteries do not allow any gifts or small items to be placed on the grave. People leave all manners of things on graves. You may see stuffed animals, small toys, notes, and other personal items placed on graves while other cemeteries have staff that immediately remove such items.
- Some cemeteries allow mourners to plant bushes or perennials. Although this practice is not common in modern cemeteries, some older graves are decorated with flowers and shrubs that return each year.
- Grave blankets can be a beautiful way to decorate a grave throughout the holidays. Some cemeteries may not allow grave blankets, so make sure you understand the rules before you follow this tradition.
- Many cemeteries do not allow mourners to attach items to the gravestone. Some may attempt to attach wreaths or floral displays by wrapping them around the stone. This not only makes the stone difficult to read, but it also may be against the cemetery policy.
- Some cemeteries do not allow pinwheels, wind chimes, plant hooks, bird feeders, or solar lights that stick in the ground. Placing those items on your loved one’s grave without permission of the cemetery can be a waste of money and time.
Choosing & Laying the Right Flowers for a Grave
If you recently lost someone, you may desire to bring flowers to your loved one’s grave. Here are some suggestions to walk you through the steps of decorating a grave if you have never done so.
Learn the rules of the cemetery regarding floral displays
Most cemeteries have websites that list the rules for floral displays. If there is not a mention of flowers on the website, call or visit the main office before you purchase anything.
Since some cemeteries remove flowers on all the graves quarterly, you may want to time your visit so the flowers will stay on the grave for as long as possible.
Consider your loved one’s feelings regarding cemetery flowers
Some people have strong opinions about floral displays in a cemetery. Perhaps your mom always thought that plastic flowers were tacky.
Maybe this knowledge will help you determine what kind of flowers to bring. Maybe your loved one always told you that they would rather that you bring flowers for her while she was alive and not after she was gone. This may prevent you from taking an arrangement to the cemetery.
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Consider if it’s Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall
For the most part, try to place displays on your loved one’s grave that are appropriate for the season. Think about what grows naturally in your area during particular seasons to help guide you. Consider using light and bright colors for spring or summer, like this bouquet of fresh roses and lilies. Use reds, yellows, and rust colors during the fall. Decorate with reds, greens, or blues during the winter.
One exception to this rule of thumb is if your family member particularly loved one type of flower. Even if it’s fall, and your grandma loved purple irises, decorate her grave with the irises.
Laying the flowers on a grave
Be considerate of other visitors when you visit a cemetery. A cemetery is not a place for boisterous activity or loud discussions. In addition, it's seen as poor etiquette and disrespectful to walk over a headstone.
Many people choose to talk to their deceased loved ones as they place flowers on the grave. Others may offer a prayer. You may want to use the time as silent reflection. Others may find the experience so emotional that it causes them to cry.
Keeping flowers fresh on a grave
Some cemeteries can be pretty lax regarding their floral policies. They might not ever remove flowers from a grave, which can be good or bad depending on the family.
Some people think that faded and torn synthetic flowers are an eyesore. Others may view an undecorated grave with disdain.
If you know that the workers in your loved one’s cemetery aren't strict about removing wilted flowers, you may want to replace the flowers yourself at least once a quarter. Some people may replace the flowers monthly.
Talk with your family members or friends about your loved one’s grave flowers. Some of your family members may be upset if you remove their flowers to make room for yours. Consider creating a plan for arranging flowers on a loved one’s grave, or figure out a way to compromise with your family. In the end, the flowers are meant to be a remembrance of a loved one, so keeping that goal in mind can help smooth any ruffled feathers.
Maintenance for grave flowers
When you place flowers in a built-in vase on a grave, remember that your display must be able to survive gusty winds, heavy rain, and drifts of snow. You may consider placing a piece of styrofoam to fit snugly in the bottom of your base to keep the flowers secure. It might also be nice to clean the headstone, too.
Follow the Rules and Cemetery Etiquette
When it comes to placing flowers on graves, you need to follow your heart. If you feel as if this is something that would have been important to your loved one, then do it. If decorating your loved one’s grave is a part of your mourning process, do it.
The most important thing to remember is to follow the cemetery rules. In fact, when you pick out the final resting place for your loved one, you may consider these rules before making your decision. If you want to be able to place small gifts, Christmas trees, Halloween decorations, or a lilac bush on your loved one’s grave, make sure you choose a cemetery that has an open decoration policy.