How (and Where) to Plant a Tree in Memory of a Loved One

This is part of Cake's collection of Funeral planning Legacy articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

Published on:

It can be difficult to plan a service for someone important to you. It may seem like a few hours is not enough time to celebrate their life. And with burial alternatives becoming more popular it can be hard to decide what type of service to hold. Why not consider planting a tree in lieu of a traditional service? It can be a unique way to honor your loved one. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Even if you plan to have a traditional funeral planting a tree in memory of your loved one could be worthwhile. It can be a memorial of them that you can visit whenever you’d like. And it provides much-needed support to the environment. 

Whatever you decide, there are some points that you may want to consider. It can take a little planning, but planting a tree can be a wonderful way to honor your loved one. Read below for some of the steps you’ll need to take. 

Share your final wishes, just in case.

Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.

Step 1: Research Federal and Local Programs

Many areas have established programs to help people plant trees in memory of a loved one. You can search government websites in your area to find local tree memorial programs. The programs vary greatly based on area.

Keep in mind that the type of tree you can select and where it is planted will depend on the organization. Some programs will allow you to choose a specific variety of tree while others will choose for you. And some of the programs allow you to decide where the tree will be planted but others plant the tree in the location of their choosing. These decisions differ from organization to organization. 

Here are some examples of programs. There are local, national and international organizations that offer this service. The ones listed below are only a sampling of the programs available. 

Local programs

You'll have to check into city, village, or county websites to see if there are special programs in your area.

For example, The City of St. Louis’ forestry division allows family and friends to plant a tree in memory of a loved one. Participants can choose between a shade, flowering, or evergreen tree. Park officials plant the tree in the city park of your choice and tag it with the name of the person whose memory is being honored. The program costs $150. The participants receive a certificate and a map that shows the location of the tree.

Clark County, Nevada, allows you to choose the type of tree you want to plant, but you must select from a list of trees that are appropriate for the climate. Participants get to choose the general location of the tree. For $500, the county officials will plant the tree and place an engraved plaque at the site. For $100, a plate will be placed at the location of an existing tree.

National programs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) started the Plant-A-Tree program in 1983. With the donation of $10, they will plant ten conifer seedlings in a National Forest. These seedlings are planted in an area that suffered destruction during the last year. Those participating in the program will not be assigned a specific tree, but you will get a certificate with the name of the person honored when you donate.

Other groups, such as The Trees Remember, work with the U.S. Forest Service. They allow people to buy trees in memory of loved ones. This program enables people to choose from several packages that range from 1 to 500 trees. Just like the USDA program, participants are not able to select the type and location of the tree, but you will receive a certificate after making your donation.

The Arbor Day Foundation also allows individuals to plant a tree in memory of a loved one. Currently, there are two locations you can choose from, and each tree is $2. You must buy a minimum of five trees to take part in the program. Those who donate will receive a card to give to the family members of the loved one you are honoring. 

International organizations

The Jewish National Fund allows people to donate to tree-related charities. In return, they send you a certificate or plaque to commemorate your loved one. The trees are planted in Israel. 

Replant the Amazon is another worthwhile organization. They're currently working to plant trees in three locations: Haiti, Chittoor, and Malawi. This organization tries to plant one tree for every dollar that is donated. The program does not include certificates to commemorate a loved one’s passing. 

Step 2: Research Park and City Regulations

If you want to choose and plant the tree memorializing your loved one, these programs may not be right for you. If you would like to be more involved in the process, try reaching out to your local government. They can help you figure out what steps you need to take to plant a tree in your neighborhood.

You may find that some locations will allow you more ownership in the project than others. Some local communities will allow you to plant the tree yourself. But others require government employees to complete the entire process. 

Step 3: Consider the Cost of a Memorial Tree

The cost of planting a tree in memory of a loved one can range from $10 to hundreds or thousands. The type of tree you want to plant, as well as where you plant it can affect the cost.

Wherever you choose to plant your tree, you should plan on spending at least $150. That will allow you to buy a tree that is big enough to have a high likelihood of survival. 

Step 4: Figure Out Where You Can Plant a Memorial Tree

Aside from typical locations, there are other places you can plant your tree. Check with a local church to see if they would like to have a new tree at their site or you can ask a local school district for permission to plant a tree at a school to honor your loved one.

You could also consider planting a tree on the property of a family member. But keep in mind that the property may not be in your family forever. If the property changes hands, you may not be able to visit or care for the tree later.

Step 5: Pick the Best Memorial Tree for Your Loved One

Your loved one may have admired a particular type of tree throughout their life. You may consider choosing a tree based on the preference of your family member. If they never expressed a preference, that’s okay.

Although it is important to pick something that represents your loved one, make sure you consider the geography of where it will be planted.

You don’t want to buy a tree that is incompatible with the area you live in. An orange tree likely won’t survive a winter in New England. If you are going through the process of planting a particular tree, make sure you purchase one that will thrive. 

Step 6: Plan the Planting Service or Ceremony

Perhaps your tree planting service is the only ceremony that you have planned for your loved one. If this is the case, you will probably invite many people to participate. If you have a separate memorial service, you may only have family and close friends join.

You can recite a eulogy, special readings, or recite poems for memorial tree services

Make sure you have the appropriate permissions before planting your tree. If you are having the ceremony on land that does not belong to you, make sure you get permission beforehand. 

Step 7: Plant the Tree

Before you touch a shovel to the soil, make sure you call to have the local utility lines marked. Failing to follow this step may end up disrupting the utilities in the local area. Failing to do this may also cause death.

When choosing a location, understand how tall and wide the mature tree will be. Often people disregard this step because the sapling seems so small. A mature tree’s roots can damage things below the ground. The foundation of structures or in-ground plumbing systems could be at risk if you don’t plant your tree carefully. 

And don’t forget about the branches! The top of a tree can create a lot of issues too. A mature tree can block sightlines and interfere with electrical wires. And if they get too big they may need to be removed entirely. Take all these factors into consideration when planning where to plant your tree.

If you aren’t sure about the specifics of the tree you’ve chosen try going to a local tree nursery or gardening specialty store. They should be able to help you pick a tree that will work for the location you have in mind. 

Step 8: Take Care of the Tree and Other Rituals

You can’t plant a tree and then forget about it. Trees need care to survive, especially in the first few years. They need pruning, watering, and protection from pests. A local arborist or tree nursery can also help you with specific instructions on how to plant and care for your tree.

Every tree is different and needs its own type of care. Some trees enjoy an area that is not continuously wet while others will flourish in an area with an abundance of water.

Taking on these tasks can feel like a lot but keeping your tree healthy as it grows will ensure it’s around for generations to come. And visiting the tree regularly can give you time and space to reminisce about your loved one.

A Beautiful Way to Commemorate a Loved One

Planting a tree is a beautiful way to commemorate the death of a loved one. It is a reminder that even while grieving, life continues. And it gives you an alternate location to visit and remember your loved one. Not only that, if well taken care of the tree will survive for many generations.

Planting one ensures that your loved one’s legacy will continue long after they are gone.