Can You Plant Cremated Ashes? 11 Alternatives


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Planting your loved one’s ashes in the ground can be a touching tribute. Bringing new life into the world in the form of trees, flowers, or other plants, using someone’s ashes, is an inspiring idea. 

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But what’s the science behind planting cremated ashes? While it sounds nice in theory, does it work in practice? Can cremated ashes really be planted, and how do those ashes impact the environment? It’s important to carefully handle the ashes, which means paying close attention to how you bury cremated ashes. 

If you’re wondering what to do with ashes, you may have more options than you think. Read on to discover if you can plant cremated ashes, as well as some eco-friendly alternatives. 

Does Planting Cremated Ashes in the Ground Work?

Planting cremated ashes in the ground sounds like a natural, touching way to lay a loved one to rest. Unfortunately, it’s not as eco-friendly as it sounds. While you’re free to bury cremated ashes as long as you’re not violating local laws, cremated ashes don’t mix well with most plants.

In short, plants can’t grow in human ashes alone, and human ashes don’t decompose. They stay in the ground, and they can even prevent some plants from growing. While it might sound like a green way to bring your loved one’s remains “to life,” so to speak, it usually isn’t ideal in practice. 

How do cremated remains impact plants?

To understand why you may not want to plant cremated ashes in the ground, you need to know a few things about plant matter. While it’s true that cremains have nutrients that many plants need, like calcium and phosphorus, they also have some harmful elements. 

Human ashes have a high percentage of salt, which is toxic for the majority of plants. Salt can prevent plants from growing, and it can negatively affect the surrounding soil and plants, too.

Additionally, cremated remains don’t have the other nutrients plants need to thrive, like manganese and zinc. Their high pH level is toxic to many plants, which creates a nutrient imbalance that prevents plant growth. 

Improving the soil

If you still wish to plant someone’s ashes, it is possible--but only in some situations. You’ll need to take additional care to improve the soil by providing the necessary nutrients missing from the cremains.

The easiest way to do this if you’re not a skilled gardener is to use a biodegradable urn that’s designed to be planted. Special memorial forests have even perfected this process to ensure their forests grow and stay healthy. 

11 Alternatives to Planting Cremated Remains

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative to planting a loved one’s cremated remains, you’re in luck. There has been a lot of innovation in this area recently, so there are more options than ever before. 

You can return your loved ones to nature in a beneficial way that doesn’t harm the environment. The alternatives below are easy, affordable, and they can make a perfect tribute. 

1. Surface planting

If you’re set on planting cremated remains, there is one way to do it that shouldn’t affect the nearby plants or soil. The way to do this is to mix a minimal amount of ashes into the soil or on the surface of the planting area. 

The key is to keep your sample size small. A handful is more than enough, and the wider the distribution area, the less likely the ashes are to affect the soil in any way. 

2. Biodegradable urn

Unless you’re familiar with the science behind gardening, it’s best to leave this process to the pros. Using a biodegradable urn that’s designed to restore nutrients ensures you leave no impact on the area.

These come in all shapes and sizes, from tree pod burials to salt urns. What makes these different from doing it yourself is that they’re designed with cremated ashes in mind to make sure they don’t cause harm.

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3. Rock urn

Another option to consider is a rock urn. These are urns designed to appear like natural rocks. They make the perfect addition to an existing garden or forest. 

They can be engraved with a plaque to share tributes or information, and they honor someone without needing to spread the ashes into the ground.

4. Paving stones

If your loved one was always spending time in the garden or outside, mixing ashes into concrete to create custom paving stones is a powerful tribute. 

This option lets you lay your loved one to rest somewhere special in the great outdoors. And paving stones are durable and built to withstand the elements more so than plants.  

5. Cremation stones

As an alternative to a rock urn or paving stones, you can create cremation stones made up almost entirely of your loved one's ashes. These stones are smaller than a paving stone, making them perfect for an outdoor or indoor display. 

With Parting Stone, you can solidify a loved one's ashes to create 40 to 60 truly one-of-a-kind cremation stones to keep at home or place outdoors. 

6. Scatter the ashes

Another classic choice is to simply scatter the ashes somewhere special. Whether you release the ashes in a favorite park, local grounds, or at the beach, this is a meaningful way to honor someone. 

While you’ll need to pay close attention to local laws, it’s easy and affordable to scatter ashes. Because the ashes only rest on the top layer of the ground or water, they usually don’t negatively affect the environment. 

7. Water urn

For someone who loved the water, an eco-friendly water urn is another alternative. Water urns degrade quickly in the water, allowing you to naturally release the ashes into a pond, river, lake, or ocean. 

Again, you should check local laws before choosing a water urn. But they usually have no negative consequences on sea life. Some even have added nutrients to feed fish, help coral reefs, and so on. 

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8. Natural keepsake urn

If you don’t want to bury or scatter all of the ashes, you might wish to keep them in something eco-friendly that’s meant to be displayed. Using an urn made of natural materials, like paper, cardboard, or wood, can make a powerful yet traditional tribute. 

Natural urns are low-cost, but they’re meant to stay in your home. You shouldn’t bury them. Instead, you should keep them as a memorable tribute for years to come. 

9. Memorial forests

A memorial forest is a special place that honors loved ones within the soil. Every person has a tree in their honor, often planted with the person’s remains. The family can visit the forest to feel close to the departed whenever they’d like.

The keepers or memorial forests know the best memorial trees that aren’t impacted by ashes, and they ensure the trees stay safe and healthy over time. This is an eco-friendly alternative to burying the ashes yourself, and it’s nice to know your loved one’s legacy is in capable hands. 

10. Plant a tree

If you’d rather plant a tree on your own, this is also an option. However, it’s best to keep most of the ashes at home in a traditional urn or scatter them in a separate ceremony. 

Even if your loved one’s cremated remains aren’t present physically, you can honor his or her memory with a memorial stone, plaque, or ceremony. Planting a tree in someone’s honor does a world of good. 

11. Make a donation

Finally, another way to benefit the environment with your loved one’s legacy is to donate. Though it sounds simple, making a donation in someone’s honor truly is a meaningful form of expression. 

Donate to an eco-friendly organization or a cause that mattered to them. Not only will this turn your grief into something positive, but it’s a lasting tribute that lives on in an organization’s fight for a greener planet. 

Create a Green Memorial

As more people continue to discover how their choices impact the planet, it’s important to recognize that it’s not always possible to plant someone’s ashes. While your heart is in the right place, planting someone’s ashes within the ground can harm the soil and the life of the plant.

Luckily, there are many other green, eco-friendly ways to honor someone. From planting a tree on your own to bio urns, it’s possible to return your loved one to nature symbolically or physically. It’s an essential part of someone’s legacy, so make it count. 


  1. Dyer, Mary H. “Planting In Cremation Ashes.” Gardening Know How.

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