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How to choose a memorial tree


For many years I resisted the idea of planting a tree or shrub to memorialize a loved one who has passed. I can’t imagine something worse than planting a tree to remember someone and having it falter. It would be like revisiting that loss all over again.And then I planted a tree as a memorial and I changed my mind. I was simply looking for an evergreen for the back yard when I came across Picea glauca ‘Hudsonii’, which happened to share a name with our first Newfoundland dog Hudson, who was quite old at the time, and I made a mental note about it. A few months later Hudson passed away and I recalled that tree. Somehow it seemed like it was meant to be that I should happen upon a tree with the same name as our dog, so I found one at a local nursery and brought it home. Mr. Much More Patient and I planted it together, and put some of Hudson’s ashes in the hole. That tree is directly out our back door so I look at it every day and think fondly about Hudson. We planted it three years ago and it is doing great, putting on new growth and bringing us joy every day.

We planted a tree for Rita while she was still alive, so we have two years of photos of her with it when it was in bloom.

The comfort that tree brought me, as silly as that may seem, changed my mind and quelled my fear of killing a memorial tree. So we planted another, except this one was for the dog we still had. It was actually Mr. Much More Patient’s idea. Why not plant a tree for her while she was still here, we thought. We planted a lovely crabapple and we have great photos of Rita with the tree, which makes it that much more special now that she’s not with us anymore. And when Rita died unexpectedly last spring, a group of friends pitched in to buy us another tree (a beautiful pink dogwood) for her. It was an incredibly touching gesture and I love that we planted it by Hudson’s tree, a fitting location as the two were best buds.

Picea glauca ‘Hudsonii’, which we planted shortly after our first Newfoundland died, was looking good then and three years later it’s even better.

So I’m reformed. I think trees and shrubs are lovely way to memorialize a loved one or mark a joyous occasion such as a birth or wedding. They are a changing, growing, everyday reminder. If you’re buying a memorial plant, here are a few things to consider:


This is the most important thing to keep in mind. Make sure whatever you’re planning is hardy for the zone it will be grown in and not terribly difficult to grow. Also consider the location where it will be planted. If the person you’re buying it for has a completely shaded yard, don’t buy a tree that needs full sun. This is not the time to go out on the limb and try pushing the growing requirements of a tree.  Similarly, be very cautious about buying a very large tree. These need to be planted carefully and not every yard can accommodate that size of tree. There would be no worse position to put someone in that making them face having to remove a tree that had been purchased for them as a memorial because it had outgrown the yard.


If you’re buying a tree for someone else, don’t buy something tiny because it’s all your budget allows. It could be years before the tree looks good and very small trees need attention to shaping as well as some coddling and that’s not the point of a memorial tree. It’s better to choose something else that gives you more bang for your buck than buy something small.


I think choosing a tree or shrub that flowers is especially nice for a memorial planting. Flowers draw your attention, making it a special time when a memorial tree is blooming. Sometimes flowers can help narrow down the right tree or shrub to choose. Perhaps it blooms around the time of the loved one’s birthday or passing, or its flowers are a color that one might associate with the loved one it has been planted for. We chose the ‘Coralburst’ crabapple that we planted for Rita because she was a very girly dog, so pink seems appropriate.


If you can choose a tree or shrub that has some connection to the loved one it is being planted in memory or in honor of. This might be the name, like our ‘Hudsonii’ spruce, or have a color connection like Rita’s crabapple (and the pink-flowering dogwood our amazing friends later gave us), or just something that seems to fit a loved one’s personality or persona.


When you’re shopping for a memorial tree, go to a local nursery and ask for help choosing something the recipient is likely to have success with if you aren’t sure what to pick. While you’re there, inquire about the cost of planting or consider planting it yourself so that the person you’re giving it to doesn’t have to worry about it. Planting a tree is a big project and sometimes you don’t want to give someone more work during a difficult time.

Here are few trees and shrubs that might make nice memorial gifts:

  • Lilac (a white lilac in particular could be a special plant)
  • Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
  • Magnolia (Consider in particular, smaller growing magnolias such as the “Little Girls” series, which includes ‘Jane’, ‘Ann’, ‘Betty’ and others, or something like ‘Butterflies’ with it’s pale yellow flowers
  • Redbud
  • Crabapple
  • Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate)
  • Japanese maple (be particularly careful with this as some can be very tricky to grow)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
  • Hydrangea
I’ll be the first to admit that giving someone a tree to memorialize a loved one is daunting, but no other gift could be as much of an every day reminder as a beautiful tree or shrub that grows as the recipient’s memories grow even fonder.

33 Responses

  1. Lovely article, however, I would suggest you remove the above comment by “Mike Hawk”. It’s extremely insensitive and in bad taste considering that those drawn fo your article have most likely recently lost a loved one. I know thats why I came here. Best wishes.

  2. What a wonderful article! I especially love the emphasis on not going cheap. Too many people these days go for the lowest cost whatever, which results in a mediocre end product. Thanks for sharing

  3. I just lost my brother age 44 he was so truly a hero in my eyes but his smile would
    Ishtar up a room I want a tree to represent him his name was Roy.

  4. i have purchased many trees in my life and i have to say these are of the lowest quality… not only did my tree die shortly after being introduced to its new home it didn’t help me mourn my mother, instead it resurrected her and i was forced to kill her for a second time.

  5. My husband and I both have much older siblings. When his oldest sister died unexpectedly, we had already bought a beautiful burr oak to plant in our back yard earlier that fall, so we decided it would be a memorial tree for her. It has flourished beautifully, and is a lovely reminder of her. Several years later my brother died of cancer. He was a gardener extraordinaire, and loved trees and plants of all kinds. We chose a beautiful red oak as his memorial tree, and planted it in August, before our Texas, zone 8 trees would begin to turn. That year was an unusual gift of brilliant leaves for us, and we have pictures of that 12 ft. tree in all its beautiful red garb, shining for him. I am so glad we chose to do that for both of them, and have lovely memories of our precious siblings in our yard!

  6. Me and my husband have recently lost our baby to miscarriage, we want to plant something in memory of our loss , we do not have good soil and have a large patio area so would like advice on what would be ok to plant in a large pot and also be ok in all weathers.

  7. My grandmother recently passed. I purchased a rose of Sharon to plant. Being she lived in a cold area for winter, this was one of the choices I had for a tropical flower plant. One of my best memories with my grandma was in Maui. She had the best time.

  8. Hi looking for some ideas for a plant me and my family can grow in the garden for my dad he was suddenly taken from us 3 weeks ago from sepsis we would love to make a memorable bit in the garden for him with the grandkids. Thanks.

  9. I lost a granddaughter 2010 years of age her name was Tara and I’d like to plan a tree for her something to bloom her birthday was in February she passed in May and I like to have something to blame is around those times

    1. I lost a granddaughter that was 22 years old the month of May 2019 and I gonna plan a treat for her ,her name is Tara I would like to have something that bloom February with the birthday or May

  10. I recently lost my son to cancer. I planted 2 apple trees so I could enjoy the blooms in the spring around the time of year he passed and bake pies for his siblings as he developed quite a sweet tooth during when he came home for me to care for him. But one of the trees doesn’t look like it’s going to make it. That will be sad.

    1. Hi Sandi, I’m sorry other people on the internet seem to be insensitive. *cough* I know you posted back in 2019, but I read your comment, and I just wanted to say it was an honor to read what you shared. I don’t know if the tree made it, and I didn’t want to daydream if it did or didn’t. I was on the fence about sending multiple memorial trees, but after reading your post, there was no doubt in my mind about what felt right to do. Not sure if you actually will get this notification… but thank you again for sharing.

    1. It depends a lot on where you are, but off the top of my head some to consider are Amelanchier (serviceberry), magnolia, flowering dogwood or a crabapple. You could also consider a flowering shrub such as a hydrangea, viburnum or weigela.

      1. I have one for my brother and now am looking for ideas for a bush for my wife. She passed away 7 months ago. Her name is Jasmin.
        I have not found any Jasmine bushes that work in zone 3. Lots of room so sun/shade doesn’t matter.

        Any ideas?

  11. I’m so sorry for your loss. I was searching this thread for my baby son who passed away 3 years ago. What zone are you in? Area for planting – sun, shade, trees nearby? I’ll try to think of some good plant ideas for you to plant Harper’s ashes under <3

    1. For a girl, especially a little girl, I can think of nothing other than a pink dogwood, or a beautiful pink cherry blossom tree. These trees in pink, are so beautiful and a reminder of their beautiful little girls.

  12. I lost my baby girl in December.
    Her name was Harper. I would like to bury her ashes and I am hoping to find a plant that will somehow link to her name which I can plant with her ashes. Can somebody help me please?

    1. In JESUS NAME Say A BLESSING Buy Plant Or A Tree and it On The Top Of The Ashes Then U Can Watch The Tree Or Plant Grow and Have Great Memory of Your Baby ❤️❤️🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾🌹💋. P.s I’m Praying For You We Did It For Mom

  13. We bought a Carolina Silverbell to memorialize our niece who died young. The whole area where it's planted is named for her: Katie's crescent. Her mom has come over some years to see it in bloom. When my dad died, my office got me a gift certificate at a nursery so I could pick out a tree for him rather than sending flowers to the service. His tree is a Ginkgo which is visible from the living room windows year-round. I have Lilium henryi for my late father-in-law Henry. We looked for something named 'Maxine' when Mark's mom died and all we could find was a potato! However, she grew up in Antigo which is potato growing country so that was appropriate, even if it didn't work in our garden. My mom is memorialized with recipes.

  14. Yesterday I lost my own dog to cancer and I'm looking for a way to memorialize her. As always, you give great advice on the topic. Thank you so much for these ideas.

  15. I have given bleeding heart plants in memory of loved ones. Somehow just the name seems fitting. They are long lived, something to look forward to each spring, and don't take much space. They prefer shade but will take some sun. Everyone who I have given them to, thought it was a neat idea.

    In memory of my mother, I bought a sargent crabapple tree – it only gets about 8 feet tall. I planted it so I can see it from my kitchen window. Mom always loved crabapple trees; she had several in her yard, and she spent so much time in her kitchen. I think of her everytime I look at my tree. It's a comforting way to remember her.

  16. I have several memorial plants in the garden. I also often purchase a plant when it has the name of someone I care for. It does make you wince when the plant dies but it is sort of gets your through the tough times of a loss of a loved one.

    1. i have a solution. learn alchemy and bring your loved ones back from the dead, i have many experience with this topic and would be willing to teach you my learning’s for an egregious price

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