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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.

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.

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.

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