How to plant a memorial tree – a 6 step guide.
This is our 6 step guide for those who are thinking of planting a memorial tree. When planting a memorial tree planting at our natural burial grounds we give you all the support you need. However, we know some families like to do this at home. We thought it might be nice to share some of the tips we have learnt from planting our memorial trees in a handy guide. There may be other ways out there, but here are a few of the top tips we have learnt over the years.
Step 1 – Finding the right tree
If you’re planting a tree at home there are some beautiful native trees you may wish to choose from. When we plant native trees at our natural burial grounds we discuss with our families which work well with the local biodiversity so this is something to consider.
Make sure that you have enough space for the tree you wish to grow ( including the roots). If you choose a big tree like willow or oak think about if it will interfere with the light and buildings. Some trees have special meanings too. You may find that the ‘Celtic Tree Calendar’ can help you pick a tree.
You may also like to think about how fast you would like your tree to establish as some grow much faster than others. Often smaller trees are the best size to plant (approx 4ft) as they have a better chance of surviving and the roots establishing. Larger trees often don’t like it when you move and replant them.
When considering size think about how long you want to water it. A general rule of thumbs is the bigger the tree the longer it takes to establish its root system and so the longer it will need watering. Watering your tree until the roots are fully established is something that is often recommended.
Step 2 – Finding the right spot
Choosing the right spot for your tree is important. When planting a memorial tree at our burial grounds we help families find the right spot as there may be a landmark or special area that feels right.
You may have an area in the garden that has a special meaning to you. You may also want to think about if you want to see the tree from a certain place like a window, room or bench. Or if it would grow to cover a specific area you wish to remain open as it’s important to remember that it will fill the space above it as it matures.
Things to consider with planting conditions are the soil you have and how wet the ground is. How much light or shade the tree will have and how exposed it is to the elements. This is important for the tree that you choose as you want to give it the best possible chance.
If there is a particular place you want to plant your memorial tree you can write these down and take them to your local tree nursery. They should be able to advise you on trees that would be good for that area.
Step 3 – Digging the Hole
When digging the hole a square hole is ideal, this should be 2 to 3 times wider than the tree’s root ball. If you are placing the tree in a grassy area or an area you wish to keep tidy it’s worth finding a piece of cardboard or using a garden bag. You can place the soil in this when digging the hole out as it will keep the area around it tidy.
If there is turf take the turf off carefully as this will come in handy later. You are then ready to start digging your hole. The hole has to be deep enough to cover the roots, but no deeper than they have naturally grown. It may seem like a good idea to plant a tree deeper but if you do this can hinder the tree’s growth or even cause the stem to rot and the tree to fail.
If you look at the stem of the tree just above the roots you will see the point at which the stem starts to flare. It’s where the tree would have originally grown out of the ground. This is the point at which you want it to emerge from the ground when you replant it. The great thing about nature is it knows what it’s doing so we have to trust it.
Step 4 – Planting your Tree
When your hole has been dug, place the root ball of your tree in the hole and place the roots on firmly packed soil. Gently fill with soil and tamp the soil around the tree with your foot. This will remove any large air pockets. You do not want to stomp down or compact too heavily as the roots need some aeration. They also need to be able to move into the soil as they grow.
If you have turf from the hole you can turn this upside down and place this on the very top of the soil you have replaced. Allow enough room for the turf to sink so you are not covering the tree flare. This will help to inhibit growth around the tree giving it a chance to grow without any competition. It will also reuse the nutrients stored within the grass, allowing these to go back to the earth.
Step 5 – The Final Touches
Place your tree stake and guard (if needed to stop nibbling wildlife). This will help to support the tree as it takes root. There are lots of different types and sizes of stakes and eco-friendly tree guards which are biodegradable. This has recently expanded to include a sustainable woollen tree guard made from British wool. The stake and guard you need will depend on the size of the tree you choose. We arrange the stakes and guards for our memorial tree plantings. If you are doing something at home your tree supplier should be able to advise you on the size of stake and tree guard you need.
Place the mulch around the tree being careful not to cover the tree base. You don’t need a lot just enough to help suppress the growth underneath. Water the tree as needed, make sure you do not overwater it. There is lots of guidance online about how much and for hold long you need to water your tree to give it the best chance of survival.
Step 6 – Placing a Plaque
If you are planting a memorial tree at a natural burial ground a plaque is often included as part of the planting. This is something worth asking when arranging a memorial tree planting.
Placing a plaque is also something you may want to consider when planting a tree at home. We have a very helpful blog on ‘natural memorials close to heart and home‘ that you may find useful if this is something you would like to look into.
A note about scattering ashes
If you are considering placing or scattering ashes be aware that these can be harmful to trees and plants. This is due to their high PH. They also contain minerals like salt which are toxic to trees and do not contain the nutrients these need to grow.
There are ways you can inter ashes around a memorial tree. Ashes should be away from the root ball as they can burn the roots. Scattering the ashes as far and wide as possible will help to spread the minerals contained in the ashes.
Placing below the turf will allow grass and plants to grow above and gives you the option to scatter wildflower seeds. This gives you a beautiful mix of colour at the base of your tree and helps to suppress grass growth. If you want something during the winter months you may wish to plant snowdrops too. Ashes placed on top will often remain on the surface until covered as they do not dissolve or blow away. Plants often find it hard to grow in areas where ashes have been directly scattered on the surface.
It’s worth noting that you would not have permission to visit if you ever sold the property. You would have to get permission from the current landowner. This is why many families choose to inter ashes with a memorial tree at a place like a natural burial ground. They know they can always visit in the future.
If you are thinking about having a memorial tree you can find out more about our memorial trees below.
Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow – Memorial tree planting.
Pembrokeshire Natural Burials – Memorial tree planting.
Dorset Downs Natural Burial Ground – Memorial Tree Planting.
Cothiemuir Hill Woodland Burial Ground – Memorial Tree Planting.
Hundy Mundy Woodland Burial Ground – Tree Dedication.