Planting a memorial tree as a tribute is a meaningful way to acknowledge the ways that person lives on in our world. When that tree can live on, it can continue to have a positive impact on the family for generations to come.
However, there are a few pitfalls and traps you have to watch out before choosing your memorial tree so that your tree actually survives dying from disease, neglect or removal and contamination.
There are a few tips and examples that you’ll need to know before effectively choosing the right memorial tree for you especially if you’re in Australia with a harsh climate.
To plant a memorial tree that survives past the first few months you want to ensure you’ve chosen the right tree, planted it correctly, and have after care plan even when you’re gone.
Trees can last hundreds of years when planted appropriately becoming a living time capsule to be remembered by.
This guide to planting a memorial tree will take you past basics of getting your tree to survive mastering the process so your chosen tree flowers on their birthday personalising their legacy in a meaningful way.
Here are a few tips and examples that you’ll need to know before effectively choosing the right memorial tree for you.
1. Adding Human or Pet Cremated Remains (ashes) To a Tree
Ashes from your fireplace are good for the garden, but are human ashes just as good for trees?
Human ashes actually have the same pH as bleach and oven cleaner (12/14) which is almost 1 million times too high for most plants. They also weigh 3kg and their salt content (12%) is thousands of times too high for plants.
Putting ashes with a tree can be more damaging to living ecosystems than cartons of cigarette butts.
Scattering or burying ashes in a part of nature that is beautiful can result in degrading the health of the ecosystem that makes it beautiful.
When soil is alive its microbiology converts organic matter into energy molecules like nitrogen and potassium which then become the tree and help it grow.
Cremains (cremated remains) can be treated so they can help a tree grow (rather than harm its growth) enabling the person’s ashes to be perpetuated through the trees circle of life and live on through its thousands of seeds and seedlings regenerating.
While biodegradable urns sound like they are environmentally friendly and turn your ashes into a tree, what they actually do is just delay the negative impact of the ashes on the tree until the cardboard degrades.
With biodegradable urns only the cardboard biodegrades, the ashes still have the same toxic pH which is not good for the tree’s health as it forms like a lump of salty rock.
The slower the container biodegrades the longer the delay of the impact of the ashes on the tree. You can delay the impact of ashes to a tree better by using a slower-biodegradable container or heavily compressed cardboard packing tube which is better for the tree because it delays the impact of the harmful ashes to the tree for longer than biodegradable urns.
If you want the person ashes to go on to be a part of the trees circle of life so that they become the tree and live on through its thousands of seeds and seedlings, ashes can be detoxified through a Living Legacy Forest treatment which turns them into living nutrients that help trees grow.
2. Killing It With Kindness
One of the main goals of a memorial tree is for it to reach maturity so that its seedlings continue to perpetuate new life.
While watering your tree may seem like caring for it, a lot of people’s response to a tree looking unwell is to overwater it (even when it is looking unwell because it is overwatered). Overwatering commonly causes root rot and other diseases.
Underwatering is easier to manage. Most tree’s leaves curl up and go a bit dry when they need to be watered.
Soil Moisture detectors, slow drip feeders are inexpensive, common, and practical solution to managing better plant care that is usually under A$30.
Burying the root crown
One of the biggest mistakes people make with planting is burying the tree root crown below the soil line resulting in the tree drowning. The crown of the root ball should sit just above the soil level. You can use the spade to check this level.
3. Tree guards
If your tree is in the wilderness, it will be prone to deer, kangaroos, and other plant-eating species. Tree guards can protect your tree to support its growth but they can also make the tree far less resilient to wind resulting in a poor lifespan.
The wind is one of the biggest threats to establishing new trees but over staking trees too much means they don’t sway and develop weak root and trunk systems that cannot handle wind when they grow up.
The best practice standard for tree guards allows the trees to move so they can develop a resilient structure. Tree Coach is the best solution for tree guards protection
4. Location and Perpetual Care
“I’ll just plant a memorial tree in my back yard” – One of the most common events that death triggers is the sale of the family home. The average length of homeownership in Australia is 7-10 years. Your backyard inevitably becomes someone else’s backyard.
Think about where the tree is planted, and what will happen when the house is sold. Nature strip is most likely a more practical solution as it means you can still visit it after the house is sold but obviously, it is council property and may also be removed as required and risks vandalism. Think about powerlines and tree height, obviosuly if it interferes with powerlines that is not desirable.
Solution: Plant your tree with an organization that offers perpetual care of your tree so if it does it is replanted.
In Western Australia, your memorial tree can be part of creating a native forest that creates a habitat for the engendered mainland Quokka and Black Cockatoo. This forest is protected from being logged or developed by a conservation covenant. Some cemeteries also provide perpetual care for your tree replacing it if it does, while others only offer 25-year internments so be careful to check the term of care.
In Victoria, there are several cemetery locations (Lilydale & Fawkner) and also dedicated Forest Locations (Mt Macedon and Mornington) where your memorial tree can be cared for in perpetuity but is also a part of creating a master-planned forest. The newest forest in Victoria is Mornington Green where a golf course is being converted into a botanic garden forest.
New protected forest locations are being planned for NSW and QLD in 2021 with Northern Cemeteries offering two locations Frenchs Forest and Macquarie Park.
A new company Piccaluna does away with the need for funeral directors also co-coordinates customised memorials in NSW and can help personalise your journey and plant with local councils on request.
Having a dedicated place that is protected with ongoing care ensures your memorial tree can live on but also creates a place where additional family members and pets ashes can go to your same family tree. Good service providers will replant your tree should it get sick so take care to see what their replacement policy is.
Pre-planting is the new pre-planning.
The best memorial tree you can plant is one that is pre-planted with family so that the tree you planted with them is there for them when you are gone.
In this way, you can greatly reduce the burden of the family having to plan and pay for a funeral and also reduce the cost of a traditional funeral by more than half.
The average cost of a burial funeral according to ASIC (source budget direct) is $19,000 in Australia, whereas a memorial tree planting with a ceremony, plaque, 200 offset trees, perpetual care and tree protection, and memorial crystal keepsake starts from as low as $3,200 in W.A and $5,500 in Melbourne.
Having a dedicated family tree also means future family members can have their ashes with a tree-planting ceremony for just $2,900 per person because you already have your family tree planted. On a per-person basis, the saving is substantial and the fact that you’re also saving the planet and creating the air we breathe is beyond monetary value when it comes to peace of mind.
Pre-planning is a way to be a part of creating a new living landmark while you are alive and sharing the experience with the people you love.
Planning a memorial tree properly can result in your tree creating a special place for people to visit, it can transform the impact of loved ones’ lives by giving them a place to grow through grief and it can transform a landscape in a positive way.
A study by Deakin University has shown that nature can be more beneficial than medication.
It can also save families the burden of planning and paying exorbitant costs for a traditional burial.
If you don’t have ashes you can make a special request to donate a tree to be planted in a Living Legacy Forest. In this way, it will go to a place that has access and remains protected.
If you do have ashes or wish to pre-plan a tree to hold ashes later, you can arrange a personalised tree planting ceremony with a plaque and perpetual care with the confidence of knowing the tree and your funeral plans are taken care of.
After losing my best friend I was depressed for 7 years because it was easier to be numb than to feel the loss fully. Spending time in nature helped me enjoy feeling alive again, I found it was almost impossible to feel down when looking at a flower.
I wrote this blog to help other people planning their memorial tree so that it is a positive transformative experience for them. I hate the fact that loss of love causes so many people heartache and pain when it could also be serving to provide meaningful growth. I don’t want people’s lives to go on to be the cause of heartache and pain. I want people’s loves to go on to connect people to appreciate the preciousness of being alive.
In nature death is not the end, it is the most essential part of regeneration. In nature, we can watch an autumn leaf turn into a flower bud, and blossoming in nature we can see the larger purpose of life’s cycles winter proceeds Spring as destruction begets renewal.
Death taught me to appreciate life art a deeper level and not take anything for granted, it has enriched my life greatly.
I make sure I say “ Thank you” “I’m sorry” and “I love you” to the people I am close to because I may not have them tomorrow. Even when it’s awkward I say I love you to friends today because I might now have tomorrow.
The more we take things for granted, the more lose their value and our appreciation of them. If we take a relationship for granted it dies. If we take our job for granted it dies. If we take our health for granted well, we all know what happens very quickly.
If we take life for granted it can become dull and grey before our eyes.
But the more we treat life as precious the more beautiful it becomes because we live more in the moment and appreciate the small things.
Becoming a tree is not for everyone but it is for everyone we leave behind.
Most people have comprehensive car insurance (even though they may never have an accident). Death is unavoidable, planning for the inevitable or planting a memorial tree for a loved one is a practical way to plan for the future that gives you control over what you or your loved ones become.
So know you know how to plant a tree and care for it in perpetuity (and also how not to)
Each of us leaves a massive impact on the people and world around us.
The average person creates a Boeing 747 of rubbish in their lifetime and the average city has a cemetery footprint twice the size of its CBD.
This means how we lave the world changes the world, but this can also be empowering because by becoming a tree we can be the change we wish to see in the world and also hand down a legacy of how to be leaders to our children that look our trees.
If you have not already visited one of our forests, register to receive invitations to free flower planting events or to request a guided tour of our forests.