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The trouble with memorial trees

By May 7, 2022 No Comments

Memorial trees

Planting memorial trees is a natural reaction from people who lose their loved ones or pets. But there is added stress because when you plant a tree as a memorial, you need it to survive. There is a lot riding on this planting. Not only do you need the tree to live and thrive, many times ashes are scattered in the planting hole or on the surface.

I didn’t really think much about memorial trees until my sister and her partner lost their young daughter in a car crash. My sister called me, slightly panicked, because the memorial tree they planted at their ranch wasn’t doing well. Now, normally I would take one weekend and drive over to help out with the planting but it wasn’t that easy.

The provincial government had, at the time, issued advisories asking people not to travel unless it was absolutely necessary. And, there was the business of protecting the in-laws from COVID; I wasn’t even close to their “bubble”.

So, the tree got planted, in a beautiful heart-shaped bed. I didn’t care for annuals planted around the tree; I’m convinced it’s better to wait until the tree is established. Surficial tree roots and annual plants must compete in that tight space. Of course, the mother-in-law is an experienced home gardener so that’s how it went down.

Ponderosa pines on my sister’s ranch.

2021 check-in

I finally made it to the ranch in the summer of 2021, taking advantage of my son’s away soccer match. It took a few minutes to realize that the tree was planted a bit low. As I ran my fingers in the soil around the tree trunk, I noticed the partner’s pained facial expression which could mean that they had scattered ashes at the base of the tree. It’s not a bad idea to ask for permission before you start digging around memorial trees.

This is my pro-tip: always find the root flare where the stem becomes root and plant the tree at this level, flush with the ground. Planting too deep means that stem tissues will get wet and they could rot, inviting disease in.

I got my sister to excavate around the tree until there was an obvious tree well. Sticking my fingers in there again wouldn’t have been a great idea.

Other considerations

Obviously, the tree species should make sense for your home area. My sister lives in the BC Interior on a ranch without great layers of soil and the summers are hot and dry. If I recall correctly, they picked a flowering dogwood that won’t overwhelm the space it’s in.

You can do it!

I love the idea of tree planting; the more trees we have, the better. Planting memorial trees is a great idea but beware of the extra stress. Because the tree is planted in someone’s memory and the planting might include the deceased ashes, there is a lot riding on the tree’s proper planting and survival.

When my sister’s memorial tree wasn’t doing well, I could tell from her voice that she was stressed. Unfortunately, the raging pandemic prevented me from driving over to help.

If you’re thinking about planting a memorial tree, you can do it! If you need help, call me.

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