Planting a Memorial tree using ashes

Planting a tree in memory of a loved one is a lovely way to ‘keep them close’, even more so, perhaps, if you mix some of their cremains in with the soil.

A tree planting ceremony can be truly special and can form part of a Memorial or Celebration of Life.


  1. One doesn’t need to use all of the ashes to plant a tree. In fact, it’s preferable not to.
  2. It’s important that the ashes are well mixed into the potting soil and compost mix. One or two handfuls are more than enough (two for an already large tree).
  3. Ensure that the tree is not planted too close to walls or paving. 2m is generally safe depending on the tree, but do some research about the roots when choosing your tree or ask your local nursery.
  4. Plant trees which are endemic to your region, where possible or, at the very least, indigenous to your country. An EXCELLENT resource can be found here: I recommend using the search function, e.g.: “trees Western Cape” to find the perfect tree for your garden.


  1. Dig the hole, ensuring it is square, not round. Why? The corners of the square are the ‘weakest link’ – a perfect gap for the roots to extend to all four corners and thus be well anchored. A round hole has no escape route so the roots of the tree will just go round and round. The hole for the tree should be at least twice as big as the root ball, and twice as deep.
  2. Fill the hole three quarters of the way with the potting soil, ashes, and compost mix and pat it down firmly (to at least the half-way level). Then fill the hole with water and allow to drain overnight.
  3. Once all the water has drained, pat the soil down firmly and, if necessary, add more of the mixed soil to bring it to the halfway level, ensuring that it is firmly patted down again (otherwise the tree will gradually sink below the required level). It needs a very firm (but not rock hard base) to stand on.
  4. Thoroughly soak the root ball in water before planting – standing it in a bucket is good for this.
  5. Loosen the root ball to encourage roots to grow into the soil.
  6. Place the root ball in the hole so that the point where the roots meet the trunk is level with the surface of the soil surface. A piece of wood can be useful to check the level.
  7. Refill the hole ensuring there are no air pockets around the roots. Firm the soil around the tree making sure the stem remains upright.
  8. Water the tree as soon as possible after planting. A good, deep watering.
  9. Add a 5-8cm layer of mulch but leave a 10cm mulch-free collar around base of stem.
  10. Stake the tree if top-heavy or in windy area.
  11. Whatever you do, water the tree regularly. You don’t want to have to live with the guilt of it dying on you. Trust me. For watering guidelines, see below.

Pictured above:

  1. A goodie bag with a difference – share the ashes with attendees so that they too can plant a tree in remembrance.
  2. And/or provide attendees with young trees.

When to water

Newly planted trees (or shrubs for that matter) require more frequent watering than established trees. They should be watered at planting time and at these intervals:

  • 1-2 weeks after planting, water daily.
  • 3-12 weeks after planting, water every 2 to 3 days.
  • After 12 weeks, water weekly until roots are established.

Remember to water deeply. Shallow watering encourage tree roots to remain near the soil surface where they’re prone to drying out. Watering deeply encourages deep, drought-tolerant roots.

Shared in honour of my dear friend, Frederick Human.

RIP, Apie. You were loved.