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Living Memorials: Some Thoughts & Considerations

Living memorials are a way of honoring the life of a departed loved one, and help shift the focus away from death and more towards a celebration of life. When choosing a tree as a living memorial, it’s important to think far down the road in terms of longevity, maintenance, and site selection. Trees are beautiful and meaningful, and we want to help you choose one that will thrive for many years. Some things to consider:

Longevity

All trees should be an investment in long term enjoyment, but with a memorial tree this is especially important.

We suggest: choose from long-lived tree families and avoid ornamental trees that are likely to have a shorter lifespan or be threatened by extremes in weather.

The “Mess” Factor

In home landscapes, we’re often more tolerant and patient with a shower of petals or fruit because the benefits outweigh the brief annoyance of sweeping up the flowers. If the tree is placed near a school walkway, or a church parking lot, these may be considered a significant nuisance instead of a minor annoyance. Nuisance trees that annoy users are often the first to be removed, and we don’t want that happening to a memorial tree.

We suggest: choose from trees that don’t drop a large volume of flower debris or fruit debris. OR, make certain that trees with significant flower/fruit drop are sited away from walkways, parking, utilities.

Location Challenges (at a home, at a school, at a church…)

Unlike private homes, public properties are often maintained by many hands. Use of herbicides, lawn treatments, and ice-melt salt is typically higher at public buildings. Public properties are more likely to have permanent irrigation systems in place, and these systems aren’t as easy to adjust as watering systems in home landscapes. In short, you will have less control over the care of the tree if placed in a public property.

We suggest: choose from trees that tolerate a wider range of moisture conditions and have some salt tolerance.

Trendy vs. Tried and True

Avid gardeners are always drawn to the latest and greatest: a slightly earlier flower, a brighter red in the fall, fewer thorns, or other snazzy updates. We love our new cultivars! But choosing a memorial tree is not always the best time to conduct experiments – when it comes to brand new cultivars, occasionally there will be surprises. Plants don’t read books!

We suggest: choose from tree varieties that have demonstrated solid success in our part of Wisconsin for several years. Save the “latest and greatest” new variety experiments for your home garden – not a memorial tree.

Tree Species to Consider

Depending the chosen site and your aesthetic wishes, some trees worth considering for a memorial planting in Southern Wisconsin include:

  • Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
  • Columnar English Oak cultivars (Quercus robur varieties)
  • Select cultivars of Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata and equivalent)
  • Select Sugar Maple cultivars (Acer saccharum varieties)
  • Sterile male cultivars of Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). 

When in doubt, stop in and see us! We have helped many clients choose beautiful, long lived trees that stand as living memorials throughout Southern Wisconsin.

When you stop in to talk with us about memorial trees, it is incredibly helpful if you can bring photographs and some dimensions of the site. This allows us to give you the best feedback and be the most helpful with your selection process.