Planting a tree as a sympathy gift recognizes the passing of a loved one with a living memorial. If you are planting the tree for the family or friends of a loved one, organize a small ritual or celebration where the tree-planting process is the center of the celebration. It is important to consult with the family because they may know a specific place where the tree should be planted, for example a special place the deceased liked to visit. Before planting in a public place such as a schoolyard, church or park, you'll need to get permission. It is best to plant the tree near a source of water so it can be watered during its first year in the ground.
Choose a tree to plant that is a native tree to the area and lives at least 100 years, such as a type of oak. A long-lived tree grows more slowly, but is more drought tolerant, disease and insect resistant, and will outlive most of the people at the memorial service. Research these types of plants and work with the family of the deceased to see which one they would have liked. The best time to plant a tree is in the fall.
Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball or container that is holding the tree. Dig the hole deep enough so once the tree is planted it is at the same level it was in the nursery or planted in the container. If the tree is bare root and not in a container, look for a soil line or moisture line at the base of the tree right above the root zone. This is an indicator of how deep to plant the tree. You can dig the hole as family and friends of the deceased watch, or everyone can help dig a bit of it.
Place the tree in the hole, and slowly cover the root base with the soil removed from the hole. This is a time where participants of the memorial service can help add the soil. While adding soil, also add a slow stream of water so air pockets cannot form around the roots.
Add a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, such as tree bark, around the base of the tree over the root base. Leave a 1-inch gap between the trunk of the tree and the mulch so fungal diseases cannot travel to the tree from the mulch as it decays. Memorial participants can also help add the mulch. Add a memorial stone, if desired, at the base of the tree after the layer of mulch is applied.
Water the sympathy tree every two weeks during the first summer by soaking with a stream of water as big as the width of a pencil for one hour. After the first year, a native tree should be able to exist on its own without additional care. Memorial participants can be on a watering and caring schedule for the sympathy tree. That way everyone can share in the living memorial.