Start a certified tree garden with these easy steps

Tennessee is fortunate to have an abundance of beautiful trees in its parks, forests, farms, and neighborhoods. In Memphis area, the West Tennessee Chapter of the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council and the Memphis Botanic Garden are working to grow the regional tree canopy and educate the public on how to grow and maintain healthy trees themselves.

TUFC's West Tennessee chapter recently created a guide for starting and maintaining a certified arboretum, which is simply a garden dedicated to trees.

“We would love for every neighborhood, school, city park, or business to expand their tree canopy, educate neighbors on correct mulching of trees, and work toward arboretum status,” said Judi Shellabarger. 

Left to right: Margaret McQuiston with Memphis City Beautiful, sponsor of the Victorian Village Arboretum, works with Memphis Botanic Garden Tree Team members Jan Castillo, Judi Shellabarger, Deb Foehring, and Linnea West to prepare for the arboretum's official certification. (HGN/Sarah Rushakoff)
Shellabarger is a member of the West Tennessee TUFC chapter and the Memphis Botanic Garden Tree Team. TUFC is responsible for certifying all arboretums in the state.

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The goal of TUFC's Arboretum Certification Program is to develop a network of arboretums across the state that are well-maintained, open to the public, and proactively utilized for hands-on education about trees and the important role they play in communities.

The big vision includes a TUFC-certified arboretum within a 30-minute drive of all Tennesseans. 
The process might sound daunting but the following steps are all interested parties need to do to get certified:
  1. Learn about program and verify ability to meet certification requirements, which includes public access to the garden, a regular watering schedule, and more. 
  2. Identify the trees you want to include in the arboretum application and develop an alphabetical list that includes both the common and Latin scientific names. Find a list template here. A level-one arboretum must have at least 30 different species.
  3. Submit the list to [email protected] and [email protected] for approval.
  4. Once approved, install signs with the tree's common and Latin names and complete the formal application. 
  5. Prepare for inspection. Find the criteria here. The results will either be a certification or recommendations for changes. 
  6. Once certification, order your official certification signage and display it proudly! 
There is a nominal cost, and prices vary per level of certification. For example, level one costs $175, while level four costs $450. TUFC certification levels and criteria can be found here. 

Labeling trees with their common and scientific Latin name is part of the process to obtain an official arboretum certification. (HGN/Sarah Rushakoff) Currently, there are more than 30 certified arboretums in Memphis, including gardens in Orion Hill, at White Station High School, and near St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

The Memphis Botanic Garden is the only certified level four arboretum.

The West Tennessee TUFC chapter offers classes each fall to certify individuals as Urban Forestry Advisors. These individuals work in their respective communities to educate and expand the tree canopy throughout west Tennessee. 

Laurie Williams at the Memphis Botanic Garden is the regional liaison for West Tennessee. She may be reached at 901-636-4128. For more information or to purchase a guide, visit
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Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.