13 Meaningful Things to Put on a Gravesite 

Updated May 19, 2022
glass stone and coins on gravestone

Trying to decide on a meaningful item to leave at a grave doesn't need to be complicated. With a bit of thought about the person you're honoring, you can quickly determine if an item is special, practical, and meaningful. There are lots of unique decorations for a grave that can show just how much you care.

Leaving Flowers at a Grave

Woman leaving flowers at grave

Some cultures use flowers to decorate graves. This practice is viewed as a respectful and beautiful way to honor the deceased. You must follow the cemetery's guidelines, if any, about leaving flowers on graves. Some cemeteries only allow fresh flowers, while others allow artificial and fresh. Cemeteries that allow fresh flowers see that once the flowers are spent, the groundskeeper collects and disposes them.

How to Leave Flowers at a Grave

You can place flowers on the ground by the headstone or in front of it. You can also place a fresh bouquet on top of the headstone. You can lay a wreath or cross on the ground near or against the headstone. Most cemeteries allow plastic vases that are secured with a self-stake into the ground by the headstone. You may lay a bouquet on the headstone or on the ground of the headstone.

What Flowers Are Best for Graves?

You can choose real or artificial flowers for a grave, depending on your preference and the cemetery's requirements. As long as you stick to cemetery regulations, there's no wrong answer. Try one of these flower ideas for decorating a grave:

  • Favorite color - Choose flowers in the person's favorite color to add a cheerful touch.
  • Favorite flower - If the person you're honoring had a favorite flower, this can make a perfect choice.
  • Symbolic flower - Consider a flower that has special meaning, such as the type of flower someone wore on their wedding or grew in their garden.
  • Holiday arrangement - If you're visiting during the holidays, leave a poinsettia or other holiday flowers.
  • Grave blanket - A grave blanket is a unique item to leave at a grave. This evergreen floral arrangement covers the gravesite and is a standing tradition in many midwest states.

Using Stones and Pebbles as Unique Grave Decorations

You might have seen small stones or pebbles left on the top of a headstone and wondered what the meaning was. This ancient tradition is found in the Jewish religion and others. It evolved from the necessity of covering a fresh grave with rocks or stones to protect it from animals. With each person adding a stone to the burial site, the grave was quickly covered by stone/rocks. Today, leaving a small pebble or stone on top of the gravestone is a sign of respect and lets family members know someone visited during their absence.

There are lots of stones you could leave. Consider leaving a birthstone, small rock from a special trip, a pebble from a favorite beach, a crystal with special meaning, or a worry stone you've been carrying. A stone makes a good choice because it won't be damaged by the weather.

Offering Coins at a Grave

penny on grave marker of unknown soldier

Leaving a coin at a grave is another way to show you were there and that you honor the person who is gone. In many of the countries in Latin America, leaving a coin is a commonly accepted practice of showing respect for the deceased. Other countries reserve this tribute for the military.

Military Tradition of Leaving Coins

The military has a long-standing tradition of leaving coins on the graves of those who have served. Traditionally, the groundskeeper accepted the coins as payment for the upkeep of the graves. In modern times, the coins are collected and donated to a charity/organization that benefits veterans. The denomination that you leave is determined by your relationship with the deceased.

  • Penny - You don't know the deceased, but you wish to demonstrate appreciation of their service.
  • Nickel - You went to the same boot camp as the deceased.
  • Dime - You and the deceased served together.
  • Quarter - You were present when the deceased died.

Pennies With Important Dates

Consider leaving pennies with important dates. Since these coins are worth only one cent, they're less likely to be taken by others. You can mark the year someone was born, the year they graduated high school or met someone special, and other major milestones in their life.

Placing Flags on Graves

It is a common practice in the United States to place a staked small American flag by a headstone. This is practiced not just for deceased service personnel or veterans. It is often placed on the gravestones of deceased patriots.

In addition to an American flag, you can use other flags to decorate a grave. For example, small holiday flags can be a nice way to add festive cheer to a cemetery plot. You can also use flags with flowers, special colors, or causes that were important to the person you're honoring.

Leaving Food on Graves

Some cultures leave food on the grave. There are many reasons for this practice, and it depends on the culture and/or religious traditions. Many American cemeteries don't allow food and drink to be left on graves, since such offerings attract all kinds of animals and insects that can create maintenance and health issues.

If your cemetery does allow food, consider remembering someone special with a favorite dish or special treat. A small piece of candy is a good option, since it will dissolve in the rain.

More Unique Grave Decoration Ideas

There are lots of things you can put on a grave instead of flowers or flags, or you can add some unique decorations in addition to these more traditional choices. Place these on the headstone or on the ground in front of the headstone. Try one of these ideas for things to put on a gravesite.

Photographs

Photos, especially in weather-sealed frames or cases, can make meaningful and unique decorations. You may decide to place a photo of your loved one or a family photo on the gravestone.

Small Toys

Little toys can make special gravesite memorials, especially for a child or someone young at heart. For example, you can leave a toy version of a favorite car. You could also leave tiny animals, action figures, and other playful choices.

Figurines

If the person you're honoring collected figurines, you could leave small ones each time you visit. For example, if someone loved frog figurines, you can keep an eye out for tiny china frogs to leave by the headstone.

Bird Feeders

If cemetery regulations allow it, you could place a small bird feeder next to the grave and stop by to refill it often. The feeder can double as a pretty decoration, and it can be peaceful to watch the birds when you visit.

Container Gardens

Some countries and cultures have traditions of gravesite landscaping. This can be small gardens or elaborate designs. However, some cemeteries ban this kind of individuality, preferring a uniform look to the overall cemetery. If the cemetery allows, you could create a container garden next to the headstone and fill it with special plants.

Solar Lights and Lanterns

lantern and flowers on gravestone

Since solar lights and lanterns only require the sun for power, they make a good choice for adding some light and cheer to a gravesite. Solar lights come in all kinds of styles and can make beautiful and unique grave decorations. Place them on a stake near the headstone.

Wind Spinners

A wind spinner or wind sock can be a lovely way to add all-season color to a grave. The wind will move the spinner or wind sock when it blows, making the gravesite feel more cheerful.

Special Handwritten Notes

Consider writing a letter to your loved one and leaving a handwritten note at the grave. You don't have to sign your name or write anything super personal, but it can be a healing experience to write a special letter.

Check With the Cemetery About What to Leave at a Grave

National cemetery

Before you choose the perfect tribute, take a moment to check with the cemetery guidelines for what to leave at a grave. Some cemeteries don't allow many decorations on a grave. Be sure that you don't leave something that will interfere with the groundskeeper's routine upkeep. This is especially true of decorations that you put into the ground as stakes. Most cemeteries have guidelines against stake decorations. A simple check of the cemetery website or call to the cemetery management can help you get a sense of what your options may be.

If you have a loved one interred in a national cemetery, guidelines only allow you to decorate the grave around the holidays. Some of these include Easter, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Christmas Day, and possibly other holidays.

Choose Meaningful Things to Leave at a Grave

There are many things you can leave at a grave, but the key is choosing something that best personifies your feelings about a loved one or symbolizes something about them you wish to remember or honor. If you select something meaningful, the item itself is less important than the feeling it represents.

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13 Meaningful Things to Put on a Gravesite