By Laurie Dunklee
Michael Klinker makes it his business to look up — at trees, that is. The Edgewater resident’s goal is to grow the city’s leafy canopy by helping people to plant more trees.
“Everyone looks down at their grass and their flowers. People don’t often think to plant trees, even though they help both our environment and our home values,” says 34-year-old Klinker, who moved from Indiana to the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood in 2012, and to Edgewater last year.
“Trees are my passion. I’m looking to make it easier for people to choose their trees by providing lots of information in one place.”
Klinker’s “one place” is arboradvisor.com, a free website he built in his spare time that provides information about the 75 best trees to plant in the Denver area.
Klinker is renovating his house and upgrading his property, and in 2015 he began looking for trees to plant. He was surprised at the difficulty.
“I hired an arborist to help me because I didn’t really know what to buy,” he said. “We were looking at Google images and I realized there was no good place to reference data about this. I had a light-bulb moment when I realized this was an opportunity to make the process better.”His experience in landscaping, as well as in the military and healthcare software, helped Klinker pursue his Arbor Advisor idea. Growing up in Westfield, near Indianapolis, he worked for landscapers and at garden centers throughout high school and college.
“I always liked working outdoors,” he said.
After 9/11, at age 20, Klinker enlisted and spent four years in the Marine Corps, including a two-year stint in Iraq in 2006-2007.
“I learned a lot of things, including how people make decisions when there’s no blueprint,” he said.
Klinker earned a business degree from Indiana University and now he works from home in healthcare software, a job he says informs the Arbor Advisor project.
“My business is decision support — analytics — for executives who report on the profitability of their business. One thing I realized is that people can’t make a decision if there are too many options, so it helps to narrow them down.”
Klinker researched hundreds of sources for arboradvisor.com, including nursery and university websites, and narrowed the list down to 75 trees available locally.
“I just wanted the 75 best options that are low-maintenance and not likely to die or be cut down in 10 years,” he said.
He further narrowed the options with a filtering system based on where the tree will be planted and other factors.
“You choose whether it’s full sun, how big of a tree you want, whether it’s fast- or slow-growing, and if you want a shade tree, a flowering tree or a fruit tree. You wind up with the best three to five trees based on the search options.”
Klinker wrote a description of each tree that includes recommendations, such as its suitability as a visibility screen or a windbreak. The information includes photos of the trees in all four seasons. He said arborists are using the site to help their customers choose trees.
“I’m not an arborist but I’ve learned a lot about trees. I think they are under-appreciated. Trees can add up to 15 percent to a home’s value, as well as cutting down on cooling bills. Trees clean the air and add color to the streetscape. They make the city look a lot better.”
Klinker said Colorado’s climate and elevation present certain challenges.
“The weather can swing rapidly, and a late storm can break limbs. Also, it can be harder to get trees established in our arid climate; new trees need supplemental water.”
Nurseries don’t always sell the best trees for our climate, he said.
“They sell trees we should not plant in Denver, like aspen trees, which are good in the mountains but not at lower elevations where it’s hot.”
He says it’s OK to buy trees at big box stores as long as you know what you’re getting.
“Stores like Home Depot can be cheaper but call ahead to see what they have.”
The trees at the top of his list include linden and honey locust trees, “for their deep roots,” as well as evergreens like Colorado blue spruce. Fir and juniper are down the list because they get broken easily.
Klinker says people should choose trees that their neighbors don’t have.
“The best urban canopy is diverse, so we don’t lose so much when one variety dies out. Right now our ash trees are threatened by the emerald ash borer. Some of them might be saved with treatment, but I saw where the borer went through Ohio and now there are dead ash trees everywhere.”
Edgewater has 347 documented ash trees in the public right of way and private front yards. In Denver, one in six trees is an ash. Both cities are in the process of treating or removing ash trees in the public right of way. Edgewater is offering discounted replacement trees and Denver residents can apply for free trees to replace their ash trees in certain areas. See edgewaterco.com or beasmartash.org for details.
Klinker is gearing up to expand Arbor Advisor to include tree sales, delivery and planting services. But for now, he’s happy to provide the information people need to plant more trees.
“Even if I never make a dime, I love doing this,” he says.