Mike Garvey has an intense interest in trees and has identified, photographed and studied over 15,000 trees in our area. Mike Garvey stressed the need for large long-living trees. Besides giving great shade, the trees make for a healthy environment – taking in CO2 and giving off oxygen. Their large root systems capture a large amount of run-off and prevent erosion. Large trees also increase property values. When you consider all the benefits of a large tree and put a price tag on its value, the tree can be worth thousands and thousands of dollars.
The majority of trees originally planted in our community represent a first generation of species that are nearing the end of their safe and useful life expectancy. Mike Garvey has documented and taken pictures of heritage trees in our downtown area that have been here since on or before 1900. For instance, the vase-shaped American elms currently growing on the Yellowstone courthouse lawn were planted in 1902. Also, Mike has done the documentation to get a catalpa, a ginkgo and a bristle cone pine tree that are growing in the Billings area listed in Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry.
Over the past 125 years countless heritage trees of Billings have died or are dying from old age, harsh climate conditions, disease and human-caused neglect. Garvey suggested that we should be getting clones from these long-lived and majestic trees. His thinking is that these trees have been able to survive because they have the genetics that match the environment.
Mike Garvey has noticed that landscapers and homeowners in the Billings area commonly replace the older dying trees with a limited variety of quick-growing, short-living, disease and insect prone trees with quaking aspen and green ash being some of the most overused. However, in his study and search to identify trees in our area, he has come across rarely seen species growing quite successfully. He showed beautiful photos he had taken around Billings of black locust, catalpa, white spruce, American Larch, Northern red oak, bur oak, redbud, Ginkgo, tulip tree, Kentucky coffee tree, American yellowwood, golden chain, Pierson ironwood, shellbark hickory, bristle cone pine, common pear, Ohio buckeye, purple robe locust, yellowhorn, hackberry, and autumn blaze maple.
Mike Garvey believes we should be optimistic and not let the weird storms that have hit our area in the last couple of years prevent us from planting trees. Also, he thinks we should be a bit adventurous and plant a larger variety of trees some of which are slow-growing but have fewer diseases and longer lifespan.
Mike Garvey’s study of trees has led him to pay close attention to the soil and how important organic matter, microbial activity and drainage are for the tree’s health. When planting a tree, he suggested leaving some of the clumps of dirt intact to help keep the microbial make-up of the soil. Overwatering interferes with the trees ability to respire and according to Garvey is the major cause of death for newly planted trees. Also he feels the need to have plenty of room for the roots to grow. He showed pictures that were taken in downtown Billings of newly planted trees on tiny boulevards giving the roots nowhere to go. (He called these tree coffins.) Mike’s talk was very informative and we came away with a wealth of information.
Submitted by Elaine Allard