2011-04-21 / News

The best tools for pruning

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

I often get questions about pruning. What are the best tools? How is it done? What if I prune too much?

First off, make sure that your snippers, pruners, shears, secateurs, clippers or whatever you want to call them are sharp. Dull pruners crush rather than cut the branch and let disease into your shrubs or trees. If they are blunt, take a file to the edge away from the anvil.

Pruners have two faces: one is the blade the other the anvil. On bypass pruners the blade goes past the anvil to make a clean cut. On anvil pruners the blade lands flat on the anvil. I prefer bypass pruners, which I believe make a cleaner cut. Anvil pruners, especially if the blade is a little blunt, can crush the branch.

There are also smaller pruners or scissors, some with very long blades intended for specialized jobs such as pruning bonsai trees. These are intended for little snips here and there and for cutting flowers. Don’t make a mistake and try to use these small pruners for larger branches. You will either bend or break them or bend or break your fingers, and neither is recommended.

When picking a pruner, make sure it fits your hand. Try them before buying. Felco are considered to be top-of-the-line and the company makes several sizes of shears — even left-handed and twohanded ones. Plus, spare parts are almost always available in hardware stores. Fiskars and Wilkinson Sword also make several good sets of pruners, plus there is a host of Chinese-made imitations. As I said, make sure the pruners you select fit your hand and are comfortable. A good quality pair of pruners costs anywhere from $40 to $60.

You can generally cut through branches up to about three-quarters of an inch thick with a good set of sharp pruners. For thicker branches you might want to buy a pair of long-handled shears, which allow you to exert far more leverage and cut branches twice as thick. The handles on these shears range from 24 to 36 inches long depending on the manufacturer.

When buying long-handled shears, try to figure out if the handles will eventually come loose. I have had long-handled shears that allow my hands to bang together when I cut. This is not comfortable and can make your eyes water if the branch slices easily after some initial reluctance. Fiskars, Stihl and Felco all make excellent long-handled pruners. They cost up to about $100.

For ultra-long reach you might want a pruner head that sits on the end of a long pole. The head costs about $30 and the pole a little extra depending on whether you get fiberglass or wood. These pruner heads are made by Gilmour and are often part of a pro’s arsenal.

A rope running down the pole is the method used to exert leverage on the pruning head. Such a pruner is handy for trees when you are not able to climb a ladder. Fiskars make a slightly different version, as do a number of other manufacturers.

Once you get beyond 1.5 inches, your best recourse is a chainsaw or a pruning saw. If you know how to use a chainsaw, then go ahead and use it. If you don’t know how to use a chainsaw, either get instruction or get help.

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