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Pruners 101

Learn the basics of common outdoor pruners, how to select the right pruner to help maintain the plants in your yard and helpful suggestions on which pruner may be best for you.

How many times have we used sewing scissors or a serrated kitchen knife to do a pruning task in the yard? Or, heaven forbid, a carpenter’s hand saw to cut a thicker branch? Not only do these tools not do these jobs very well at all, but they were not constructed to do these tasks. Luckily, there are tools specifically made for all the small trimming and pruning chores in the yard. These tools are collectively known as pruners. Pruners are great for ‘manicuring’ and for removing overgrown or dead branches.

Each type of pruning tool was designed to handle a particular level of pruning, from the light to heavy, based on the diameter and coarseness of the stem or branch.


Floral Shears

• For light pruning
• Scissors – like design in great for a cut flower garden and dead heading flower
• Not for woody branches

Pruning Shears

• Small tool for pruning roses
• Great for hand trimming shrubs to maintain a naturalized (non-sheared) appearance
• Good for cutting fresh flowers
Innovative technology has produced pruners for people who have limited hand strength. These are also great for women of any age to use!

Hedge Shears

• Moderate size tool with longer handles and blades to cover more area when cutting
• Great for creating and maintaining a formal sheared hedge
• Good for cutting branches up to 1/4 inch in diameter
• For very large jobs, an electric hedge trimmer can be very handy


Lopper Shears

• Long handled with small cutting blade for longer reach and tight spaces
• For cutting branches up to 1 inch in diameter
• Heavy-duty style can handle branches up to 3 inches in diameter though the weight of this tool may be cumbersome



Pole Pruner

• Can reach small branches about 12 to 15 feet off of the ground
• Be sure telescoping styles have a safety lock
• Cutting action is achieved when the hand grip is pulled in a downward motion along the pole

Pruning Saw

• Available in several designs:
• Medium length curved blade that folds into its handle
• Bow saw (buy a blade cover for storage safety) or
• Pole saw
• Blades have deep and wide serrations to easily cut branches

• Wear heavy-duty gloves (it’s easy to cut your knuckle!)

Anatomy of a Pruner

THE MAIN PART OF A PRUNER is the cutting part: the blades. Look for high-quality hardened steel blades to hold a sharp edge longer. The cutting action of the blades are categorized into two types of blade design, anvil and bypass. With the anvil blade design, the one sharp blade strikes against the blunt blade where the branch rests, cutting through the branch. The bypass design has two sharp blades that cross over each other, like scissors, to cut or prune the branch. The anvil is designed to be used for deadwood (non-green), and the bypass style is to be used for green, living wood.

Tip: to get a good clean cut through the branch, keep the cutting blades sharp to avoid a frayed or ragged end.

A lot of long handled pruners come with non-adjustable handles. The handles are of various materials such as wood, fiberglass, metal and advanced materials for lighter weight. It’s just a matter of what feels the most comfortable in your hands for the time it takes to complete the task.

For an extended reach, there are pruners that are available with telescoping handles. You’ll want to make sure they have a good lock safety feature when the handles are extended.

The pruning saw deserves your undivided attention when you are using it, and deliberate safety measures for storing it away. Its blade is deeply serrated and quite sharp to easily cut through thicker branches. Be very careful, and wear a pair of heavy-duty work gloves. Tip: when using a pruning saw, make an ‘undercut’ beneath the branch first, directly under the cutting line, to avoid stripping the bark from the trunk when the branch has been cut all the way through.

When using a pole pruner or saw, it is important to stand clear of any and all falling branches, after all, when cutting a branch, falling is what the branch is going to do!

The overall weight is an important consideration in the design of a pruner. There are always new and innovative designs and materials for garden tools. Lightweight, yet durable, materials make it easier on the gardener to complete tasks. You’ll want one that can get the job done, but lightweight enough that it isn’t cumbersome to use. And for those who have limited hand strength there are ratchet style pruners available which are quite easy to use.

In determining the type of pruner you’ll need, know the size of the branch that you’ll be cutting, and its location, and then select the appropriate pruning tool.  Overtime you may realize the need to have several types of pruners for various yard tasks.

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