Pruning tools for trees, hedges and shrubs

To maintain the health and strength of trees, hedges and shrubs, timely pruning is essential. In most cases the best time to shape plants is when they are young. They will need much less care when they are older. Knowing when and how to prune is important, and help in this can be found elsewhere on this web site. But what is equally important is knowing the right is tools to use, and we discuss this below.

Which tools?
For each particular pruning job there is a specific tool these days, varying in price and quality. There are lightweight tools to enable you to work at a distance from the plant, and other clever ideas and gadgets to make all such jobs easy and simple.
Your first consideration should be how often you are likely to use a particular tool and you should decide on that basis if you will buy it. You will definitely not need every tool that is available on the market.
There are certain criteria that every pruning tool must meet. It must be sharp and stay sharp, it must have a spring system to prevent you from having to use too much force and it should not be too light. This last point is important to ensure the tool does not buckle or is dislocated after the first pruning session.

If you are starting your garden toolkit from scratch, secateurs are the first thing you should buy. There are two different types, bypass secateurs and single bladed secateurs. The latter, the 'anvil type', does not require much force and is usually cheaper to buy. Bypass secateurs (shaped like a parrot's beak) however, has a cleaner cut and is easier to use in awkward spots. Both are suitable for branches up to 2 to 3 cm thick.

Tip: there are left handed secateurs available too!

Loppers are more heavy duty cutters with longer handles designed to give you more leverage when cutting thicker branches. Consider buying these if you have frequent need to prune plants that secateurs would struggle to cope with.

Pruning saw
For the thicker branches you will need a pruning saw. The difference with a regular saw is that this tool has wider teeth that will not get stuck so easily in the living wood and that it cuts on the backstroke instead of on the forward motion.
Pruning saws are especially practical when you are working overhead. Many have teeth on both sides; large teeth for hard work and smaller teeth for the finer work. When you are sawing branches that grow very close together, and you are worried about damaging other branches, the so-called 'Greek saw' with its curved and pointed blade with slanted teeth, or a small pruning saw with teeth on one side, is a good choice.

Besides this basic tool kit for pruning there are three more handy tools. There are telescopic loppers for high work. These can be extended to some 2.5 m and are operated by a lever and a wire and a hook at the end. By moving the lever up and down the blades make a cutting movement. The hook at the end keeps the branch in place.

Hedge clippers
For hedges or a shrubs that need to be pruned to keep a straight shape, a pair of hedge clippers are the last essential addition to your pruning tool kit. These do not cut very accurately and so should not be used for other plants, but most hedges have so many buds that they can survive the fairly rough treatment that these tools give out. Besides the normal straight-bladed clippers, there are also clippers with wavy blades which are ideal for an arbor vitea (Thuja occidentalis) or a Cupressocyparis leylandii. These hedges release a gum-like substance when they are pruned, that causes straight blades to get stuck or become stiff and more or less rip the branches off. Clippers with wavy blades are not affected by this and therefore give better results.
If you have endless stretches of hedge, you might want to consider buying an electric hedge trimmer. These are excellent labour-saving devices, but you should not be tempted by all sorts of cheap, special offers from your garden centre or DIY. Underpowered electric motors and low quality steel cutters will not give you long term reliable service. You get what you pay for!

Most garden tools do not need much servicing. A drop of oil on the moving parts after use will keep them smooth and blades can be cleaned with a oily cloth. When you have pruned obviously diseased trees or shrubs, your tools must be cleaned with a disinfectant (or diluted bleach) to kill any remaining germs.
Blunt tools should be sharpened straight away and pruning implements should be sharpened at the end of the season, so they will be ready for the next spring.

Your basic list of pruning tools:

  • Secateurs
  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Hedge clippers

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