Pruning is essential for the health of a garden but do you know the best tools for pruning trees, plants, and shrubs? How about the easiest way to cut grasses, perennials, roots, and vines? I’ll show you how to pick the right tool for the job so you can snip, cut, slash, prune, lop, and saw your garden into shape. While no one tool can do it all efficiently, you can definitely narrow down your picks to a few that will do a majority of cutting jobs in your garden.
This is part of a series of How to Prune Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in your garden.
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The Right Pruning Tool for the Job
If you’ve ever struggled with the wrong pruning tool, you know what it’s like. Way too much time is spent wrestling with the plant, either crushing or tearing until the branch comes free, and we end up with aching arms and damaged plants. Guilty as charged!
With the right tool, you should be able to get a nice, crisp cuts and clean slices—easily and readily— without any collateral damage to the plants or you!
I’m using Fiskars tools as the examples in this post. I’m a long-time fan of their products and, to prepare this post, I contacted Fiskars and requested sample tools to test.
Gardening on a Budget
If you’ve been reading Empress of Dirt for a while, you know I’m a true frugalista. While our friends run up huge credit card debt to indulge in expensive trips, cars, and riff-raff, we’re the fiscally-conservative ones, happy to live within our means. It may seem dull to others, but to us, the peace of mind is well worth it in such a tumultuous world.
Yes, we went through the flat-broke college and newlywed days (How I created my first dream garden on $100 per year), but, once you’re beyond living pay-cheque-to-pay-cheque, the realization comes that it is very wise indeed to invest in quality items you intend to use for years to come.
Workshop and garden tools are definitely on this list. Quality pays for itself in the long run.
Cheap tools are not just frustrating to use (and sometimes dangerous or harmful), but wasteful as well. I can buy one really good quality shovel that will outlast me, or cheaper new ones every few years, adding up to more far more than the cost of the good one. So, if you can, forgo that dollar store pruner and opt for something that will serve you for many years.
Which Pruners Do I Need?
Here’s a quick primer in speaking Prunish (I just made that up).
- Pruners are one-handed cutting tools intended for smaller cuts.
- Loppers require two hands to operate them and work on medium size cuts.
- Pruning saws are one-handed (like workshop saws) and intended for larger cuts.
You might also notice the words anvil, bypass, and ratchet mentioned.
- Anvil = a single cutting blade that closes down on a flat surface (the anvil).
- Bypass = blades that do just that: bypass each other. There’s usually one sharp blade and one dull one. These are often stronger than anvil pruners.
- Ratchet = amped-up anvil pruners, adding some extra leverage to assist your hands. These are often the strongest and most expensive pruners.
There is not a single type of pruner to fit all situations. And, as mentioned at the start, if you try to make one tool work for all cuts, you will injure both the plant/tree, the tool, and perhaps yourself (by forcing the tool to do things it’s not made to do).
If you’re just needing a pruner for a small one-time job, try to borrow one. If you’re needing pruners for ongoing garden maintenance, you’ll probably only need a few different ones to keep everything pruned, primped, and healthy.
Questions to Answer
1. What are you cutting? Flowers? Grasses? Vines? Shrubs? Branches?
2. How big are the largest branches (in diameter)? Choose pruners, loppers, and pruning saws based on this cutting measurement.
3. How tough is it to cut? Pruners and loppers are usually enough, but really tough jobs may require ratchet pruners, or saws.
4. Can you reach it from the ground or is it up in a tree? Never prune anything overhead! If you need help reaching, find the right tool (or person) for the job.
5. Do you have any strength or mobility issues with your hands or arms (arthritis, carpel tunnel, etc.)? If so, look for lighter weight tools with soft grip handles (where available).
Features to Look For
- Feels good in your hands, designed to reduce blistering, not too heavy (doesn’t strain lower arms).
- Right cutting capacity – be sure the maximum cutting size is right for the job.
- No-stick blades.
- Lock for blades when not in use.
- Warranty against defects.
Pick Your Pruner Based on the Job
Stems and Small Branches
Choose pruners for branches up to ¾” in diameter.
- Powergear2 pruner (these are the ones I use all the time)
- Heavy Duty Ratchet Pruner (for hard-to-cut small branches)
Branches too high to reach? The extendable pruner/saw extends from 7 to 16-feet long.
Thick and High Branches
Choose loppers by branch size.
The longer the loppers, the larger the cut size.
- PowerGear2 Lopper (18”) cuts branches up to 1 1/2” in diameter.
- PowerGear2 Lopper (32”) cuts branches up to 2” in diameter.
Need to trim high-up branches? This extendable pruner/saw reaches 16 feet.
Hedges and Shrubs
Choose hedge shears.
Consider the weight of the tool for comfort, but also the reach.
- PowerGear Hedge Shear (23″)
- Sculpting Hedge Shear (18”) If you just have small jobs, pick a shorter, lighter pair.
Flowers, Plants, and Herbs
If you have a kitchen garden and cut herbs for dinner each night (or do other fine cutting), fine small snips are great.
- Softtouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snips are just 6” long and really easy on the hands.
Trimming Around Flower Beds, Trees, Sidewalks
Good trimming in a garden is a game changer! I love crisp edges around the garden beds. It gives the garden a really polished look.
I used to use a serrated kitchen knife (which works quite well).
- Grass Shear (pick according to size you want). Grass has a tendency to stick to blades and get jammed. Look for no-stick coating on blades.
- Billhook Saw works great for digging in and cutting up deep roots including overgrown grass (that has crept into the garden beds).
Vines, Shoots, Suckers, Ornamental Grasses, Old Perennial Growth
When I’m clearing up all the old perennial growth (flowers and grasses) in the spring, I like a machete-like cutting tool.
Billhooks are an excellent option. It’s a one-handed tool making it easy to grab the plants, chop them down, and move on. Much faster than using two-handed shears.
- Billhook Saw – This has a two-sided blade (slices and saws) so it’s super handy for any quick cuts like chopping off shoots and suckers and dividing perennials.
Twine, Wire, Beer Bottle Caps, Garden Art Making
I use scissors all the time in the garden. I finally found some that are all-purpose.
- Cuts + More Titanium All Purpose Scissors– cuts paper, plastic, twine, light rope, and wire. Also has pointed awl tips and bottle opener. You can take it apart and use the blades as knives. The whole unit is dishwasher safe.
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If you are now fluent in Prunish, please share the good news!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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