Nancy Szerlag is a freelance garden writer and weekly columnist for The Detroit News. Contact her at Ask Nancy at

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The Right Tool For The Right Job
by Nancy Szerlag       #Advice   #Feature   #Pruning

Planting and caring for trees and shrubs is one the best things you can do for the environment. Trees are critical tools in nature’s control of water and air pollution. They cast shade on hot sidewalks and reduce heat and air conditioning needs in homes and offices. Trees and shrubs provide food for pollinating insects, birds and people while beautifying the views.

It might surprise you to know that regular pruning helps keep trees and shrubs healthy, as well as looking good. And early spring is prime time for pruning.

Just like any job, pruning demands the right tool for the job. When buying pruning tools, choose a quality tool designed for the job, which not only makes the work easier, it’s also kinder to the plants.

Cutting blades made of poor-quality metals quickly loose their edge, become dull and often are permanently damaged. Pruning with a dull blade damages stems and branches by crushing or splitting, which take a long time to heal. These wounds become magnets for pests and diseases. Clean cuts, made with sharp blades, do little damage, heal quickly and look better. 

Hand pruners are the most-often used tool in garden cleanup, so it makes sense to buy good quality.

Just like kitchen knives, when it comes to pruning tools there is no such thing as one size or style fits all. There are two styles of hand pruners and homeowners should own one of each, since they are designed to do different jobs.

Hand pruners

Aids, such as ratchets in anvil pruners, multiply the cutting strength and   reduce hand fatigue. 1

Hand pruners cut stems and branches that range up to ½ to ¾ inch in diameter. There are dozens on the market, but they come in two basic styles. 

  • Bypass pruners, with scissor-like cutting action, allow you to make clean, quick, healing cuts on roses, shrubs, small trees and plants.
  • Anvil pruners use a single sharp straight-edged blade that hits a wide, flat anvil blade to cut dry, dead and dense woody growth.
  • When making your selection, be sure the handle fits the expanded width of your hand to avoid excessive fatigue.

Ergonomic handles, which curve to fit comfortably in your hand and have curved blades, reduce excessive wrist movement. Metal handles are often coated with cushioning materials that reduce friction, thereby reducig the chance of callusing or blisters. The bottom line is it should feel comfortable in your hand when cutting.


Loppers are essentially pruners with longer handles for cutting larger branches. They also get into tight spaces and the centers of plants. Good quality steel or stainless-steel blades are essential. Weight is also an important consideration, especially for folks who only do occasional pruning and have not built up the muscles in their forearms. Fatigue can also result in poor-quality cuts that damage plants, as well as accidents that could be avoided.

When choosing pruning tools, take into consideration the diameter of the branch or stem to be cut. Most loppers will safely cut a branch with a diameter up to 1 ½  inches to 2 inches. Trying to cut an overly large branch may stress the blade assembly, leaving it permanently misaligned, which causes crushed stems and branches. For larger branches, a tree saw is recommended.


Always keep blades sharp to ensure healthy cuts. A couple of swipes of the blades with a sharpener before use usually does the job.

Manufacturers of quality pruners offer replacement blades and other parts, which allow you to keep the tools in tip-top condition at all times. A long-term or lifetime warranty on a tool is another indication of quality. Today, space-age materials, such as titanium and strong, high-density plastics, may also be used in construction, so don’t overlook them. Toolmakers are constantly developing new designs that improve their products.

1.The 62-inch Fiskars Pruning Stik’s head rotates to make it easier to trim lower branches of trees without a ladder and to reach into tight, dense shrubs.  2

2. FELCO makes several sizes of pruners to accommodate the smallest and the largest hands. One way to reduce fatigue is to use pruners that are comfortable in your hand, even when the handles are expanded. 3

3. Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruners are ergonomically designed to make pruning easier. Ergonomic features include gears, ratchets and the padding on handles. 2

4. Loppers, such as the FELCO 200A, work well for pruning in the center of shrubs and other tight spaces. Make sure the loppers have bumper pads that control how the handles close. Without the pads, you will smash your fingers when you cut branches and close the handles. 3

To get an idea of what pruning tools are available, peruse catalogs or check out the websites of high quality toolmakers.

Good-quality pruning tools are a wise investment in the maintenance of healthy trees and shrubs, the environment and your pocketbook.


1. Photo courtesy of Corona Tool USA.
2. Photo courtesy of Fiskars.
3. Photo courtesy of FELCO USA.

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013.


Posted: 03/19/14   RSS | Print


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