How to Choose Pruning Shears – Key Factors, Recommendations, and Expert Tips

Whether you’re maintaining ornamental trees, rose bushes, or keeping fruit trees productive, quality pruning is an essential task. Having the right pair of secateurs for the job makes all the difference in getting clean, accurate cuts without undue hand strain. This guide breaks down how to choose pruning shears including the key types of shears available and offers tips on selection, proper use, and care for long-lasting performance.

I’ll go over bypass, anvil, ratchet, and telescoping styles in detail, with advice on branch thickness capabilities and ideal applications. Things like leverage, blade adjustment, locking mechanisms, and handle comfort vary widely. And not all secateurs work well for delicate precision cutting versus brute chopping strength needed. We’ll explore how to match shear mechanics with intended pruning tasks.

For rose gardeners, cleanly snipping each stem to encourage prolific blooming takes a different tool than hacking through mature fruit tree limbs. And if you battle arthritis or less grip strength, I’ll cover options to make pruning more manageable. Whether you landscape ornamentals or harvest from a small orchard, choosing the right shear type promotes plant health with minimal personal fatigue.

With a bit of guidance, you can confidently equip yourself with durable pruners sized right for hand comfort and strength abilities. I’ll tackle topics like sharpening, cleaning, rust prevention, storage methods, and recognizing replacement timing. I’m happy to address any specific questions as well for both novice and experienced gardeners alike. The goal is to make your landscape chores thoroughly enjoyable rather than a chore!

Types of Pruning Shears

The most common forms include bypass secateurs which cut with a scissor-like slicing action, anvil styles that chop using a sharp blade against a broad flat surface, ratchet types that operate in stages to conserve hand strength, and telescoping pole models for extending height reach. Now let’s explore which might work best for your needs…

Bypass Pruning Shears

Bypass shears, also called scissors-type shears, are my go-to choice for the majority of pruning jobs. With blades that closely overlap like a pair of scissors, bypass shears can make extremely clean cuts quickly and easily. The overlapping design results in two sharp edges passing smoothly past each other to slice neatly through branches. Bypass shears are best for branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter.

I appreciate the dexterity and precision bypass shears allow. Their curved blades conform nicely to the shape of the branch for detailed shaping and trimming work. This lets me selectively prune individual shoots to maintain specific hedge dimensions or selectively thin shrubs for air circulation and sunlight penetration. Bypass shears handle flexible green growth with ease, minimizing tearing or jagged edges that can attract disease and pests.

For homeowners with smaller properties or those tackling light-duty pruning tasks, a high-quality pair of bypass shears may be your only needed tool. Their versatility makes them great for everything from manicured hedges and foundation plantings to fruit trees and container gardening. Look for corrosion-resistant stainless steel blades that hold their sharp edge through many seasons of use. Rubberized non-slip handles also provide comfortable, fatigue-free cutting.

Anvil Pruning Shears

While not quite as precise, anvil pruners are indispensable when chopping thicker woody stems beyond the capacity of bypass shears. Instead of overlapping blades, an anvil shear uses one sharp cutting blade paired with a broad, flattened surface that acts as an “anvil”. The straight cutting edge is driven forcefully down onto the anvil to chop through woodier material.

I rely on anvil shears for hardwood tree maintenance like thinning out small crowded branches in spring. They make fast work of pruning perennials like basil, mint, and raspberry canes back in late fall. Anvil shears can cut branches up to 1 inch thick thanks to their brute force chopping action. Go for drop-forged steel construction and an ergonomic handle design to withstand heavy-duty use without hand fatigue.

The chopping cut of an anvil shear is less precise than a bypass shear. It tends to crush and splinter some fibers rather than slice cleanly through. Still, anvil pruners are worth adding to your arsenal for any jobs beyond the capacity of bypass shears that require raw cutting power over delicate precision. Keep them on hand for deadwood removal during winter pruning as well.

Ratchet Pruning Shears

If hand strength or dexterity is a concern, ratchet pruners are a great ergonomic option. Instead of a simple cutting action, internal gears in the ratchet allow the shear blades to be slowly and incrementally closed with less grip strength required. This enables cutting branches from 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick.

I know several gardeners who appreciate ratchet shears for tasks that would otherwise cause hand fatigue. Their mechanics spread the cutting force out over time, preventing muscle strain. This makes ratchet shears particularly suitable for pruning roses, grapevines, or other woody canes when doing large volumes of branches. The tradeoff is slower, with less forceful cuts compared to bypass or anvil styles.

Look for textured handles and an adjustable tension setting on ratchet shears. This tailors the cutting pressure needed based on branch thickness. Leave the tension loose for thinner material and crank it up fully for branches nearing 3/4 inches. With practice, ratchet pruners can be nearly as fast as standard shears while sparing your hands from undue stress. Consider them for mature landscapes with significant pruning loads.

Telescoping Pruning Shears

For hard-to-reach areas, telescoping pruners extend your reach without a ladder. Typical lengths range from 4 to 8 feet long when fully extended. I’ve used telescoping shears for limbing up tree branches, thinning high canopy growth, and trimming tall hedges. Being able to work safely from the ground is a huge advantage.

That said, the extended handle reduces leverage and blocking power. Telescoping shears don’t have the raw cutting strength of standard shears used close to the body. I reserve them for branches up to 1/2 inch thick at most. Their scissor-cutting blades work best on flexible new growth rather than woody stems. Go for light, balanced aluminum or fiberglass construction to minimize fatigue from overhead work.

In summary, factoring in branch thickness, material type, and individual ability level will guide you to the right pruning shears for any task. A quality set of bypass shears paired with an anvil style covers 90% of homeowner needs. Consider ratchet or telescoping options too depending on specific projects. With the right tool, productive pruning can be low-stress enjoyment in your landscape!

How to Choose Pruning Shears – Key Features to Consider

Beyond the blade and handle designs tailored to different purposes, many additional features vary across secateurs that influence their performance and longevity. Consider what kinds of branches and vines you’ll be cutting, how frequently they’ll be used, possible ergonomic needs for comfort, and of course budget. The right choice depends heavily on your intended pruning application.

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Cutting Mechanisms

The mechanism connecting the two blades plays a pivotal role in delivering smooth, effortless cuts. Higher-quality options tend to have more precisely machined joints with less play and tighter pivots. Inspecting this hardware can reveal a lot about potential longevity and functionality.

Blade Adjustments

Having the ability to adjust and tighten the blade for precision cuts and snugness over time contributes to a shear’s cutting efficiency and lifespan. Some feature simple screw adjustments, while others require full disassembly. Easy field adjustments are preferable.

Blade Quality and Coatings

The actual metal making up each blade plays a critical role as well. High carbon stainless steel maintains a durable and rust-resistant edge that can be periodically sharpened as needed. Some models also apply non-stick Teflon coatings to resist sap and debris buildup.

Handle Design and Ergonomics

Your pruning shears handle connects you to the cutting blades, making ergonomics incredibly important for comfort, control, and avoiding hand fatigue during extended use. Models with padded grips, finger loops, and springs to reduce strain are available for greater comfort.

Locking Mechanisms

A safety lock lets you immobilize the blade when not in active use to prevent unwanted closure and injury. The ability to safely secure your shears while transporting between cuts or when storing is a simple but invaluable feature.

Weight and Portability

Depending on your physical ability and pruning scenarios—like climbing trees or trekking through acres of landscape—weight plays a role as well. Smaller, folding and telescoping models offer easier transportation and storage between tasks.

Now that I’ve covered the different types and key features influencing performance, let’s look at some specific recommendations tailored to common gardening and landscaping needs.

How to Choose Pruning Shears Based on Use

With the previous background on styles and mechanisms, we can match those attributes to the pruning requirements of certain plants and spaces. Shear specifics like blade type and size should align with considerations like branch thickness, wood hardness, and desired precision.

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Here are some suggested pruning shear options for common gardening and landscaping scenarios:

Rose Gardening – Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears

The delicate pruning needs of roses call for the clean cuts of quality bypass shears like the precision Fiskars model. Razor-sharp, stainless steel blades make neat cuts on softer green stems without crushing or tearing.

Fruit Trees – Felco Model 7 Bypass Lopper Shears

To cut thicker branches on fruiting trees while retaining sharpened blades, Felco Model 7 shears offer hardened steel durability and seamless slicing power leveraged across a longer handle for increased leverage and torque when cutting up to 5/8 inch diameters.

General Shrubbery – Corona Compound Action Anvil Shear

For efficient trimming and shaping of hedges, bushes, and woody shrubs with moderate branches up to 3⁄4 inches thick, Corona’s anvil pruner provides added chopping power in a compact build with multiple adjustability features to tune for optimal cut alignment over time.

Hardwood Trees – Tabor Tools Ratchet Action Heavy Duty Anvil Shears

When dealing with dense or diseased cutting needs up to an inch thick on hardy woods like oak, hickory, or maple, the ratcheting action of Tabor’s Heavy Duty shear multiplies leverage for powering through those challenging pruning tasks while limiting hand strain.

Vineyards – Gardena 8869-U Telescoping Vine Shears

Extendable telescoping shears like Gardena’s versatile model let vineyard caretakers reach distant nodes and buds without strain or jungle-like entanglement otherwise trying to access such heights. Despite its slender, compact design, the quality cutting blade slices most vines with ease.

Bonsai Gardening – Happy Bonsai Curved Precision Bonsai Scissors

The intricate art of bonsai tree shaping demands exacting cuts only possible using small yet efficient curved shears like Happy Bonsai’s ultra-sharp scissors. Their precision alignment, micro-serrated blade, and contoured handles exemplify specialized tools for detail-oriented pruning purposes.

As evidence, the right pruning shears truly depend on the plants being cut and their typical branch sizes, wood density, expected precision, and other plant-specific factors. With those use cases in mind, let’s now go over proper usage and care.

Using and Caring for Your Pruning Shears

You chose your secateurs, made your purchase investment, and now the real relationship begins—using and caring for your pruning shears. Proper usage techniques and routine maintenance will keep your blades sharp, and mechanisms smooth, and ensure seasons of reliable service pruning your landscape. Here are some key guidelines for using and caring for whichever style shear you choose for your needs:

Proper Usage Techniques

Regardless of the exact model, using any pruning shear correctly prevents unnecessary strain while producing clean, healthy cuts for your plants. Here are smart usage tips:

  • Size up branches – Don’t overestimate cutting capacity. Remember the guidelines for green vs dead wood.
  • Establish firm footing – Balance yourself if reaching awkwardly to prevent slippage.
  • Grip gently but securely – Don’t squeeze handles excessively tight.
  • Make incremental cuts – Halve then quarter thick branches in multiple chops.
  • Capture cuttings – Let cut stems fall neatly into receptacle vs scattered debris.

Caring for Your Investment

With proper use to avoid damage, routine maintenance keeps your precision pruning implements functioning flawlessly:

  • Clean after each use – Wipe away debris, sap, and dirt from joints and blades.
  • Oil hinge points – Lubricate pivot and spring areas with light machine oil.
  • Hone and sharpen – Use a sharpening stone or file to refresh finely-honed edges.
  • Check cut alignment – Ensure blades meet precisely, adjust if needed.
  • Store safely – Hang tools up securely or sheath blades to prevent dampness.

Follow this blend of proper care between tasks and prudent usage during trimming and your pruning shears should deliver years of reliable service. Next, let’s address some common challenges.

Addressing Pruning Shears Pain Points

For all their convenience, pruning shears can occasionally present challenges that frustrate even experienced gardeners. Here are some common complaints and solutions:

  • Hand Fatigue: Pruning involves repetitive motions that can tire hands quickly. Look for ergonomic models with spring-assist, padded grips, or finger loops for comfort. Take breaks to allow hands to rest periodically.
  • Stuck or Stubborn Branches: While quality blades make most cuts with ease, stubborn specimens may require extra force. Make initial scoring cuts partway through then toggle the branch back and forth to gradually shepherd through.
  • Dull or Blunt Blades: Over time and with heavy use, edges will naturally dull requiring honing. Keeping a sharpening stone handy allows periodic refreshing of the cutting edge in the field. Some advanced models feature replaceable blade cartridges.
  • Loose or Sticky Pivots: Debris buildup or general wear/tear leads to inconsistent blade alignment. Clean and lubricate pivot joints as part of routine maintenance to keep components running smoothly.
  • Heavy or Thick Shrubs: While large loppers or electric pruners offer advantages, for smaller sections simply make a series of overlapping cuts to gradually reduce thicker wood portions. Advancement and leverage help control the cut.
  • Bruising or Sore Hands: Pruning puts repetitive stress on hands. Take breaks, wear gloves to cushion the impact, and look for models touting ergonomic padded grips designed to minimize fatigue. Consider alternative tools if pain persists.

Alternative Solutions

While pruning shears cover the bulk of pruning tasks, there are scenarios where other tool options including:

Electric Pruning Shears: The powered cutting blades of electric shears save energy for larger branches up to 1-1⁄2 inches thick, suited to commercial landscaping scale jobs. Rechargeable batteries allow cord-free use.

Manual Loppers: Long-handled bypass-style loppers give greater reach and leverage for cutting branches up to 2 inches thick, sparing user fatigue versus many smaller branch-by-branch cuts.

Pruning saws: For heavy woody stems over 2 inches, folding pruning saws offer a clean-cut alternative requiring more sweeping motions than just snipping. Great for tasks like removing large dead limbs.

Pruning poles: Extendable poles with detachable blade attachments let risk-averse gardeners tend hard to reach high branches from the ground without a ladder. Effective up to 15-20 feet high.

Always use the right tool for each specific pruning task. Knowing applicable alternatives prevents injury from overreaching ability or tool capabilities.

Emphasizing Safety Precautions

Any power tool use such as electric pruners or saws requires close adherence to the manufacturer’s safety guidelines. But even hand pruners pose potential risks if not used properly:

  • Always wear gloves and eye protection when lopping large branches
  • Don’t lift shears over your head or cut above shoulder level
  • Never leave tools unattended where kids/pets can access
  • Keep shears sharp to avoid applying excess pressure
  • Inspect lopper/saw blades for cracks before each use
  • Focus entirely on cutting the task at hand to avoid distractions
  • Transport shears with blade locked shut or inside a protective case

With situational awareness and following a few simple safety rules, gardeners can prune landscapes safely for many seasons. Next, we’ll address common questions from readers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My pruners seem dull – Is there a way to sharpen them myself?

A: Yes, most pruning shears can be sharpened using a small triangular file or sharpening stone. Remove any debris/sap first. Then stroke the file/stone at a 10-15 degree angle against the cutting edge a few times in one direction, flip, and repeat on the other side. Periodic sharpening keeps shears performing optimally.

Q: Can pruners be used one-handed or should I always use two?

A: Using both hands provides the safest, most controlled cuts. However, some ergonomic models with padded loops or grips are designed to safely function one-handed if needed. Never cut above your head or with distracted focus using a single hand.

Q: How should I store pruners during winter months?

A: To prevent rust, store pruners in a dry place out of direct sun/moisture if possible after cleaning and oiling all metal parts. Hang them blade-down on hooks or place them inside a protective sheath/case. You can also lubricate moving parts with a light machine oil and loosely wrap them in plastic.

Q: Can pruners cut branches larger than their rated capacity?

A: It’s not advised, as forcing larger branches risks damaged or dysfunctional pruners unable to cut as precisely. Stick to manufacturer size recommendations or use the appropriate lopper/saw instead to prevent injury or tool breakage over time.

Q: How often should I replace worn-out pruners?

A: Quality models can last 5+ years with proper care. Signs replacement is needed include excess play/wobble in pivot joints, dull blades unable to cut cleanly, loose or corroded screws, or pruners no longer closing/opening comfortably. Replace as needed versus risking injury from faulty tools.

Additional Resources on How to Choose Pruning Shears

Here are some helpful additional online and print resources for continued learning about pruning techniques, tool maintenance, plant knowledge, and connecting with local gardening communities:

  • Pruning and Training by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott (Book): Comprehensive pruning guidance for trees, shrubs, and roses from Washington State University extension expert.
  • Your State Extension Office: Every US state funds an extension program through land-grant universities. Sites offer vast pruning articles, videos, online courses, and helplines specific to your region.
  • American Society for Horticultural Science: Non-profit organization advancing scientific research/education. Extensive garden/tree care and tool articles authored by experts.
  • Gardener’s Supply Company Blog: This popular company blog by seed/tool suppliers shares professional pruning tips, product deep dives, and garden DIY tutorials.
  • Facebook Gardening Groups: Local gardening clubs on Facebook allow asking questions directly and networking with experienced community members face-to-face.

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