Tools for Pruning and Cutting

If you’re not pruning your shrubs, they undoubtedly really, really need it. And all you really need are hand pruners, loppers, and a folding saw, for a total investment of about $150. I’ll expound elsewhere on this site about the joys of pruning but right now let’s just talk tools.

Hand Pruners

felco number 2

One thing to know in choosing hand pruners is that they’re either of the “bypass” type or the “anvil” type and everyone in the world recommends the bypass, and so do I. I even wonder why anyone even makes and sells the other, since they’re in such disrepute. The trouble is that they crush stems unless they’re kept very sharp, and who does that?

Now the important thing about using hand pruners is that they should only be used for stems ½ inch thickness or smaller. Do NOT strain to cut something larger with hand pruners because you might damage it in the process (and strain your hand while you’re at it).!

felco lopperMy favorite and the fave of most gardeners I know is made by Felco, specifically their #2, shown above. They’re a bit pricey (in the $60 range) but can last forever, with parts being replaced as needed. They have a huge selection — some for left-handed people, and even “ergonomically designed” ones for the weak-handed. Now I put myself in that category and bought a #7 model with the rotating handle that’s supposedly to be more natural, but never got used to it (to be fair). In other words, it goes unused unless I can’t find my #2.

Holsters and belts for hand pruners are also available and are used by all the professional gardeners I know. I love the macho look myself.


Loppers are used to cut larger stems, up to 2 inches thick. Again, don’t strain to cut anything larger than that or you risk damaging the tool.

A fairly new innovation in loppers is also intended to give the weaker set more strength by using a ratcheting motion that works in stages to give maximum leverage with minimal effort. Again I’ve tried one and never got the hang of it, honestly. (Is it just me? I’m not sure I want to know.) But don’t let that scare you; try it in the store and see how it feels because I’ve seen them demonstrated and they sure look like they work like a dream.

Fiskars is a good brand for loppers, priced from $17 to $30. Or buy their “Pro” version with its lifetime warranty for $31-37. Fiskars ratcheting loppers go for $172 — pricey but possibly worth it if you’re lacking in strength and you can figure out how to use them.

Also highly recommended are Corona brand loppers, another good name in garden tools. Their longer-than-usual handles offer great leverage and reach.

Folding pruning saw

For stems and branches larger than 2 inches thick, it’s time for the pruning saw. These little things don’t look like much, especially in their folded condition, and only cost about 15 bucks, so people are amazed at how easily and quickly they cut! No kidding; they’re amazing and last and last and last. All the cheap ones I’ve used (purchased at chain hardware stores) have worked well for me.

Pole pruner

Pole pruners up to 12 feet in length let you reach for those limbs you’d otherwise have to hire a tree care company to remove for you, and that ain’t cheap. While they can be a bit awkward to use, it sure beats getting on a ladder, any day.

Hedge Clippers/Shearers

Now for my anti-shearing rant. Shearing shrubs into perfect, unnatural shapes and sizes is the biggest pruning mistake there is (that and not pruning at all). Why? Here’s a short course in the reasons.

  • Eventually shearing produces an almost impenetrable exterior that prevents light, air and water from reaching the center of the shrub. It also produces a perfect place for leaves and other debris to accumulate. The interior of the shrub then becomes less and less vigorous, more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.
  • It’s awfully high-maintenance to keep perfect shapes perfect! What’s much less work is a looser, more open and natural style. Details on how to achieve this are coming soon to this very site.

hedge clippers, shearersThe ONLY time I use hedge clippers (aka shearers) is to remove large numbers of old flower all at once — the fast deadheading method for masses of perennials or flowering shrubs. Oh, and some conifers benefit from a light shearing and I have been known to do it to a tall cylindrical juniper. Very little is actually being cut off — just enough to remove errant stems and stimulate some new growth at the plant’s center.