Guide to choosing & using pruners & secateurs

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Last updated 30th May 2014
New pruning tools are a delight to use, especially if you’ve been struggling for years with a strained and blunted pair of secateurs. And if this is the case, you’re in for a surprise when you visit the garden centre, because there must be more types of pruning tools on offer now than ever before. In fact there are so many types on sale that it’s difficult to know where to start. But it’s easy if you think about your garden and the plants that you’ll be pruning. How soft or hard are the stems? And what thickness will you be cutting through? Another consideration is your hand size and strength.

Secateur choice – what do you need them for?
Secateurs – anvil or by-pass blades?
Pruning snips and scissors
Features for all-day use
Wrist straps and holsters
Long-handled pruners/loppers
Caring for your pruning tools

Secateurs – what do you need them for?

If you only intend to deadhead roses, you obviously won’t need something capable of cutting through 25mm (1 inch) stems. But if you have a variety of pruning jobs from light trimming to heavy lopping, it’s best to buy several tools, each designed for a particular task, instead of making do with one tool for everything. Such a tool will inevitably be too unwieldy for light tasks and probably won’t be up to the heaviest work.

Ratchet designs suit small or weak hands

Your handspan and strength of grip are also important to consider, but there’s no need to despair if you have small or weak hands – there are compact or ratchet versions that should suit you. A ratchet mechanism makes pruning effortless so is ideal for long sessions. Just squeeze the handles until the blades close around the material, release the handles (the blades stay in place) and repeat until the sharp blade meets the anvil blade on the other side.

Ratchet action tools are a great innovation and offer excellent value for money. Click on the image or view the range from our online garden centre.

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Secateurs – anvil or by-pass blades?

Some gardeners think that the type of cutting action is very important, but as long as you keep your pruning tools in good condition, there’s not much to choose between them. But bear in mind that the anvil type of blade (see the image above of a ratchet version), where a sharp blade is brought down to a flat anvil, can squash soft stems instead of cutting cleanly through them. By-pass blades, with their scissor-like action, shouldn’t have this effect. Perhaps more important is the blade’s shape. Anvil blades have a rounded appearance and aren’t as easy to insert into tight places as the more pointed by-pass types. And some bypass secateurs have swivel heads to angle the blades for awkward corners. However, anvil blades are suitable for right or left-handed use, whereas nearly all by-pass types are made for right-handers.(view Felco left-handed versions in our online garden centre).

Click on the image below for more views of bypass secateurs:
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Pruning snips and scissors

Scissors and flower snips are the smallest type of pruner, ideal for deadheading and cutting flowers for display indoors. For one-handed convenience, there are also cut-and-hold designs. Snips are a cross between scissors and secateurs, sharp but lightweight and easy to use. View snips from our online garden centre, and scissors too. There are also one-handed shears based on the traditional hand sheep shear design which are ideal for topiary, trimming grass and cutting string.
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Features for all-day use

Another feature for easier all-day use is a rotating handle that moves with your hand as you close the blades, reducing friction and strain. Look at the professional ranges, including Felco’s.

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Wrist straps and holsters for pruning tools

Probably the commonest reason for buying secateurs is to replace lost ones. So, when choosing your new pair, look for ones fitted with a wrist strap, or provided with a slot for your own strap. If you don’t like the idea of secateurs dangling from your wrist, choose a tool holder or holster. They’re usually made of leather or canvas.

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Long-handled pruners/loppers

These are for meaty pruning jobs, and also come in handy for reaching overhead growth without balancing on steps or a ladder. Single pole pruners for tackling trees are available with a choice of handle lengths or a telescopic handle. Two-handled loppers are fine for low level pruning. The long handles let you exert a great deal of leverage on the blades for successful pruning of thick branches. But the longer the handle, the greater the space required to open out the handles, and the blades too. For versatility, consider the type fitted with telescopic handles, so you can extend the handles to suit the job. And if you find conventional loppers a struggle to use, try a ratchet version (read about ratchets above).
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Caring for your pruning tools

Use properly

Use pruning tools only for jobs that they have been designed for. Don’t risk straining the blades and your muscles by using them on material which is too thick.

Maintain your pruning tools to save effort and money

Clean sap off blades as you go, and sharpen blades with a special steel or a whetstone. Spare parts such as replacement blades and spare springs are often supplied at the time of purchasing top quality makes and models, or can be bought as needed. Search our online garden centre for the spring or blade you need.

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