Pruning, Trimming, Cutting--What's What?
Pruning, trimming or cutting a plant involves removing some of its stems, branches or limbs. Sometimes this is done to keep a plant in optimum shape, sometimes to redirect growth, and sometimes to get rid of dead or injured parts.
Generally, there are three types of cutting tools for pruning--shears, lopper and saws.
Pruning shears are among the most used tools around the yard--for trimming shrubs, vines and flowers, and for pruning small growth on trees. They can cut soft wood up to 3/4 inch thick.
Loppers and saws are tools for cutting larger branches. Each has specific designs and, when used properly, will make quick work of your yard trimming chores.
As with many things in life, you get what you pay for with pruning tools. The best have replaceable parts and can also be quite costly. If you use shears mostly to deadhead flowers and prune the odd tree or shrub, a less expensive pair may work for you. If you do a lot of pruning on woody plants, spending more up front will save you a great deal of frustration and hard work.
Why The Right Tool Makes A Difference
When buying pruners, consider blades first. They should be top-quality steel, preferably stainless or forged. Cheaper models use cast or stamped parts that simply won't stand up. The higher quality, more expensive models will have replaceable blades, making it easy to keep blades sharp without your having to do the sharpening.
Pick up any tool you are considering and inspect it closely. Rough edges indicate that it was cast or stamped. The blades should come together smoothly, touching each other along their entire length. Teflon-coated blades are supposed to pass through wood more smoothly, but not everyone agrees they make a noticeable difference.
To reduce the potential to injure a plant--and to do as tidy a job as possible--the cutting tool must be clean, with sharp cutting edges and the right size, shape and force for the job.
If a shear is sent in to do a loppers job, the result can be a ragged, torn cut on the tree or shrub and shears with misaligned jaws. Likewise, a pruning saw taken to a wisteria vine can create a mess where you only intended a trim.
Tips for Care, Storage & Longevity
Remember not to use a smaller tool for a job bigger than it can handle. When cutting overhead, wear safety goggles or glasses. It seems like a nuisance, but it is very wise to wear gloves whenever you are doing any serious pruning job. It is so easy to reach into a shrub with one hand, and with the other hand holding the pruners, cut a finger on the holding hand.
Cleanliness Is Important - Key to well performing pruning tools is keeping them clean. Disease can spread from plant to plant and sap can gum up the works. It's a good idea to carry a rag in your pocket to wipe down blades between use. If you’ve been pruning away diseased branches, you need to wipe down the blade with alcohol before moving to another plant.
Sharpening Pruning Tools – Most of us are not interested in going to the trouble of sharpening our pruning tools ourselves. You need special equipment and must learn special technique, and then take the time to do the job. If you are handy there are several examples of pruning tool sharpeners at the buttons on the left.
On the other hand, if you buy a very expensive pruning tool, it might be wise to include in your plans taking that tool to a sharpening service every winter. The tool will last longer and serve you better.
Finally, if you choose to buy the more inexpensive versions, then when the blade seems to be dull, throw it away and get another one.
Storage - It is wise to lightly oil the blades before storing the tool at the end of the season. Best bet for storage is in a clean dry environment.