Once you know the general rules for pruning landscape plants, the second most important factor is your equipment. Perhaps the most important rule for pruning tools is that they must be kept sharp at all times. Dull blades will leave a rough, ragged wound that will be most likely to attract insects and diseases and will be aesthetically unpleasant.

One way of grouping your equipment can be based on the size of the job you are attempting.

Hand Pruners

The most basic and essential piece of equipment in the arsenal of a landscape gardener is the hand pruner or pruning shears. Hand pruners should always be within arm's reach whenever you are in the garden (in my humble opinion anyway). You never know when you have to nip off that faded flower or clip off a dead twig. Hand pruners are the weapon of choice. BTW - If you visit England, they will be called "secateurs" for some reason.

Pruning shears come in two basic types. The "anvil" type consist of a single cutting surface that comes down against a notched plate of solid metal. Both hand pruners and loppers come in this format. Generally, anvil pruners are inexpensive and made of a low quality of steel. They don't hold a sharp edge very long and the cutting blade can become pitted easily. When this happens, they will pinch the branch rather than cut it resulting in a ragged, uneven wound.

Since this type of pruner is quite inexpensive, they work well for a person who does very little pruning. In that case, they will last for a season or two when they can be replaced.

Most "serious" gardeners use the second type of pruners which have a bypass or scissor blade system. These pruners have a sharp blade that passes next to a cutter bar. Generally, they are made of higher quality steel, hold a sharp edge much longer and cost quite a bit more than anvil shears. Most of them have replaceable parts and will last many, many seasons. The ones I use have done a lot of pruning over the last 27 years and I have never replaced a part...just occasionally sharpen the blade.

Whichever way you decide to go, hand pruners are the right tool for many cutting tasks around the landscape. They are good for pruning woody stems up to the diameter that your grip will allow. To cut branches larger than this, move on to the next tool...the loppers.


Once on a live T.V. interview, I was asked, "Why are they called loppers?" I wasn't expecting the question and the best I could come up with was, "Because they lop things off."

Anyway, the next step up the pruning ladder from hand pruners are basically the same cutting mechanism with longer handles. The extra length give you more leverage and, therefore, more strength to cut those larger branches.

Since the cutting mechanisms are the same for loppers and hand pruners, the comments above are the same.

In addition to the cutter, the key factor in choosing a pair of loppers is the material used to make the handles. Generally, the stronger the handles, the higher the quality and the higher the price.

The cheaper loppers will have more fragile handles of a low quality wood or metal. If the metal handles bend under the pressure of making a cut, they will probably never work right.

Good quality loppers will have high quality steel in the cutter and a strong, composite type material in the handles. They will withstand a lot of pressure and stay sharp for long episodes of pruning.

Another factor in lopper quality is the presence and capacity of "bumpers" that cushion the handles as they are squeezed together. These are usually made of a heavy quality rubber and they will help reduce the stress on your shoulders if you do a lot of lopping.

Hand Saws

Any branches that are too large to be cut with loppers will require the use of a saw. Always use a saw that is made specifically for pruning and not one made for woodworking.

Pruning saws are usually curved, have a coarse cutting set of teeth and only cut on the pull. This is important since it will help prevent the saw from being pinched during the cutting process.

Fixed blade saws are good for general pruning and larger ones work well on larger jobs. Folding saws are very handy, very sharp and can be kept in a pocket. They have blades that have several different sharp edges and are not kerfed (alternating teeth orientation) like traditional saws.

Whenever a saw is used in pruning, you need to use either a 2 or 3 cut method.

Extension or Pole Pruners

There are times, of course, when you cannot reach a tree branch from the ground. Pruning from ladders can be very dangerous so an alternative is to use and extension or pole pruner.

These pruners consist of a telescoping pole which can be adjusted to various heights and some type of cutting mechanism. The pole itself can be made of wood, metal or a composite material like fiberglass.

The cutters fall into two forms. There is usually a small saw blade attached to the top of the pole. These can be used to cut high branches using the two cut method.

The other devise is usually a bypass cutting blade in a "hook" form. You hook the opening over a branch and tug on a rope that pulls the blade down completing the cut. This may be used along with the saw blade or the blade may be removed for easier manipulation.


Lightweight chainsaws (gas or electric) are available for use in larger projects. However, you should also get some special training before using them in your home landscape.

Large scale pruning high in the tree should be referred to a professional arborist who has the equipment to safely do the job.

Other Equipment

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

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