Pruning Shears and Loppers, Essential Gardening Tools

When pruning woody trees and shrubs, the right tool makes all the difference.  The two must-have tools for pruning trees and shrubs whether you are a gardener, homeowner, or professional landscaper are pruning shears and loppers.  We’ll go into the basics of each tool type, important aspects such as the blade type and handle composition.  How to choose pruner or lopper? Well, it is mostly about size, branch size and whether those branches living or dead wood.


Why Prune Plants?

The moment you prune a plant, it changes its form and how it will grow. Pruning helps to enhance plant health. Think of it as the preventive maintenance of the plant world. Pruning rids the plant of its dead, damaged and diseased parts. Branches that rub against each other or point downward also need to be pruned.  Generally speaking, pruning allows you to have the plant in the size that is proportionate with the landscape. To summarize, we prune plants:

  • To enhance plant appearance.
  • To prevent injury and property damage.
  • To control plant size.
  • To enhance fruiting and flowering.

Pruning shears – It’s all about precision

These are the most useful of your gardening tools.  Pruning shears come in two types based on their cutting blades.  They are known as either bypass or anvil pruners.  Some may also have a ratcheting action to increase the user’s mechanical advantage, an excellent feature if you have wrist problems.  We’ll describe both here, but you should probably buy and use bypass pruners.

Bypass pruners have a single-edged blade that slices past a thick base as it closes. Anvil pruners have a blade that slices to the center of a wide lower base, contacting that base at the completion of the cut, like a hammer striking an anvil. The anvil pruner is more likely to crush delicate plant tissues, so only use them only on dead wood. A perfect example would be removing dead canes from Hydrangea.


Bypass Pruning Shears are your best choice.    Source: HomeDepot


Loppers – Get the job done!

If you are cutting branches that are up to 2 inches in diameter, then you need loppers. These are beefy pruners with long handles. While the longer handles will give you added reach to prune higher branches, that’s not their only true advantage. Long handles on loppers give you increased leverage so it can slice through thicker branches with ease.

Loppers are available in anvil or bypass types like their smaller kin. The anvil lopper is great for cutting through dead wood and can usually handle thicker branches without a problem while the bypass lopper is best for cutting through plants that are still alive. Because they leave cleaner cuts, the plant will have a much easier time healing from the pruning.


Bypass Garden Loppers make clean cuts with power. Source: HomeDepot

Pick your handles wisely

Handles are a big consideration as well and there are many different types to choose from. The traditional and most basic is wood, usually a strong and durable wood like ash is used. Some people prefer the feel of wood, I’ve inherited tools with wood handles and those tools work like new. Wood needs to be taken care of by adding a coat of wax to prevent water penetration from time to time.

Tools that have steel handles are very strong. However, they tend to be heavier than other handle types. Steel tools are usually coated with vinyl or plastic coatings. As a rule of thumb, you will wear out before your steel tool does due to its weight.  A good tradeoff between wood and steel are tools with aluminum handles. Aluminum is much lighter and for some, the lighter weight makes it easier to use.  Fiberglass, composite, and plastic handles are very strong,  lightweight and durable as well. These handles tend to be a little more expensive but the extra price is generally worth it.

Caring for your tools

Buy the best tools you can afford because they will pay for themselves in the long run. Good quality tools hold their edge longer and cut easier. Keep your tools sharpened because a sharp tool means less fatigue on your hands and increased user safety. A sharp pruner is not just easier to cut with, it also makes a cleaner cut that heals quickly.

To be able to use your pruning shears and loppers for extended periods of time, they need to be regularly oiled and kept sharp at all times. You should also check tool components on a regular basis, adjust or replace screws, bolts, springs, and blades. Remember, tools cost money, think of your gardening tools as an investment. Store them in a dry place to prevent rust and keep them in good working order.

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