How to Choose the Right Pruning Tool
Which pruning tools do you need for your garden?It depends on which size branches you'll be cutting. Rule of thumb for choosing a pruning tool 1” diameter branch or smaller -- pruners 1”-2” diameter branch -- loppers 2”+ diameter branch -- pruning saw Any size branch that is out of reach -- pole pruner Every gardener needs pruners (also called secateurs by British or British-influenced gardeners). Take a tape measure into your garden and see just how big the branches are that you'll be dealing with. If you have mature shrubs, like 6-foot rhododendrons with heavy branches, you'll need both pruners and loppers. A pruning saw and a pole pruner will help you manage trees -- even if you usually hire an arborist to trim your trees, you'll want those tools to make clean cuts after storm damage.
How to know which pruning tool is best for a branch
Once you have the proper tools, how do you know when to use them? Most of us don't carry rulers with us in the garden, and every gardener has a story to tell about not swapping the pruners for the loppers at the right time. To get insights from someone who thinks about pruning tools day in and day out, I talked to Chris Sabbarese at Corona Tools and he gave me these helpful suggestions:
- First, read the packaging to learn the pruner's recommended cutting capacity and use that as a guideline. The cutting capacity is calculated on the open position of the pruner handles. Smaller hands may not be able to fully open a pruner to take advantage of the tool’s maximum cutting capacity.
- Unlock the pruner and hold it in your hand. Be sure you have full control when the handles are wide open. If the wide open handles are not comfortable you will risk injury to your hand when you have to "force" a cut. When you're in the middle of pruning, use these tips to know when to move up from pruners to loppers:
- Insert the limb between the open pruner blades to the innermost point of the pruner's "throat". This is where the pruner provides maximum cutting power. It's called the "pivot point" because the blade and the hook are screwed together and held by a pivot bolt.
- If the limb is so wide that it reaches only to the middle section of the blade, or close to the blade tip, it can cause the pruner to twist or bend, and in some cases even snap, depending on the material being cut. This is a special danger when cutting hard or dead wood.
- The maximum cutting power is at the pivot point, so the further the limb pushes out to the tip of the blade, the more force it will take to make the cut. This can result in injury to you and/or the pruner itself.
- If the wide open pruner handles don't fit or feel comfortable in your hand, or the limb is not in the pruner's pivot point, it's best to move up to a lopper. Lopper handles are held with two hands. Loppers can cut bigger limbs because they can be opened wider to accommodate the size of the limb, plus they provide increased leverage from two hands, for maximum cutting power.
For more information In our video on pruning skills, Tricia demonstrates these pruning tool choices. Watch the video any time you want a refresher on pruning tools and basic pruning terms. Want to read all about it? Try Pruning Made Easy by Lewis Hill. If you're pruning fruit trees, be sure to check out our videos and articles to help you through that process. They're gathered together for you over in our Fruit Tree Central.