Pruning: Selecting The Right Tools for the Job

by | Jan 24, 2024

Like a good spring house cleaning, a thorough pruning can make your garden look clean and fresh at this time of year.

Like a good spring house cleaning, a thorough pruning can make your garden look clean and fresh at this time of year. Proper pruning can also improve the health of your trees and the quality of fruits and flowers. The problem for many folks, however, is knowing what to prune and how far back to prune it. The truth is, the art of pruning is 90 percent common sense and observation, and 10 percent experience and knowledge acquired by simply getting out and doing it. 


First things first, you need to know what type of pruning equipment to use. Hand shears are the most useful garden tool you can have. It really doesn’t matter whether you purchase the scissor-type (sometimes called ‘bypass’ shears) or the anvil type. My advice is to get a good quality pair for which you can buy replacement blades. A lot of very inexpensive models are out there, but I find they tend to need frequent replacements. Quality, medium-to-higher-priced shears will pay for themselves many times over. Remember, too: you should only use shears for smaller branches, usually 3/8 inch (6 mm) or less in thickness. Unless it is very soft wood, once you get into thicker branches, you really should be using two-handed loppers.

Loppers, like shears, are available in the bypass or anvil styles and are available at all price points. My comments on quality apply here, too. Make sure the loppers you purchase have replaceable blades made of quality steel or Teflon that can be sharpened. Today, you can find loppers with extendable handles to reach up farther into trees, helping you to avoid ladders. Loppers are suitable for branches up to 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) in diameter.

For large branches, you need a proper pruning saw. You can purchase either straight or curved blades, depending on personal preference. Some types fold in for convenience, while others come with handy sheaths that fit on your belt. The key to a quality pruning saw is good steel and well-designed teeth with serrations in opposite directions. This design is especially important for cutting green, wet wood.  

If you have massive evergreen plantings, you may choose to purchase a good electric or motorized trimmer. Electric ones are only effective on standard cords up to 100 feet long, so beyond that, you should be using motorized trimmers. With only a few evergreens, you will find two-handled grass clippers are your best bet. If you stay in the softer growth from the previous season, these will do the job nicely.

Be careful to watch for birds’ nests as you prune!

If you are the proud owner of tall trees with even taller branches that elude you with a ladder, pole pruners are the answer. After fighting branches with 10- and 12-foot pruners, I have found the adjustable types far easier to use. They also come with a saw blade for getting at branches that are too awkward or too large to cut.

I notice that folks who have a great many older and larger trees are using chain saws for pruning. For larger branches, a chain saw is a great deal easier and faster, but novices should get the feel of using these saws by first practising on fallen branches on the ground. On ladders, take precautions to stay stable, and wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying sawdust.

For very large, mature trees in need of pruning, the safest route is to hire a tree expert who has the proper equipment to do the job. We’re fortunate to have many reliable tree service companies in our area.

Remember to keep all your shears clean by dipping them in a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. It is also essential to make your cuts with the blade cutting upward to prevent larger branches from tearing the bark as they fall. Start a cut on the underside first, then move the blade over 1/4 inch (4 mm.) on top to get a clean cut every time. The only other important thing to remember when cutting branches is to cut them on a shallow angle just above a bud. This technique will prevent water from seeping in, help eliminate die-backs on the branch, and direct new growth in the direction of the bud.

Doug and Dave Neufeld demonstrating how to ‘Prune deciduous fruit, flowering and shade trees.’ They’ll be back Jan. 27, 2024!

Want to learn a little more, or need a bit of a refresher before making your first cut? Visit our Events page for details on upcoming in-person pruning seminars at the store! All are free of charge but registration is requested.