Working with the Right Tools

Late winter or early spring is an excellent time to prune many trees and shrubs. The keys to pruning are a basic understanding of pruning techniques and the use of proper tools. There are various types of pruning tools. The size of the plant material determines the best tool for the job.

Branches 3/4 inch and smaller

Pruning or hand shears are generally used for cutting stems (branches) up to 3/4 inch in diameter. There are 2 basic types of pruning shears. The scissor-type shears has curved blades that overlap (scissor action) when making the cut. The anvil-type shears has a sharp top blade that cuts against a flat surface (anvil). Each type is available in different sizes. Generally, the scissor-type shears is recommended rather than the anvil-type shears. A sharp, properly used scissor-type shears can make closer cuts and is less likely to crush stem tissue than anvil-type shears.

Branches between 1 3/4 inch and 3/4 inch

Hand shears are not very successful in pruning stems larger than 3/4 inch in diameter. Pruning branches larger than the shears can properly cut often results in torn, jagged pruning cuts and may damage the pruning shears. Branches from 3/4 to 1 3/4 inches in diameter can be effectively cut with a lopping shears. Lopping shears consist of blades attached to long handles. attached to long handles. The long handles give the gardener greater leverage so cuts can be made through larger branches. Lopping shears are also excellent for pruning difficult-to-reach places.

Branches 1 3/4 inch and larger

Use a pruning saw on branches larger than 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Various types of pruning saws are available. Small tree branches that are hard to reach from the ground can be pruned with a pole saw or shears.

Chain saws are often used by professional arborists when cutting large tree branches. Chain saws, however, can be extremely dangerous to homeowners with little experience or skill operating these machines. To reduce the risk of injury, home gardeners should use pruning saws rather than chain saws when pruning trees.

In potentially hazardous situations, such as the pruning of large branches high in tree canopies or limbs near power lines, individuals should always contact a trained arborist.

Hedge Shears

Another tool sometimes used by the home gardener is the hedge shears. Hedge shears (manual or electric) are used to shear formal hedges to a definite size and shape. They should not be used to prune other trees and shrubs.

Purchase Quality Tools

When buying pruning equipment, select high quality tools. Good, high quality tools are not cheap. However, if they are used and cared for properly, high quality tools will far outlast the poor quality, less expensive alternatives.

Information on proper pruning procedures can be found in Pm- 1304, "Pruning Shade and Flowering Trees," and Pm-780, "Pruning and Training Fruit Trees," available at your local county extension office.

This article originally appeared in the February 10, 1993 issue, p. 9.


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on February 10, 1993. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.