The keys to pruning trees and shrubs are a basic understanding of pruning techniques and knowing when to prune plants. It's also important to have the right tools. There are various types of pruning tools. The best tool for the job is determined by the size of the plant material and the situation.
Hand pruners or pruning shears are generally used for cutting branches up to 3/4 inch in diameter. There are two basic types of hand pruners. Scissor-types have curved blades that overlap (scissor action) when making the cut. Anvil-type pruners have a sharpened upper blade which cuts against a flat surface (anvil). Each type is available in different sizes. Generally, scissor-type hand pruners are preferred over the anvil-types. Sharp, properly used scissor-type pruners make close, clean cuts. Anvil-types can't cut as close as scissor-types and are more likely to crush stems when pruning.
Attempts to prune branches larger than 3/4 inch in diameter with hand pruners often results in torn, jagged pruning cuts and may damage the pruning shears. Branches from 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter can be effectively cut with lopping shears. Lopping shears consist of blades 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.
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 pole pruner. A pole saw is essentially a saw blade attached to a long pole. Pole pruners consist of a stationary hook and hinged blade operated by a rope and mounted on a long wooden or fiberglass pole. Pole saws and pole pruners are generally used to cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter.
Chain saws are often used by professional arborists when cutting large tree branches. Chain saws, however, can be extremely dangerous to individuals 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 the tree or limbs near power lines, individuals should always contact a trained arborist.
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 trees and shrubs.
When buying pruning equipment, select high quality tools. Good, high quality tools are not inexpensive. However, if they are used and cared for properly, they will perform better and far outlast the poor quality, less expensive choices.
Information on proper pruning procedures can be found in Pm-1304 "Pruning Shade and Flowering Trees," Pm-780 "Pruning and Training Fruit Trees," Pm-1706 "Growing Raspberries in the Home Garden," and Pm-1707 "Growing Grapes in the Home Garden."
This article originally appeared in the February 6, 1998 issue, p. 10.