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.
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.
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. Bypass (or scissor-types) have curved blades that overlap (scissor action) when making the cut. Anvil-type pruners have a sharpened upper blade that cuts against a flat surface (anvil). Each type is available in different sizes. Anvil-type pruners are effective at pruning dead branches and are less likely to jam than bypass-type pruners. Generally, bypass hand pruners are preferred over the anvil types. Sharp, properly used bypass 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. As with hand pruners, lopping shears come in two types, bypass and anvil and for all the same reasons as with hand pruners, bypass types are usually preferred.
Use a pruning saw on branches larger than 1-3/4 inches in diameter. Various types of pruning saws are available. Folding pruning saws are convenient and easy to safely carry around the garden. Pruning saws are different than the hacksaws or hand saws found in the tool department at the store. Pruning saws have blades that are narrow, tapered, and/or curved making it easy to remove branches in crowded areas. They also often have teeth oriented in a way that allows the saw to cut when both pushed and pulled. This is beneficial to reduce the amount of effort and time it will take to cut the branch.
Pole Saw and Pole Pruners
Small tree branches that are hard to reach from the ground can be pruned with a pole saw or pole pruner. Whenever possible, pruning should be done standing on the ground, rather than on a ladder. A pole saw allows you to safely prune high branches from the ground. 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.
Chainsaws are often used by professional arborists when cutting large tree branches. Chainsaws, however, can be extremely dangerous to individuals with little experience or skill in 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.
Hedge shears (manual or electric) are used to shear formal hedges to a definite size and shape. Unless you are looking to create a high-maintenance formal hedge, they should not be used to prune trees and shrubs.