|B. Rosie Lerner|
Many landscape plants will require pruning at some stage of their life. Plants may need to be pruned to reduce or maintain plant size or to remove dead or damaged material. Pruning is also used to reduce overcrowding and rejuvenate older, overgrown plants to produce more flowering, fruiting and/or leaf canopy.
Using the right tool for the job will help protect both plant and human. Both the size of the material being cut and its location will determine which tool to use. Pruning tools that are dull or too small for the job are likely to leave a jagged cut on the plant or, worse yet, injure the operator.
Hand pruners (hand shears) are used for small twigs and branches up to about one-fourth inch in diameter. Hand pruners are available in two different types of blade: scissors (bypass) and blade/anvil. The scissors type is best used on young, softer branches, while the blade/anvil type allows the cutting of slightly larger or tougher branches. Handles vary in size, so shop around for the one that is most comfortable for your hand. There are some with a swiveling handle, which is supposed to reduce hand fatigue.
Lopping shears (loppers) have longer handles, from 16-30 inches and are best used for branches up to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Loppers also are available in both scissors and blade/anvil types. A few models are now available with ratchet action, allowing more power to be exerted onto the branch, yet less stress on the operator.
Hedge shears come in various sizes and cut through groups of branches at once. Because of the wider swath, hedge shears should only be used for clipping the new growth on a hedge to maintain a formal shape. They should not be used when a plants natural growth habit is desired.
Pruning saws should be used for branches more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Various types of pruning saws are available, ranging from small hand saws with blades that fold into the handle for storage to large saws that come with a sheath or scabbard for storage. Some pruning saws have a curved blade and only cut on the pull, while others will cut in both directions. Chain saws are dangerous to use for pruning. They are best used for further cutting limbs that have already been pruned or for removing dead plants.
Pole pruners are useful when branches are beyond arm's reach and consist of a pruning device mounted on a long-handled pole. The pruning device can be either a saw or pruning head resembling a hand shear with a rope or squeeze-action to operate the "jaws." Lightweight aluminum, telescoping poles are easy to use and great for storing when not in use. Some models even have the ability to rotate 180 degrees for those hard-to-reach angles. Wooden poles can be heavy, but an aluminum pole is not safe for use near utility lines.
Safety glasses or goggles are a good idea for any pruning job but are especially important when using pole pruners, since you'll be reaching overhead. If you have large limbs that are in danger of damaging property, power lines or just too far to reach with a pole pruner, it is likely time to call a professional.