When it comes down to it, pruning is an important task in just about every garden. Through the selective removal of specific plant parts, you work to make your plants healthier and more attractive, as well as your whole garden safer. Because pruning wounds your plant, it’s important to make sure you’ve got a proper reason for cutting into it, as well as the proper tools to do so.

Hand pruners

Ergonomic features make these hand pruners more pleasurable to use.

Photo Credit: Bonnie L. Appleton

Pruning saws

Some pruning saws have set blades, while others have folding ones.

Photo Credit: Bonnie L. Appleton


Hand pruners and loppers with ratchet mechanisms are especially helpful for people with limited hand strength.

Photo Credit: Bonnie L. Appleton

We generally select which pruner to use by looking at the diameter of the branch or stem we need to cut.

Branches having up to a ¾-inch diameter can be cut with hand pruners, and there are two types available: Bypass pruners have sharp, curved, scissors-type blades that overlap each other. Anvil pruners have straight upper blades that cut against flat, lower plates. Although anvil pruners are usually cheaper than bypass ones, they have some drawbacks. First, anvil pruners tend to crush the stems as they cut. Second, the width of the anvil can prevent you from reaching in to get a close cut on narrow-angled stems. This is why bypass pruners are generally the better choice.

With branches measuring from ¾ inch in diameter up to 1 ¾ inches, use lopping shears. Loppers have long handles that give you extra reach and better cutting leverage. Look for loppers with shock-absorbing bumpers between the blades (designed to reduce arm fatigue). And just like with hand pruners, bypass blades are the preferred type to have.

Bigger branches measuring larger than 1 ¾ inches in diameter need pruning saws. Pruning saws come in many sizes, with either straight or curved blades, and with teeth that are either fine or coarse. Use a finely toothed, curved pruning saw to remove branches up to 2 ½ inches in diameter. You can make a clean cut with this type of saw where access is difficult. Use a coarsely toothed saw for heavy branches 3 inches or more in diameter.

If the branches you need to prune are too high and out of your normal reach, you may need to use either a pole pruner or a pole saw. Using tools like these is safer than climbing the tree or using a ladder to reach branches. When using pole pruning equipment, be sure that you’re not too close to overhead utility lines.

For branches greater than 3 inches in diameter, a chain saw is generally needed. Chain saws should only be used with appropriate safety gear by people who have been fully trained in their use.

And let’s not forget about the hedges that often need pruning, too. If you’ve got a long hedge that can’t be maintained with hand pruners, use hedge shears. But don’t overshear! Repeated shearing often leads to lots of little stems growing on the outside of the hedge, which creates a thick canopy that leads to internal dieback, reduced air circulation and an increase in pest problems.

The moral of my pruning story is to go ahead and prune when you need to – but be sure you’ve got a good reason before you do it, be sure to go about it safely, and always use the correct tools!