Cutting Tools: Seeing the forest for the trees
Even the most confident gardener can find pruning a daunting task when faced with the prospect of skilfully chopping back trees and shrubs without causing more harm than good. However, in most circumstances, pruning is more beneficial to flower and fruit production and to the health and wellbeing of many trees than it would be to leave them alone to do their own thing.
What is almost as daunting is standing in the garden centre looking at the vast array to tools available to do the pruning. Pruning isn’t a one-size-fits-all task when it comes to the tools you need. A good quality pair of secateurs will, for the most part, be able to do most jobs, however it can be easier and kinder to the plant if you have several tools in your kit that will help get the job done in the best way possible.
It would seem that the range of secateurs is the biggest of all categories in the garden centre pruning section, and understanding a few of the descriptions on the packaging will help you make an informed choice that is perfect for the job at hand.
What to look for in a pair of secateurs? Like so many things in life, finding the answer starts with asking more questions. Firstly, ask yourself “what am I cutting?”. If you are cutting into fresh wood that is alive and green, then you will need a sturdy pair of bypass action secateurs. These are designed more like a pair of scissors, where the blades glide passed each making a clean cut that goes through the wood with ease.
If the wood is dead, hard, and brown, you will need anvil action secateurs. With these, the sharp top blade goes through the wood and comes down onto the bottom blade instead of gliding past. This helps to steady the blade as it pushes through hard wood that isn’t as forgiving as green wood. However, if used on green wood, anvil secateurs could cause crushing or bruising and may not give a clean cut, so choose your tool to suit your job.
The next thing to consider is how big the branches are that you want to cut. The tool’s packaging should specify a maximum diameter for the secateurs. Material larger than the stated maximum will put pressure on the tools while in use, and in the long term, could harm the secateurs. It also makes it harder to get a good clean cut, and can be tough on your hand. Make sure the secateurs you choose are designed for the size of material you need to cut without excessively stressing the tool or yourself.
Comfort is also an important factor to consider when choosing new secateurs. Most of them can be handled while still in their packaging, so try them out to see how well they fit in your hand. Some secateurs have a feature that adjusts how far the blades open making work comfortable for both smaller and larger hands, and useful for nimbly squeezing into tight spots while pruning. If you have a lot of pruning to do, consider if there are any points that may rub over time leaving you with blisters. A lightweight tool that feels balanced and has secure grip will be easier to handle and more pleasant to use.
The other obvious features to look for are quality of materials, design, workmanship and price point - they usually go hand in hand. If you will be pruning more frequently or in a larger garden, it makes sense to go for a higher quality pair of secateurs that will become like a familiar friend and repay your investment with years of hard work. If you just have a few plants that need the occasional trim, a less featured pair that are lightweight, comfortable and functional should be within reach of even the most modest budget. By checking the description on the packaging, you should easily find one to suit your needs, from multifunctional balcony secateurs that will perform many small tasks found in small gardens, to a good robust pair that will easily assist with the annual fruit tree orchard prune and other jobs during the year.
Secateurs aren’t the only tool in the pruning tool kit. When dealing with branches larger than secateurs can handle, and for those that are out of reach, loppers are the ideal go-to cutting tools. Many of the features found in secateurs can also be found in loppers – the choice of bypass or anvil blades, the maximum dimensions recommended for an easy cut, the variety of ergonomic designs to ensure your safety and comfort while pruning. Geared or ratchet options offer extra power for the harder jobs. The key difference with loppers is the length of the handles. Longer handles allowing you to reach further into the tree or shrub, very handy as long as the tools don’t become too heavy or unwieldy to manage. Lightweight materials and careful design count. Loppers come in varying handle lengths, with telescopic models allowing extension of the lopper arms so that you can cut at a distance comfortably, without overstretching yourself or needing to climb a ladder.
Once you have your new cutting companions home and working, don’t forget to take care of them. Hygiene and maintenance are important, so always clean your loppers and secateurs after use to remove sap and dirt. This will prevent the harbouring of diseases, in addition to prolonging the life of the tool. A good pair of secateurs or loppers, well looked after, should give you many years of faithful service in your garden.