To keep your garden looking its best, you need to remove some excessive growth in a process called pruning. Cutting away dead branches or shaping a stubborn plant to your liking requires you to choose the right tool for the job.
As an avid gardener, I’ve had the chance to test out quite a few shears and loppers. I’m going to give you my recommendations for the best pruning shears for backyard gardeners and a brief overview of the tools you’ll need.
What Pruning Tools Do I Need?
The three types of pruning tools are saws, loppers, and pruners. All have the same underlying purpose of cutting limbs and foliage and should be part of a gardener’s toolkit. However, each tool works best in different circumstances. Let’s start with loppers.
For branches with a thickness of at least one inch, you should use a lopper. The long handle lets you exert more force without tiring yourself out. Loppers are the most basic and versatile cutting tool for a gardener.
Pruners, also called secateurs, are the smaller version of loppers. Use them to cut branches less than an inch thick. The handles of the best pruners are usually curved to ensure a better ergonomic one-handed fit.
Use a pruning saw to cut large branches that a lopper can’t comfortably handle. Straining the jaws of a lopper by cutting branches that are too large for it lessens the effectiveness of the tool and puts extra stress on your hands.
Bypass Blade vs. Anvil Blade
The blades of loppers and pruners have two types of configurations. Bypass blades slide past one another and are therefore best for making clean, straight cuts. They aren’t suitable for cutting dead wood because dead wood can get stuck in the jaws more easily.
Anvil blades have only one sharpened cutting blade that presses against the center of the base. These work best for cutting back dead branches or for making rough, imprecise cuts.
Proper Cutting Technique
Determine where you’re going to cut. Then open the blades of your cutting tool and slip it over the branch as far as possible. You want as firm and secure of a bite as possible. Squeeze the handles together in a single fluid motion to produce a clean cut.
If you aren’t sure of yourself, mark the branch first before placing the blade. Trying to make scissor-style cuts makes your work look messy and can prevent proper healing of the plant.
Keep your tools sharp. A dull blade is not only more dangerous than a sharp one, it is also less useful because you have to exert more force when cutting. Doing this leads to irregular or ragged cuts with loppers and shears.
Inspect your shears’ edges before starting a day’s work in the garden. If you notice any dimpling or rolling of the edges, it’s time to sharpen them. Although I’ve known some people to use a grinder, I prefer a mill file. It takes a little longer but allows for more precise sharpening without removing too much of the metal.
To sharpen shears, tighten the nut fully and place the shears in a vise with the working edge facing up. Grip your file and run it in a single motion going toward the tip. Make sure the sharpening tool is in line with the angle.
When you aren’t using your garden tools, store them in a dry place. Apply a light coating of mineral oil to loppers and pruners. The best loppers are made of high-quality carbon steel and are prone to rust if left exposed to moisture. The mineral oil prevents moisture from building up and increases the lifetime of the tool.
If you’re working in a garden, you should always wear gloves. A good set of gardening gloves prevents blisters and protects your hands from getting cut by thorns or protrusions. For gardeners living in hot, humid areas, insect bites are another danger that gloves reduce. Even working bare-handed with certain plants can put you at risk for fungal infections.
Garden gloves come in cloth, leather, rubber, or neoprene. Leather gloves offer the hands the most protection from thorns. They are more expensive than gloves made from other materials but tend to trap the most heat.
Cloth gloves give you more flexibility and are easy to clean. They don’t offer much in the way of protection against chemicals but are some of the cheapest gloves to find. In hot weather, cloth gloves allow the skin to breathe and stay cool.
If you deal with herbicides and pesticides but not thorns, use rubber gloves or disposables. Leather and other fabrics can absorb pesticides, posing a danger to your skin. Rubber gloves are more lightweight than leather ones, but can also get hot in the summer. Nitrile gloves have the same advantages as rubber gloves as well as letting your hands breathe more.
Gardening gloves should have a snug fit on your hands. If they fit too tightly, you risk cutting off your circulation and restricting your movement. A loosely-fitted glove is prone to slipping off or not protecting your hands from blisters.
Look for gloves with shirred wrists. A shirred wrist is narrower but lets less harmful material into the glove.
You’re probably thinking, “Safety goggles? Isn’t that a bit overkill?” Having an errant branch suddenly swing toward your face or having to climb through a practical thicket to do your work can pose a danger to your eyes. Safety goggles are a must for full protection. As with gloves, eyewear should fit snugly, but not so tightly that it causes a headache.
Best Pruning Gear Reviews
Below, I’ll share 5 noteworthy products and highlight their best features as well as what could be better.
Fiskars 32-Inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper
The most significant draw of this lopper, to me, is the gear system and adjustable blade that allows you to cut branches of different thickness. I’ve had a few stubborn limbs that my other lopper couldn’t manage, but this cut with ease.
The gear technology gives a three-fold increase to leverage, which is great for people who don’t have a lot of arm strength or endurance to spend cutting. This lopper is probably a great option for open spaces, but the long handles might be a problem in tighter areas.
Tabor Tools GL18 20-inch Bypass Lopper
As a backup, I would use this lopper. It is slightly shorter than the Fiskars lopper above, but this works well for getting it into tighter spaces.
The handles are oval-shaped instead of circular, giving a more natural grip. The lopper works best for branches up to an inch wide.
Corona BP 4241D FlexDial ComfortGel Bypass Pruner
What if you have a lot of smaller branches with different sizes? Rather than switching between multiple pruners, use the Corona 4241D. Its adjustable dial lets you pick the size and power of your cuts, making it great for people with weaker hands. This pruner also has special ComfortGel grips, ideal for keeping your hands comfortable during long days in the garden.
The only real problems I have are the blades’ performance decreases when I pick larger sizes. The locking mechanism was also somewhat stiffer than I expected, but it should loosen with use.
Corona RazorTooth 7265D
For larger branches, you need a pruning saw, and the Corona 7265D fits the bill for me. It’s available in 8-inch and 10-inch blade lengths. The 10-inch blade, while more powerful, is more likely to bend if you’re not careful.
I like the curve of the blade because curves add more power. It makes it easier to get through tough branches when I can apply more force. The three-sided teeth add to this effect.
I did have to replace the hinge screw with a slightly larger locking nut screw because it tended to work its way loose.
Corona SL3264 ComfortGEL Bypass Lopper
This lopper does the job, but only feels right for occasional use. The lopper has well-aligned and sharp blades, but the ergonomics of the handles don’t work for me.
Also, the balance seems to very blade-heavy, making it tiring to use. For someone who is stronger, it might be a good value for the money, but this lopper would certainly not be my first choice.
For its balance of power and weight, the Fiskars 32-inch PowerGear lopper is the best product I found for a variety of needs, in my opinion. Its long handles make it work well for shorter people and for reaching higher branches. Coupled with the gear design, it makes quick work of most plants.
Although the GL18 has as much cutting power, it may be too heavy for prolonged or tightly-controlled use. Meanwhile, the SL3264 has mid-length handles and well-designed blades.
I don’t feel like its ease of use compares to the PowerGear. Tools need to be comfortable and well-balanced, and I think that Fiskars offering in this list provided all these qualities.