Before you head into the garden to begin your winter pruning chores, check your tools to make sure that you have the right tool for the job and that the tools are in good condition. Using the right tool makes the hard job of pruning easier and causes less stress on your hands and shoulders; tools that are kept sharp and well-lubricated make clean cuts that preserve the health of your trees and bushes.
Let’s start with a quick review of different types of pruning shears and loppers and which ones are best to use for different types and thicknesses of wood.
There are two types of blade arrangement on hand pruners and loppers. Anvil pruners have one sharp blade that hits or is stopped by an anvil or a flat surface as it makes the cut. They are best used to cut dead wood since a cut made by just one blade crushes the backside of the wood against the stop or anvil.
Bypass pruners have two blades that overlap as they make cuts. They are best used to cut through green wood since the two blades cut from each side of the stem, branch, or cane and are less likely to tear or crush woody tissue.
Hand pruners can be used to cut through wood that is 1/2- to 3/4 -inch thick, depending on the brand and the size. They’re fine to prune smaller rose canes, hydrangea stems and small branches.
To prune larger rose canes or small tree branches, you’ll need to use loppers, which are now generally made with bypass blades. Anvil loppers are still made, but the old-fashioned design without a stop between the handles jolts the shoulders with each cut. Choose anvil loppers that have a rubber stop above the blades, between the handles, to prevent stress on your body parts. Use smaller loppers with shorter handles and smaller blades to cut through 1-inch wood; larger loppers cut through wood up to 1 1/2 -inch thick. Giraffe pruners is one brand that makes long single-handled loppers or pruners that can reach through thorny roses or barberry bushes.
The handles on newer pruners and loppers are made of composite materials that are so much lighter than previous models, making it much easier to prune above shoulder level for longer periods of time. Some pruners have rotating or ratchet action that eases the strain on wrists and thumbs; some loppers have power gears that increase the cutting action and pressure by up to three times. These newer models are more expensive, but well worth the investment. (Fiskars is one good brand carried at most big-box garden centers).
To keep blades sharp, carry a small honing block or sharpening block in your pocket as you prune. Give blades a few swipes with the sharpening tool when you start pruning the next rose bush or every five to 10 minutes when working on bushes and trees. Most new blades have nonstick surfaces, but spray gears or springs and clean sap off blades with a rust prevention oil when you finish the day’s pruning.
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