Pruning is the removal of a portion of a plant to improve its appearance and health, and to control its growth and shape. It is easily done, but not so easily done correctly. Each time a bud or branch is removed from a plant, it has a short-term and long-term effect. The short-term effect is the way the plant looks immediately after pruning, and perhaps through the remainder of the growing season. The long-term effect is the way the plant appears after several seasons of growth without the part that has been pruned.
Landscape pruning tools are available in a range of sizes and qualities. Whether a hand tool or power tool, all pruning tools share a common attribute: they are sharp and must be used carefully with a vigilant regard for the safety of the user and others nearby. The tools used by home gardeners, landscape professionals, and arborists include:
• Hand pruners—Hand pruners are used to cut branches up to about 1/4 inch in diameter. There are two styles in use. One is like a pair of scissors in that it has two sharpened edges (a blade and a curved anvil). The other style has one sharpened blade and a flat, straight anvil that it cuts against. Professional horticulturists generally prefer the scissor-type hand pruner because it gives a more precise cut and is less likely to damage the plant tissue by squeezing against an unsharpened anvil.
• Lopper pruners—Also available as scissor or straight anvil types, loppers are used to cut branches having diameters up to about 1/2 inch. Loppers have longer handles than hand pruners. That allows the user greater leverage and extended reach. It also can result in damage to the tool and the plant if the long handles are used to twist off a partially cut branch. If the loppers cannot make a quick, clean cut through a branch, a pruning saw should be used instead.
• Hedge shears—These are the most task-specific of all pruning tools. They are used to shear and shape hedges, with some secondary applicability to the shearing of plants used in formal settings. Hedge shears are available as a scissor-like hand tool or as a wand-like power tool.
• Hand pruning saw—When a branch exceeds 1/2 inch in diameter, it is important to use a saw, not a hand pruner or lopper. Pruning saws are designed to cut live wood, unlike carpenter saws that are made for dried wood. Hand pruning saws with straight blades cut best when pushed away from the user. Curved blade saws cut best when pulled toward the user. The circumstances of use will usually dictate the proper choice of saw.
• Pole saw—This tool is simply a hand pruning saw or a lopper with a long handle. It permits the user to reach up into a tree for the removal of the same sized branches that are removed at lower levels with regular handsaws or loppers.
Caution: It is difficult to see electric wires that may be in the canopy of trees. Do not cut until you are certain of what is being severed.
• Chainsaw—This is a very dangerous tool! It may be powered by gasoline or electricity, and is used to remove branches that cannot be cut with the hand tools described. Razor sharp teeth attached to a chain cut through the wood. Protective clothing and a thorough knowledge of all safety measures regarding the use and maintenance of the chainsaw are essential.
• Other power pruners—Professional arborists have available an expanded assortment of tools that do the same tasks described for the hand tools but have the benefits of engine power to increase their strength and cut size capability. Powered forms of pole pruners and loppers are available. These, too, are highly dangerous to use.