Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Tools to Prune

Hello again,

Terry Skillin stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with a very informative article about Pruning, with some great information about Pruning Tools.

Remember we are holding a Pruning for a Purpose class this Saturday, September 11 at Skillin's Brunswick, Cumberland and Falmouth. The time is 10 AM. Contact us at or via the store contact info found at if you would like to sign up. (We do ask for sign ups so we can be more sure of the class size!)

Here is Terry's article on pruning:

Fall pruning season is upon us.

Fall pruning is different from early spring pruning because of the type of plants we prune. But also our pruning goals can be a bit different between the seasons. In the Spring we are often faced with winter damage from heavy snow, ice or that run away “Flexible Flyer”. I never did tell my brother to slide there BUT I am older and I always got the first wave of “what were you thinking son” speech (you know the one!) Anyway Spring pruning is about correcting winter damage while late summer and fall pruning is usually more concerned with growth control and also with keeping our plants “well fit” into the space they have to grow in. This includes covering what we either want to hide or more likely Uncovering what we still want to see because our fast growing plants are beginning to cover other attractive features. ( I would like to block out the sight of that Rhododendron my brother slid over, but really I’m over it. )

Keeping up with each year’s new growth is an important part of our landscaping duties and if we stay on top of it little time is required and can save the costly expense of removing plant material after it is too big and impossible to bring back into control. This type of maintenance pruning doesn’t always need to happen late in the season-- it can certainly be performed all through the growing season as growth becomes misplaced or out of character for the plant. Be aware there are species that should not be pruned late in the season--right after the blooms fade is the best time to prune them. Lilacs and rhododendrons are a couple of flowering shrubs that fall within this list. My brother’s Flexible Flyer incident taught me some of this—no Rhododendron flowers for that Spring!

The real reason I thought about writing this short article was to talk more about the tools we use to prune and more specifically the tools I prefer. When it comes to shearing tools the field of choices can be divided into two types--either by-pass or anvil types. The by-pass--my preferred shearing type--cuts from both sides of the tool keeping the cut clean and neat. The anvil type--which is less expensive because the steel quality doesn’t need to be as good-- cuts on one blade clean and neat however as the name suggest the anvil side crushes the end of the limb that remains causing more tissue damage and not always leaving behind a clean neat job. The crushed tissue can lead to other problems and although the anvil blade tool is cheaper there is no “true value” here.

All cutting tools have a purpose and using them for more than their designed purpose will lead to the tool failing. For instance, we quite often see a tool damaged because it is asked to cut where another tool of some type was probably needed

The basic purpose of a hand pruner is to cut plant growth that is ¼ to ½ an inch thick (A hand pruner may be able to cut up to ¾ of an inch if the growth is soft and fresh but it would have to be tender growth.) My favorite hand pruner is the Felco #2. The pair I have now is 20 years old or so and I have replaced just two blades and nothing else. Felco Tools (made by Pygar and sold right here at Skillin’s) are more expensive but are top quality and unless you think lose your Felco #2, over 20 years worth of the “cheap ones “ will cost you a lot more money than a Felco #2!

Loppers are similar to hand pruners but with long handles from 12” to maybe 24”+. Again the by-pass type is the way to go. Loppers pick up where hand pruners leave off and can cut up to 1” and maybe 1 ¼ inches if the limb is newer soft wood. There are loppers out there that “brag up more” but I have never seen any real service life out of them. Hanging in my shed is a pair of Felco #60s. Again I have gotten a great service life out of them with no damage.

So far this is sounds a little like a Felco commercial and it’s true it is almost the only cutting tool company that I use. Felco is a Swiss Made product (their website is where most others are made off shore and even though they are cheaper to buy you will go through several pair before you even change the blade in a better tool . After many years a quality tool is still going to do the job for you. Barnel is another maker of very good cutting tools with their professional series and they are made in America. They have a great web site you should check out

Hedge Shears sometime called Lopping Shears were designed and developed to perform more formal shearing and sculpturing of plant material like Taxus (yews) that were once a common species found on many landscapers, designers and architects palettes. Their long by-pass blades ranging anywhere from 10” to 18” long are great for cutting material ¼ of an inch to ½ while performing a very straight surface cut. Corona Company makes a fine shear. I feel as long as there is an adjustable nut to help keep the blades close enough together most brands do a good job, but Corona shears are hanging in my shed.

Pole Pruners are designed to prune those small ½ “ to ¾ “ limbs that are beyond an arm’s length reach. Before I say anything more about this tool always be aware of any power lines running into the tree or hanging across the yard that will pose a danger to come into contact with. Pole Pruners are simple by-pass cutting blades fitted atop of long poles. The blades are open and closed usually by pulling on a cord that is attached to one of the blades. ( I have a really gross story from back when I was a kid landscaping with our crew (circa late 60s early 70s) but if you need to hear it give me a call. )With that said never pick up or pull a pole pruner by the cutting head because the cord might catch on something and the blade might close on you—so just beware. The Pole Pruners I like are made by Corona, they are telescoping. This gives me in effect 8 additional feet because the handle telescopes into itself. So you start the job with a short handle that isn’t as difficult to maneuver for closer work. Remember everything you cut above your head wants to come down on you! Cut slowly and be careful!

Pruning saws or hand tree saws are used more often for the bigger work: large HEAVY limbs and small trees removal. Ever see Bugs Bunny sitting on a limb and he cuts the limb off then the tree falls and the “Buggster” just hangs in mid air. Well it isn’t going to happen that way for you ! That little limb could weigh in at a 100 pounds or more depending on it’s diameter and leaf counts. Limb removal requires special techniques that you can learn about in our Pruning for a Purposes class on September 11th. Pruning Saws are design to cut with each stroke; this is different from regular wood saws that only cut on the draw stroke, pulling it back towards you. The better the steel in the blade the better the saw and once again Felco #600 is the tool I own. It is the smaller folding pruning saw, anything larger than what this can safely handle I call for professional back up and I would suggest you do the same.

Lately we have seen some exotic hybrids in the field of gardening cutting tools such as some tools with crazy long handles that are mistakenly used for additional leverage. Not so! The longer handles are for additional reach! This easy to understand mistake leads to broken handles! Why these exotic hybrids? I’m not always sure but the tools I like are ones I have found to work better than my brother’s Flexible Flyer!

Terry Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
September 4, 2010

1 comment:

Corona said...

Nice post Mike and glad to hear Corona is one of your tools of choice. If you are ever interested in getting one of our QuickSaws to compare with your Felco please let me know.

Also, we announced our new Dual Cuts; loppers, pruners and hedge shears due out the end of this year. These are a complete redesign from the basic, more traditional bypass type and provide 25% more cutting power. Not to mention, they would look great hanging in your shed too..!

Thanks again for the post and I will be sure to share internally with the Corona team! Chris