Many fruit trees and bushes need some pruning each year. Pruning is best carried out in three stages: first remove any big branches, which will affect the shape of the plant the most, then cut away medium-sized branches or canes before finishing with a final tidy up and pre-emptive removal of twigs that could cause problems in the future.
It pays to have the right tool for each stage of the job. Over time I’ve whittled down my pruning collection to three types of tool, which no fruit gardener should be without.
Pruning Saws for Drastic Action
To make big changes, the first tool you need to reach for is a saw. Sawing is a great way to warm yourself up on a cold winter’s day! Using the right type of saw makes the job a lot easier however.
A bow saw is useful for bigger limbs although it may be difficult to use when space is tight between other branches. A folding saw can be handy, and it’s reassuring to be able to tuck the blade away out of harm’s way, but they’re not usually as strong as fixed-blade saws.
A good general-purpose pruning saw will have a stainless steel or carbon steel blade less than about 45cm (18in) long, plus a handle that should fit snugly into your hand – just the right size to use among branches where space is limited. A Grecian saw is invaluable for pruning in those really awkward spots. It’s similar to a general-purpose pruning saw except that it has a curved blade and only cuts on the pull stroke, as this is where you can apply most pressure in a restricted space.
If you have a whole orchard to renovate, or if you plan on cutting the wood into logs for your fire, it might be worth investing in a chainsaw. Electric and petrol models are available, and rechargeable battery-powered ones are now gaining a following among landscapers and tree surgeons working in noise-sensitive areas.
If you only buy one saw, make it a high quality general-purpose pruning saw.
Choosing Loppers for Pruning Fruit Trees and Bushes
Once the thickest wood is out of the way, the hardest work is done. Branches or soft fruit canes up to about 2.5cm (1in) thick can then be dealt with using a good, strong pair of loppers.
When buying loppers, look for ones with telescoping legs. These will enable you to reach some of the higher branches without having to balance on a ladder. They also increase your leverage, reducing the power needed to make the cut. Loppers with a ratchet mechanism can also help to remove some of the effort.
Make sure that they’re not too heavy. Test this by extending them to their full length and opening and closing them above your head. Lopping branches in this way can be strenuous work, so be sure you can handle the weight.
You can choose either anvil or bypass (scissor-action) blades for loppers. Anvil loppers have a square-edged anvil for the sharp upper blade to cut against. I personally prefer anvil loppers, but you do need to keep the blade very sharp to cleanly slice stems rather than crush them. Stainless steel and carbon steel blades will last a long time and should stay sharp for ages. Coated steel has a shorter lifespan and will need more frequent sharpening.
Choosing Hand Pruners
Hand pruners, also known as secateurs, are for pruning twigs and soft fruit canes less than about 1cm (0.5in) thick. A top-notch pair of hand pruners is a good investment – you will use them a lot, so buy the best you can afford.
Bypass hand pruners make a nice clean cut on thin twigs or stems. Don’t use them to cut material that is too thick – if you’re struggling to cut through wood with your bypass pruners you either need a heavier-duty pair of anvil pruners, or some loppers. It’s not worth wearing out your good hand pruners, or your hands for that matter, by abusing them!
As with loppers, try out hand pruners before you buy. Make sure the grips fit your hand comfortably, and open and close them a few times to check that the spring pressure is not so high that your hand will tire with repeated snips. Try the safety catch to ensure it easily engages but won’t get knocked off accidentally.
Pruners are handy to keep on your person for small pruning jobs – damaged, dead or diseased twigs take a moment to tidy up but it’s easy to put these little jobs off if you don’t have the correct tool to hand. You can buy or make a hand pruner holster that attaches to your belt.
I often absent-mindedly pop a pair in a back pocket of my jeans while in the garden, but I wouldn’t recommend this as it has been pointed out that if I happen to slip and fall I could end up with a pruned kidney…
Do you have any other recommendations for pruning tools you just couldn’t live without? Drop us a comment below and share it with us.