Garden Forever
Pruning Basics - Comfort First

Most of us tend to do a lot of pruning early in the spring and in the fall. In our haste to cut back and clean up plants, shrubs and trees we can overextend ourselves during those couple of weekends a year.

By choosing the correct tools for the job, one that is the right size and type for both the plant and the gardener's hand, the home gardener can make the job go faster and easier.

The right cutter for the job

Flower shears

Small sharp shears are used for dead-heading and cutting blooms. Look for ones with soft handles and either large finger holes, or cushioned straight grips that are more comfortable for arthritic hands.

Hand pruners

Home gardeners most often use hand pruners, also known as secateurs, for cutting back shrubs, roses, perennials, etc. with branches about 1/2” to 3/4”. Don’t try to cut too big a branch. This is hard on your hand, making it twist and overextend. It also damages the branch by tearing it rather than making smooth cuts. In bypass pruners look for a little rubber stop between the handles near the blades. This helps cushion the hand from cutting impact.


These larger two-handed cutters come in various lengths from 15” to 32” and are for bigger branches, 3/4” - 2” in diameter. There are shorter, lighter weight loppers for those jobs that are just a bit too big for hand pruners. Loppers are often used over your shoulders so the overall weight is important. Wood is heavier than newer composite materials that are strong, lightweight and easier on arm and shoulder muscles.

Pole pruners

Often 7’ and longer, pole pruners are for trees. Most home gardeners leave the bigger jobs to the professionals.

Extended reach pruners

The longer reach of this hand pruner lets you prune from a standing or sitting position. They’re a lot easier on your back since you can also prune lower down branches without bending over. Most cut up to about 3/4” and some have swivel heads so that you can cut a branch at any angle without bending your wrist.

Cutting action


The most common cutting action, the bypass makes a cut like a scissor, with a top sharp blade passing by a lower unsharpened one. This produces a clean cut in a single motion.

The cutting blade comes down on a flat anvil plate of plastic or metal. This type of cut is good for tough deadwood. Ratchet pruners use an anvil cutting action.

Pruner maintenance

Check sharpness regularly. A good, sharp edge will do a more efficient job and is easier on the plant and the gardener. Sharpen with a good diamond or ceramic sharpening stone.

A smooth cutting motion is less jarring on joints and muscles. Remove any sap with soapy water or turpentine. Add a drop of oil (V;D-4.0 or household) to pivot points.

The right pruner for your hand


There are smaller versions available that help you avoid hand strain from overextending. Most traditional pruners have been built to fit the average man's hand. Women often find that these are just a bit of a "stretch" for their hand spread. Companies like Felco and Fiskars are now making smaller versions of their better quality pruners. Gone are the days of one size fits all.

Right- or left-handed

A more comfortable fit that contours to the user hand puts less strain on joints and fingers. Look for “true” left-handed pruners that are the exact opposite of right-handed ones. The cutting blade is bevelled on one side only, the outside edge, and this should be the side that is nearest the branch to ensure a smooth and cleaner cut. If you’re a lefty using a right-handed cutter, you’ve got the blades reversed. That’s harder on you and the plant.


The gardener with less strength can use the ratchet mechanism to cut through a bigger branch in several smaller increments. The cutting force is increased by about 30%, achieving cuts up to 7/8” and hand strain is reduced significantly.

Rotating handles

Available in several versions, in both bypass and anvil cutting models, the lower handle rotates on its axis to revolve in the hand. The rotating motion reduces stress and strain on the hand and fingers.

Ergonomic grips

Handles should let you keep your wrist straight when cutting. Hold the pruner and extend your arm straight out from your body. If the blades are in the same line as your arm (your wrist isn’t bent), this will put less strain on your lower arm and wrist.

Popular Gardening Pages

homearticlestipsBooks links

All articles are the property of Garden Forever.

All rights reserved. "Pruning Basics - Comfort First" is a copyrighted article by Beverley Mitchell, who has kindly given Garden Forever permission to publish it. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of Garden Forever is strictly forbidden.