The old adage “ the right time to prune is when the saw is sharp” probably doesn't tell the whole story, but pruning with dull tools is always a disaster. The bests results come from professional-quality tools that are in good condition. Most professionals use hand bypass pruners and pole pruners day in and day out.
These can be expensive but after purchasing and being dissatisfied with several home use items I decided to purchase the pro tools and still have them after 10 years.
Pruning tools come in two basic types bypass and anvil style. Purchase only the bypass type. Anvil pruners bring a sharp blade down onto an anvil that results in a messy cut and injures your shrub. I recommend bypass pruners exclusively.
Bypass pruners work like scissors with two sharp blades opposite each other passing each other to making a clean cut. For cuts up to ½ inch in diameter a pair of sharp hand pruners work best. Bypass loppers are over sized hand pruners that will cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter.
Bypass pole pruners use the jaws of a lopper with a lever mechanism to get a mechanical advantage with out having the long handles of a lopper. This combined with the ability to insert pole sections giving you almost unlimited height makes for a very useful tool. A bypass pole pruner will work on overhead branches between ½ an inch and 1 inch. They also can be used for cutting low branches without bending over. For most homeowners 3 small 4 ft poles will be enough for shrub pruning. They are easier to fit in the trunk of your car as well. Interchangeable saw heads can be attached for tall branches.
Most pole saw heads also have a sturdy cast hook on the rear side opposite of the blade, this is used for breaking off small dead branches. You may have heard the phrase “ by hook or by crook”, this hook is the root of that statement. If you didn't have the king's permission to gather the twigs for your fire, you would fall into the later part of the quote. Another hint at the antiquity of this tool is the ring and spring arrangement that was used to secure a brush form the dark ages when all pruning cuts were to be painted over with tar. Still capable of multi tasking today the saw head can removed and used as a hand saw to cut branches larger than one inch that won't fit into your pole pruner. Professional pole saw blades are readily available and will fit wooden hand saw handles as well. Good tools will literally last you a life time so take the time to ask questions and get professional grade. If you have a pruning question or a great picture of your ancient pruning tools send them in! One question or picture will be selected at random over the next three months to receive the professional pruning multi-tool pictured at the top of this article! Send your questions and pictures from the link on the right tool bar.