Secateurs, hand pruners and loppers are essential for pruning and tidying up trees and shrubs. They are also useful for taking woody cuttings, dead heading and harvesting.
Safety Note: Always use cutting tools in accordance with manufacturer's instructions. Never leave them unattended the garden. Store them away safely and use a sheath or holster to cover and protect the blades when not in use.
A good quality pair of secateurs (or hand pruners) is a sound investment. In addition to spades and hand trowels, secateurs are one of the most commonly used tools in the garden. Many different types are available and the capacity required (the size of cut) will depend on the average type of growth that needs cutting. A general-purpose bypass design will be adequate for most garden tasks, such as pruning roses and small shrubs. For tougher cutting jobs such as dry-woody stems, an anvil style design is recommended, which allows more pressure to be applied to the cut. For really tough pruning a ratchet design will help. Ratchet pruners are also handy for anyone with a weak grip.
Image Credit: Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Advantage Bypass Secateurs
Prices range quite a bit, from a few pounds for a cheap pair to over £20 for a top quality tool. Choose a pair that will last you and that you find comfortable to handle. They will need regular sharpening so the additional purchase of a small sharpening stone should also be considered.
A sharp knife is a very hand asset in the gardener's tool kit. It can be used for a range of cutting tasks such as cutting string and twine, light pruning and taking cuttings. A sharp clean blade is vital for taking cuttings as the cut needs to be clean, with crisp neat edges. Choose a knife made from high quality carbon steel, or even stainless steel, so it will keep a keen edge and can be easily resharpened. For optimum safety choose a model that has a fold-away blade.
Image Credit: Faithfull Budding, Pruning and Cutting Knife
A folding pocket knife has a multitude of uses in the garden, from cutting string and opening compost bags to trimming and pruning plants. If you keep it with you in the garden it will save you from using other tools incorrectly in its place, as you will always have it to hand.
This has a curved, folding blade and is used for trimming off thin side shoots, cleaning up the edges of minor wounds and taking cuttings.
These usually have a fine blade with a straight edge, which is necessary for making the straight cuts needed for grafting
Although scalpels should be used with caution as they are razor sharp, they are thin enough to cut soft plant tissue and are deal for taking leaf cuttings. The all metal design means they can be easily sterilised.
These have a curved blade made of carbon steel. Worth buying if you grow a lot of vegetables, as it will greatly speed up harvesting. For example, it can be used for cutting the heads off cabbages, cauliflowers and lettuce, and for trimming the tops off root crops. These knives do not normally fold away so they need to be stored carefully.
If you have any small trees or large shrubs in the garden then a pair of long handled loppers will be handy for shaping and pruning woody stems and small branches. Long-arm and extending versions can be used to gain additional height and reach.
When buying a pair check the thickness (diameter) of wood that can be cut. Anvil style loppers usually cut thicker and harder wood than bypass loppers. Also loppers with lever or ratchet mechanisms are easier to use and can generally cut through thicker material.
When using a lopper it is best to obtain a good clean cut, leaving no ragged edges or tearing. As this can allow pests and diseases into enter the cut area or cause dieback. Therefore it is best to keep the blade keen and sharp. Don't to try cutting through branches that are too thick for the type of tool you are using as this can damage both the plant and the tool.
For branches that exceed the diameter suitable for lopping (usually more than 1" (2.5 cm)) then a pruning saw will be able to handle the job. Pruning saws come in various types and sizes. The straight or curved handle and blade are designed for easy access in confined places, such as between branches. Unlike wood saws, pruning saws usually only cut on the reverse stroke, so they can take longer to cut through. For thicker cuts a bow saw is recommended, which cuts on both forward and reverse strokes. Bow saws have a disposable blade tensioned between the ends of a bent tubular handle. Blades can normally be changed quickly by releasing a tensioning lever near the handle.
For branches higher up in taller trees a pole pruner is needed. These are usually have a telescopic handle to adjust the reach and can accommodate either a pruner (operated by a pull cord) or a pruning saw. These tool enable you to reach a good distance while standing firmly on the ground, they're also handy for reaching into the centre of large shrubs and hedges.
Garden shredders are very useful for recycling thin twiggy and woody prunings from shrubs and small trees. Shredding reduces the bulk of prunings and allows the material to decompose much quicker. Without shredding, tough woody material easily builds-up, clogging up garden bins and compost areas. Once shredded you can then reuse the shreddings as a mulch on the borders or add it to the compost heap to help aerate the mix.
Image Credit: Einhell Electric Rapid Garden Shredder
If you only need to do this task once a year it may be worth hiring a shredder or just taking your woody waste to a recycle centre or even burning it on the bonfire (once it has fully dried out) so long as you are not living in a smokeless zone.
If you have a lot of shrubs in the garden and prune these on a regular basis it may be worth buying a shredder to keep on top of pruning waste. When choosing a shredder you will need to consider it's efficiency and the thickness of twigs and branches it can accommodate. Cheaper models usually only cope with thin branches and tend to clog up easily. They can also be very noisy. Top of the range models can cope with thicker branches, up to 1 1/2" (3.5 cm) and employ a toothed drum rather than a rotating blade, which is quieter to operate.