There are three types of hand pruning tools that every gardener should own.
First, a quality pair of bypass hand pruners for cutting woody branches is a must. These are generally intended to cut stems up to .75 inches in diameter, although some are rated for larger tasks. Bypass pruners have two curved blades that cut with a scissorlike action. If properly sharpened, the pruners can make clean cuts close to stems.
I recommend investing in a high-quality pair of bypass pruners that will last for years. Felco, ARS and Bahco brands offer exceptional bypass hand pruners. A good pair of these brands will cost $40 or more. Each brand's high-end pruners typically have replaceable parts, like blades and springs that help keep them working even when heavily used.
Anvil pruners are another type of hand pruners. They have a top blade that cuts a stem against a lower bottom plate. Gardeners are often discouraged from buying these pruners because they tend to crush rather than make a clean cut, and because they are often too wide to allow making close cuts at narrow angles.
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While anvil pruners aren't the best for most tree- and shrub-pruning jobs, I found that a good pair of anvil pruners is an indispensable tool for deadheading and cutting back tough perennials. Because my hand strength isn't as good as it once was, I favor a Florian Ratchet Pruner. My current pair is more than 7 years old.
My Florian pruners have a Teflon-coated high-carbon, steel-top cutting blade. The handles and cutting platform are made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon. The ratchet mechanism "increases hand strength 700 percent," and its light weight makes the repetitive task of snipping and cutting much easier on my hand and wrist. The Florian ratchet pruner is not inexpensive, usually costing $30 or more with a holster. As with bypass pruners, you can find cheaper pairs, but they are not likely to last as long. The holster is a good idea for protecting the blade and keeping the pruners handy.
Lwe, a German company, also offers high-quality anvil hand pruners. Their Series 8 anvil pruners have a strong steel top blade that is curved, allowing it to make a drawing cut against the anvil. The design of the blade cuts without needing much force and without crushing. Costing more than $50 a pair, they have replaceable parts available.
The third pruning tool I couldn't live without is my Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snip. These little pruners have sharp-pointed 1.5-inch stainless steel blades. I use them more than any other tool in my garden. They are best for snipping flowers, trimming transplant roots and a variety of other light garden tasks.
If you are looking for a new pair of pruners, consider what their main task will be and choose accordingly. Look for pruners that are ergonomically designed, and be sure they fit your hand.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.