Having the right tool for pruning can make all the difference in securing a better outcome for your trees. This is particularly true when it comes to cutting back suckers at the base of your tree and removing dead limbs. Shears and saws are generally the tools of choice when pruning, but not all work the same. The choice of which tool to use comes down to location on the tree, size of the growth needing cut and any physical considerations of the person pruning.
For smaller suckers and the ends of limbs, pruning shears are the right tool for pruning. Consisting of two blades with handles usually fitting in a single hand, there are three type of shears. Sometimes referred to as cutting scissors, bypass shears have blades that cross one another as the branch is being cut in between blades. These are best used on the smallest suckers or limb parts. One thing to be aware of with bypass pruners is both blades must be sharp on the cutting edge for a good cut to occur.
Anvil ShearsOn the other hand, anvil shears need a single sharp blade that comes down onto a flat surface, or anvil. The single blade is sharpened on both sides, leading to slightly more tolerance when dullness occurs. Anvil shears make clean cuts and can potentially handle larger diameter cuttings, depending on wood thickness and blade condition.
If you have concerns about muscle strength or joint issues, a ratchet shears may be a great solution. As the name suggests, the blades begin a cut, latching into place with a ratchet-like mechanism. When you let up on the tension, the blades remain in place, waiting for your next squeeze. The mechanics of a ratchet pruner leverages your strength, essentially stabilizing and multiplying your efforts. It’s especially nice that the blades remain in place without constant pressure.
Loping shears are in-between the single hand shears and pruning saws. With longer handles, they are the right tool for pruning smaller twigs above arm length without a ladder. For those who have difficulty kneeling down, loping shears are great for clipping suckers at ground level. They are heavier than pruning shears so arms and shoulders can become fatigued quickly, so pace yourself. If you have branches that are higher than loping shears can reach or thicker than a ratchet pruner can handle, it’s time to switch to saws as a solution.
Pruning and Pole Saws
There is a wide variety of saws available for pruning, varying in blade length and handle shape. Most pruning saws cut 1 ½- to 5-inch diameter branches with anything above that better suited to powered versions such as chain saws. One thing pruning and pole saws have in common is a metal blade with teeth designed for cutting to be done in a back and forth, push/pull motion.
Pruning saws with straight blades and curved handles are easier to hold and are good choices for new wood and lighter duty tasks. Curved blades are generally stronger, suited for heavier duty tasks but can be awkward in tight spaces. If portability is important, consider stocking your pruning kit with a folding saw. Coming in a wide variety of sizes, the saw blade folds inward toward the handle for easier and safer storage.
Pole SawFor higher branches and limbs, consider a pole saw. Often a single blade mounted on a pole, these saws allow you to reach much higher into a tree without climbing a ladder. Some have the option for shear-like cutters at the end of the pole; the choice depends on availability and personal preference. Poles also vary from fixed length to telescoping, 6 feet to more than 15 feet long. If you have a limb that exceeds the height of your pole, it’s time to bring out a ladder and your personal protective gear.
Before you begin ANY pruning, it’s time to break out the safety gear. Just like having the right tool for pruning gives you a better outcome, the right gear gives you a safer pruning experience. Work gloves will protect your hands from hidden hazards like thorn vines and safety glasses protect your eyes from falling debris. A short list to have on hand includes:
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- A sturdy, long sleeved shirt
- Thick pants
- Closed toe shoes (preferably work boots with hard toes and thick soles)
- A hard hat/helmet
Include any helpers you have, even if they are not actively pruning. It is not unheard of for someone removing debris to step on a sharp sucker or be snagged by a leafy limb. Sturdy shoes and safety goggles can make the difference between a slight stumble or medical emergency.
NOTE: If the tree limbs or branches are too large for pruners, using the right tool still applies, this time with equipment such as chain saws. Wearing protective gear and knowing proper operation and care of equipment is critical for safe operation. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and wear appropriate safety gear, even if dealing with only one branch.
If your pruning is overhead, the same focus on safety applies, plus some. Before climbing any ladders, review the Ladder Safety information available at the American Ladder Institute. Even if you think it’s a five-minute job, have someone there to keep the ladder steady and be on the lookout for other hazards. In the Big Bend area, a few things to remember are wasps and bees like trees too – so remind your helper to look up, down and around!
Properly pruned trees are healthier and less likely to succumb to diseases and storm damage. But improper trimming may cause damage, inviting rot or infestations. If you are not sure where to begin or prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground, we completely understand. Instead, you can schedule one of our arborists to come out for a free consultation. We love talking about trees and landscaping any time of the year! Call Miller’s Tree Service at 850.894.8733 for consultations, estimates or emergencies.