As soon as you begin to take gardening a little bit more seriously, you slowly start to equip yourself with better quality tools. Pruning shears are often at the top of the list, as they re one of the basic gardening tools. There’s a little pride in owning “real” pruning shears, like the “real” gardeners. However, not all are of good quality and there are a few basic tips to recognize a good pair of pruning shears.
The Best One Is Not Necessarily the Expensive One
First, yes, it’s true, a large majority of horticulturists swear by their Felco pruners (I’m not used to promoting brands, but they are practically the only ones in town). However, the quality of pruning shears does not depend on a single brand, but on characteristics.
One day, in the depths of Lac-Saint-Jean, in the province of Quebec, I had to quickly acquire a new pruner (you’ll find out why soon). So, I headed to the small local hardware store and bought some green-handled shears at the very low price of $9.99! And it was a glorious tool! I used it for many years, and it never let me down. That pruner was proof that good pruning shears are about certain characteristics and solid materials, not brand!
What’s so Special About Quality Pruning Shears?
First, it has two parts that intersect, like scissors. On one side, the blade, well sharpened. On the other, a kind of curved plate which is called the counter-blade. When you cut a branch, you press it against the counter-blade and the blade does all the work! It is therefore necessary to avoid blades that lean on each other. This type of pruner crushes and damages plant tissue.
The other important feature for me is the organization of the spring system. This spring is essential, because it is what makes the blades open. It must work with ease and reopen the shears after each cut. Sometimes this spring is accompanied by a small system which stops the blades from closing. These little bumps located near the spring have caused me loads of pain. On some poorly designed models, the skin between the thumb and index finger gets stuck in this system. If you exert a little force to cut a branch, they might pinch your skin! It hurts and you lose confidence in your shears.
Another useful gadget: a nut! The two parts of the pruner are often fastened with a bolt and nut. But sometimes it’s just a flattened rivet. The nut allows the shears to be dismantled and reassembled. Over time, the mechanical system loosens and the blade can become wobbly. You want the pruner to be easy to compress and decompress, but the assembly must also be solid. The nut therefore allows the system to be tightened and adjusted to achieve the perfect balance!
Convenient, but Not Essential
Then, the handles. I would say that the comfort of pruning shears is very important if you plan to prune for hours on end. For an occasional gardener, this quality isn’t as essential. In an ideal world, the grip should be perfect. Our hand, when it is almost fully open, should allow the pruner blade to fully open. This may seem obvious, but it’s not, especially when you have small hands like me! I’ve learned to work with regular sized pruners, but to have full control over my blade, I have to bring my hand higher up on the handles (and that’s why I pinch myself, with nasty pruners). Normally, the hand should be right in the centre of the handle. The advantage of holding the tool more towards the ends is that you use less force! Simple principle of physics! You pinch yourself less too. Be aware that small models of pruning shears do exist. I tried them, but too late for me, I like my “big” pruners better (the ones that don’t pinch).
The last point I’d like to get point your attention to is only available on Felco pruners (to my knowledge). This type of pruner can be dismantled and there are spare parts! Wow! The blade breaks by accident? Replace the blade! The spring is so rusty that it doesn’t “spring” anymore? Replace the spring! Durability at its best! And that’s why it’s often said that this type of pruner is a lifetime purchase.
For life, yes, but…
In fact, the real challenge with the longevity of my pruners is not that they break or become too worn. The trouble is, I lose my pruning shears! I prune wilted flowers in a large flower bed. I lay the pruners on the ground, to pick up the debris. At the end of the day, I’ve forgotten my tools. When I was working intensely “in the field,” I must have lost an average of one pruner per year! (including one, in the depths of the Lac-Saint-Jean!) Only once, I found my shears in a flower bed in spring, after the snow melted, where I would’ve least expected it. And this pair, I still have today!
For a professional horticulturist, it’s quite embarrassing to show up at a garden centre where everyone knows me and to purchase some pruning shears. It gives the impression that I didn’t have one before: that these are my first pruning shears ever! The second time, the employees think that I give pruning shears as gifts to my friends. But on the third visit, they unmask me! They understand: I’m just really easily distracted!
I would like to brag that I have had the same pruning shears since I arrived in horticulture at the ITAQ in Saint-Hyacinthe in 1990, but no! However, I know that these pruners could still have been around… if only their owner had not been a certain Julie!