Gardening tools

The (Almost) Eternally Lasting Pruning Shears

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.

My personal survivors! They have pruned their fair share of small branches, wilted flowers, rope and bags of compost (I confess). Image: Julie Boudreau

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.

This is where the thin skin between your thumb and your index will get pinched… on those badly conceived pruners. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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!

How I wish I could have the same pruning shears that I had in my younger days. But that will not be my path. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll leave them to my heir! Image: Mathilde Bourgeois on Canva.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

7 comments on “The (Almost) Eternally Lasting Pruning Shears

  1. I have misplaced pruners dozens of times over the years. Usually they are found but have had one discovered two years later!(a large garden…) For this reason I have at least two at both the home garden and the cottage as they are used daily and could not make do without.

  2. Great post. Living in Finland, we are surrounded by FISKARs products – The hamlet of Fiskars, Finland is not far from where we live. While the forges and factories of the past have been replaced by in-residence artists & craftspeople – there is still a very well-equipped Fiskars shop in the hamlet selling a wide range of their products and implements. I’ve been using a Fiskars brand bypass pruner since we started our garden renovation in 2016, and it’s never let me down. Thankfully, the only item I’ve forgotten to pick up and found later are hand trowels!

  3. Mine were the predecessors to Felco. They seem to be identical to yours, but are Corona shears, made in Corona. They were a high school graduation gift from my Pa in 1985, when Coona was still a Toyota, and before it became what it is now.

  4. Christine Lemieux

    I am happy to know I am in good company re losing tools. I found a pair of felco pruners in the garden which had been missing for a couple of years. A gardening friend/pro took them apart and now they work as good as new. They are for small hands. Now I understand why I like them so much. Great information, thank you!

  5. Carola P

    The right size pruning shears makes such a difference. I too have small hands and love my smaller size pruners (Felcos of course). I didn’t know there are replacement parts available! Perfectly timed article, it would be pruning season here if only those piles of snow would melt.

  6. Victoria

    Oh this is such useful information. I now know why I love my pruning shears—–a nut, no bump, right size handles. Amazingly I didn’t buy these—-most likely I would have gotten the wrong ones, with none of the salient points you mention considered in the purchase. It seems they had fallen off someones truck or lawn care trailer and a passer-by found them at the end of my driveway and put them at the entrance to my garage. They must have seen me out working in the yard and assumed that I these belonged to me. Another great advantage is that the handles are not green or brown (obviously designed by someone who doesn’t use them) but are a bright orange. Brand name: Shear Magic made in Japan.

  7. Good info because I fall into the third category and need to get a new pair but glad to know I’m not alone. 🙂

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