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Pruning is one of the tasks that you have to do in your garden in order to keep it tidy. When pruning it is important to use the appropriate tool for the task and to make sure your pruning tools are sharp so that the cuts will be cleanly, easily and safely. If you are using a blunt blade this can leave a plant with a ragged wound that is prone to infection or that can cause die-back. If you are working with powered tools, such as hedge-trimmers or brushwood cutters you must take extra care.

Pruning and cutting tools

Secateurs are used for pruning woody stems up to about 1 cm thick and soft shoots of any thickness. They may also be used for taking cuttings for propagation. There are 3 main types of secateurs: by-pass, parrot-beak and anvil. By-pass and parrot-beak secateurs have a scissor-like action, anvil secateurs have a sharp, straight-edged upper blade that cuts against a square-edged lower anvil.

For cutting soft-stemmed plants you will only need a light pain of secateurs, for pruning fruit trees and shrubs with woody shoots up to 1 cm thick you will need a pair of heavy-duty secateurs. When buying your secateurs, try them out if possible to check that they are comfortable and easy to operate. Also check the handle material and shape, how wide they open and the pressure of the spring keeping them open, because all these vary considerably.

Maintain your secateurs by cleaning the blades after each use with an oily rag or wire wool to remove any sap that has dried on and then lightly oil them. Periodically tighten the blade tension of garden shears, to make them cut more efficiently and produces a better finish.

Long-handled pruners and loppers
These tools are useful for removing woody stems or branches of 1-2.5 cm thick, where secateurs might be damaged and for thinner branches that are difficult to reach. The long handles give additional leverage, making it easier to cut through thick stems.

The handles are usually wood or plastic-covered tubular steel or aluminum and the blades are made of stainless steel, carbon steel, or coated steel, as for secateurs. The weight and balance of long-handled pruners are important as you may have to hold them at full stretch or above your head. Make sure when you buy them that you will be able to operate them easily and without strain.

Most long-handled pruners have a by-pass blade motion and others an anvil action. Both are good and it only depends on you which one you buy. Ad long-handled pruners require regular maintenance to keep them in peak working condition.

Tree pruners
This type of tool is suitable for cutting branches up to 2.5 cm thick that would otherwise be out of reach. The cutting device is positioned at the end of a pole that is usually 2-3 m long, although some extend to 5 m. The carbon steel blade is operated by a lever system or a cord. Both models are efficient. Some of them may have saw or fruit-picker attachments.

Pruning saws
They are used for severing branches more than about 2.5 cm thick. There are various types of pruning saws: general-purpose pruning, Grecian or rigid-handle curved, double-edged or two-edged, folding and bow saws. If in your garden pruning is a major task than you may consider necessary to have more than one saw. All pruning saws should have hardpoint, heat-treated teeth and must be professionally sharpened.

Garden knives
A garden knife may be used for light pruning tasks. It is also convenient for taking cuttings, preparing material for grafting, harvesting certain vegetables and cutting string. There are various types of garden knives: general-purpose, grafting, budding and pruning or peach pruners. Most of them have a carbon steel blade which is either fixed or folds into a handle. Maintain your garden knife by always drying the blade after use and wipe them over with an oily rag. Sharpen them regularly to the same angle as when new.

Garden shears
Shears are used for trimming hedges or for cutting small or awkward areas of long grass, clipping topiary and cutting back herbaceous plants. Weight and balance are important so before you buy a pair of shears check that they are centrally balanced and the blades are not too heavy. There are shears with straight blades but there are also some with wavy edged blades. The last type is more useful for cutting through mature wood more easily but they are difficult to sharpen.

If your garden has large hedges then you should consider buying a powered hedgetrimmer. It takes much less time and effort to use them than ordinary manually operated shears. The blades can vary in size but if the blade is too long this can make the hedgetrimmer heavy and poorly balanced. A 40 cm blade is adequate for normal garden use and a 60 cm blade is useful for extensive hedges. Hedgetrimmers may also have single or double-sided blades.

Hedgetrimmers may be petrol or electricity powered. Petrol trimmers may be operated anywhere and are more powerful but also noisier, heavier and more expensive than electric ones and usually require more maintenance. Electric trimmers are more commonly used and better for small jobs. They can be battery-powered or from the mains but the last ones are inconvenient because of the trailing cable.

Brushwood cutters
These are excellent for slashing through tough weeds, undergrowth and very long grass. The rotating head has a metal stasher or fine-toothed blade. In addition to the cutting blade some may be fitted with a nylon line for trimming grass. Most models are petrol-driven but there are also electric models which are lighter, less noisy and require less maintenance but are less efficient for heavy work.

Chainsaws are suitable for sawing logs or large branches and for extensive tree surgery and felling. They can be extremely dangerous because of their power and the toothed chain revolving at high speed. There are electric and petrol powered types. Electric ones are useful for small jobs. Petrol powered ones are more powerful so they are better for heavier jobs, but they are often difficult to start and create fumes.

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Ties and Supports

In our garden we usually use ties to secure a climbing, scrambling or fragile plant and we use supports to protect some plants from wind or rain. When using ties we must make sure that the ties are secure without constricting the stem of the plant. There are different types of ties that suit differ plants. For soft-stemmed plants it is best to use a light material such as twine or raffia. Ties must be checked annually.

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