10 things to know before you start pruning trees and shrubs

June 30, 2015

When you use the right tool for the job and maintain your tools, pruning trees, shrubs and hedges can be much easier.

10 things to know before you start pruning trees and shrubs

1. A good set of trimming tools

A good set of trimming tools includes hand pruners, a pair of loppers and a pruning saw to handle large branches.

  • Loppers are suited to jobs too large for shears and too small for saws.
  • Manual or power hedge trimmers are also available for shearing dense plants that have smaller leaves and branches.

2. Pruning big trees

When pruning big trees, take care to prevent falling limbs.

  • Before making the first cuts through a heavy branch, prevent damage to whatever lies below by making a safety sling.
  • Loop a sturdy rope over a higher branch and tie it securely to the branch to be pruned.
  • As you cut the successive sections away, a helper holding the rope below can gently lower the newly pruned pieces to the ground.

3. Use suitable tools

If your hands are small, use short, lightweight shears. Lefthanders can find specially made shears with an inverted blade, counter blade and locking clip.

4. Long-handled pole pruners

Long-handled pole pruners, ranging from two to four metres long, free you from having to use a ladder, but they're useful only for branches about three centimetres (one inch) thick.

Some come in one piece, while others have interlocking pieces with a spring-operated blade that works like a giant pair of pruning shears.

5. Pruning loppers

Pruning loppers are used for cutting branches too large or tough for shears but not large enough for a saw.

  • Avoid using an anvil model except for cutting dead wood.
  • Investing in a sturdy bypass type with a forged, tempered steel blade will pay off if you care for a number of woody shrubs and trees.

6. Maintain your shears and loppers

Maintain your shears and loppers for long-term use. If properly cared for, they take less effort to use and make cleaner cuts.

  • Regularly lubricate the pivot area with light machine oil or petroleum jelly to ensure smooth operation.
  • Clean sap off blades with light oil and steel wool.
  • Regularly sharpen the blades with a fine file or stone and replace them when they become worn.

7. Use the right saw

  • Use a bow saw for heavy-duty cutting of wood more than 13 millimetres thick.

The deep, pointed teeth cut on both push and pull strokes, so be careful when handling this tool. Many small pruning saws can be folded into their handles for safer carrying.

8. Size up your hedge trimmers

Manual hedge clippers are sufficient for small jobs, but you'll need an electric or battery-powered trimmer if you have a large or long hedge.

  • When using a power hedge trimmer, wear snug clothing so nothing can get caught in the blade.
  • When lowering the trimmer to your side, be careful not to hit your leg or catch your clothing.

9. Keep trimmer blades clean

Power trimmer blades must slide back and forth easily, so it's important to keep them clean and sharp.

  • Clean the blades and eliminate sticky resin or sap with a brush dipped in gasoline or turpentine.
  • After the blades dry, oil them with a cloth dipped in light machine oil. The oiled blades won't rust, and your trimmer will be ready to use when you need it.

10. Don’t go overboard

It's easy to overprune with a hedge trimmer.

  • Trim lightly at first and go over the hedge a second time only if needed.
  • After pruning a hedge with a power trimmer, use handheld pruning shears to do the fine detail work.
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