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The Best Secateurs

Updated on April 3, 2012

The Best Secateurs

 My partner and I help a lot of people with their gardens and one of the things we hear most often is 'how do I prune the......'.  Pruning is one of those subjects which strikes fear into the hearts of many gardeners.  There is always the feeling that cutting something back at the wrong time and in the wrong way will kill off a beloved plant, or will destroy next year's flowers or fruit crop.

Personally, I find pruning is one of the most enjoyable jobs in the garden; it's something to do with cutting out all the deadwood, clearing space, de-cluttering and allowing the fresh new growth to come forward.  In short I LOVE pruning.

Felco secateurs

Before tackling any pruning job, it's important to have the right tools. I tend to use a range of different garden tools when pruning: a pair of long handled loppers, ordinary garden shears, a pair of secateurs and a small pruning saw. Rarely, if a plant has really gone wild, I might use an ordinary wood saw, and Terri likes to get her hands on a chainsaw if possible.

It's a good idea to make sure that all the blades are sharp and that everything works smoothly, so a judicious squirt of WD40 before tackling a job never hurts.

And Terri, always the firefighter, has just reminded me, when using a chainsaw you should always wear the relevant PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). I think she means goggles, gloves and stuff.

The pruning saw I use is one in which the blade folds away, then locks open for use. This makes it easy to transport, and helps keep the blade safe from accidental damage by all of the other gardening stuff I have rolling around in the boot of my car.

As far as secateurs go, there are three main types to choose from, categorised by how the blades work.  Anvil secateurs have one sharp blade, which cuts against a blunt blade; bypass secateurs have two sharp blades which slice past each other like scissors, whereas ratchet secateurs operate on a ratchet system, whereby each squeeze of the handles ratchets the blades further into the branch, only releasing when the blades have cut all the way through.

I personally think that the different blades are good for different things. I find that anvil blades are efficient at snicking through branches up to around 1cm thick, and I have an ancient white handled pair of these, which are on their last legs, but still working well. Bypass secateurs seem to work better on softer, green stalks, although I guess if you had a really expensive pair of Felco secateurs then they would bite through anything. I have a mid-range Wilkinson Sword pair. Ratchet secateurs will crunch through most branches with much less elbow grease required (If any of my family is listening, these would make a great gift for Mum!).

I also have a pair of long handled loppers. The blades of these are anvil and the handles are extendible, from one to three feet, making high branches easy to get at. These will crunch through branches up to 4cm thick, providing you have the muscle power. I have to say I bought these very cheaply from a well known European budget supermarket (OK Lidl) and they only cost me £4. I reasoned that they would still be a bargain even if they lasted just one season. A couple of years on and they're good as new.

I mentioned Felco secateurs previously and they are considered to be the Rolls Royce of garden tools. I have used them from time to time, when I've managed to scrounge a pair and I can see why they are rated so highly. They have various sizes with various shaped blades and various shaped handles, so you really could almost have a custom pair, which is great for people like me who have tiny hands. Felco also have a parts, accessories and spares service, so, in theory, your secateurs should last a lifetime. They are more expensive, but the quality is there.

Speaking of tiny hands, I am still on the search for the perfect pair of gardening gloves. Why is it that all the really small gloves out there are floral and made for the delicate snipping of topiary, whereas I need tiny gloves that have a similar strength to chain mail? If anyone has any pointers let me know. I currently visit second-hand shops and buy ladies' leather gloves of a certain era, but the brambles make their presence felt!

What do I do with the prunings?

After I've finished my pruning job, I snip off all the green growth (with my anvil secatuers) then leave the branches somewhere to dry out. Some, I burn in my chiminea, especially if it's something nice like applewood, which I'll cook with, and the rest I'll burn in my home made fire basket. The wood ash I'll keep to use as fertiliser on the garden,particularly good as the slugs don't like it.

I usually carry with me some garden shears, purely for shaping up small leaves in bulk and for trimming hedging back. The best ones have a little wheel at the juncture of the blades that can be turned to tighten the bite.

One of the best Christmas gifts I had has was a sharpening stone, from my son. It's simply a whetstone block with a rough and a smooth side, and I use it to sharpen all the blades on my pruning equipment (with the exception of the saw) and my garden spade and hoe. it's amazing how much easier hoeing and digging is with a sharp tool. This little sharpening block cost just over two quid, (I hope it's not a man thing to tell you how much your gift cost) so was really good value. In fact, I went to the shop and bought another one for all the carving knives at home, then visited the chemist for some sticking plasters, but that's another story!

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    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Georgina, great information. Gee I have never found a decent pair of secateers. I will have another look