Good Life

Over the garden fence: Several tools can be used in pruning

Right now, the weather is very pleasant and conducive for one to be outside pruning. As I passed Harner Farms recently, I saw Chris Harner out there pruning the apple trees.

I am still not convinced that cooler weather is a thing of the past, as March can be unpredictable. Having said that, I will enjoy the beautiful weather as long as it lasts and hope that spring is on the way.

One of the main tools that I use is a hand pruner that can be used to cut stems up to  3/4 inches in diameter. There are two types of pruners available: bypass and anvil.

Bypass pruners have sharpened, curved, scissors-type blades that overlap. Anvil pruners have straight upper blades that cut against flat lower plates. Although anvil pruners are usually cheaper, they tend to crush stems as they cut.

Furthermore, the width of the anvil can prevent you from reaching in to get a close cut on narrow-angled stems. Due to these drawbacks, bypass pruners are generally recommended.

I also use lopping shears to cut through branches that are up to 1  3/4 inches in diameter. Loppers have long handles to give you extra reach and better cutting leverage. For heavy duty pruning jobs, select loppers with ratchet joints or those with gears.

Also, look for loppers with shock-absorbing bumpers between the blades to lessen arm fatigue. Do not try to make a cut on a branch that is too large for the lopping shears you are using, as you can ruin them.

Use pruning saws to remove stems you cannot cut with hand pruners or lopping shears. Pruning saws come in many sizes, with either straight or curved blades, and teeth that are either fine or coarse. Use a finely-toothed, curved pruning saw to remove branches up to 2  1/2 inches in diameter. You can make a clean cut with this type of saw where access is difficult. Use a coarsely toothed saw for heavy branches 3 inches or more in diameter. It is important to use the correct saw for the job.

Use pole pruners to cut out-of-reach branches up to 2 inches in diameter. Pole pruners consist of blades attached to stationary hooks that are mounted on long wooden or aluminum poles. A cord or chain is used to control the cutting action of the spring-loaded blade. Fully extended, you can use pole pruners to reach branches 12 feet or more in height. Pole pruners are especially valuable on jobs where ladders would be inconvenient, or would damage the tree. Use great care when pruning near utility lines.

Use chain saws to remove branches greater than 3 inches in diameter. Many types and sizes of chain saws are readily available, powered by gasoline or electricity. When selecting a chain saw, carefully consider the tasks for which it will be used. The size of the engine and the length of the blade determine the branch diameter through which you can cut. Chain saws are the most dangerous tool in one’s arsenal and should be used only with appropriate safety gear by people who fully understand their operation.

Use hedge clippers or pruning shears to trim thin-stemmed hedges. Manual hedge clippers, and ones powered by gasoline or electricity, shear off growth in a straight line, regardless of branch collar or bark ridge location. If you have a long hedge, you may have to use hedge clippers when hand pruning is impractical. With repeated shearing, hedges develop a profusion of outer twigs, die back in the center and often show an increase in pest problems.

It is important to select quality tools. They will last longer and make pruning easier. For maximum effectiveness, sharpen blades regularly and dry and oil them after each use. Use a file or whetstone for sharpening hand tools, and have an experienced professional sharpen chain saws and power hedge clippers.

To disinfect your pruning tools use rubbing alcohol of 70, 91 or 99 percent concentration. Don’t use household bleach to disinfect your tools as it has been shown to be highly corrosive to metal. Remember that no disinfectant can provide complete protection against disease.

Enjoy the warm weather, and be safe while pruning.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at