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Choosing Secateurs

Pruning shrubs and plants in the garden can be both relaxing and therapeutic but it will soon become a arduous chore if the secateurs are blunt, heavy or unsuitable for the job.  It’s not always possible to blame the tools for a job that is poorly done but when it comes to pruning, they certainly play a very big part. 

The cost of secateurs varies widely but you definitely get what you pay for.  Choose the best that you can afford since a good, solid pair will last a lifetime if they are maintained.  Start with a pair of bypass secateurs for every day and consider getting a pair of anvil secateurs for heavy duty work.  Check the packaging for the diameter of the stem that the secateurs can cut to make sure that they suit the work in the garden.

The top blade of bypass secateurs is curved and sharpened on one edge.  As this is closed, it slides against a thick, unsharpened blade on the bottom.  Bypass secateurs are the most common used by gardeners because they make close, clean cuts when pruning and picking flowers.  All gardeners need a good pair of bypass secateurs in their tool bag.

The cutting blade of anvil secateurs is sharpened on both sides and closes against an anvil or flat blade in a similar way to a knife on a cutting board.  They tend to be bulkier than bypass pruners and difficult to get in for close-stem work but are invaluable for cutting thick wood, woody stems and dead wood.  A good pair will slice cleanly without crushing the stem.

Ratchet anvils have the benefit of the heavy duty blade cutting against the anvil combined with the ratchet action which gives extra force to the blade without needing lots of strength in the hand.  The ratchet action allows the secateurs to make cuts to thick stems in four easy stages.  These are also useful for gardeners with weak hands or hand injuries.

Floral snips have long pointed blades that are both sharpened and slide against each other just like scissors.  They make clean cuts and are ideal for light pruning, trimming flower stems as well as for taking cuttings.  Keep a pair of floral snips in the kitchen for trimming fresh flowers and cutting herbs from the garden.

For gardeners that have problems with their hands such as carpal tunnel or arthritis, it is worth looking at ergonomically designed bypass or anvil secateurs.  These have cushioned handles and the lower handle automatically rotates as they close to lessen wear on the wrist and fatigue in the hand. Some also have a stepped locking catch which allows them to be adjusted for wide or narrow cutting widths.

Using secateurs to prune roses or trim shrubs can be tiring so it is important to choose a pair that suits the hand, just like choosing shoes for the feet.  Bigger is not always better with secateurs and although it might seem obvious, the best approach is to choose a lighter, compact pair for a small hand and a larger pair for larger hands.

Handles of secateurs are curved and designed to fit around the ball of the hand allowing the fingers to curve comfortably under the outer edge of the bottom handle.  When shopping for secateurs, place them in your hand and open and close them several times making sure there are no pressure points and no obvious strain on the wrist.  Check that the handles don’t open so wide that the hand loses its grip.  Secateurs are now available for both left and right handed gardeners.

Only cut branches that are within the cutting diameter size recommended by the manufacturer.  Trying to cut wood that is too thick for the secateurs will ruin the blades and damage the plant.  If branches are thick, it is better to use a different pruning tool such as a long handle pruner or pruning saw.

Get into the practice of wiping or spraying the blades with a bleach solution between each plant to help stop diseases from being transferred from one plant to the next.  Keep the bleach solution in a spray bottle, point the blades downwards and spray both sides allowing the liquid to drip from the trips.  Any remaining bleach won’t harm the plants at all.

After each pruning session, wipe the secateurs over with warm soapy water to remove dirt and sap from the blades and handle.  Then spray the blades and hinges with a lubricant to prevent them from rusting.

Occasionally the blades will get a bit rough from rust, sap or oil so use steel wool and methylated spirits to give them a good scrub on both sides and then spray with a lubricant.

A sharpening stone is all that is needed if the blade is blunt.  Follow the curve of the blade in long sweeping motions sharpening only the side that was previously sharpened and at the same angle.

On some secateurs, the blade can be replaced if it gets damaged or worn.  Undo the nut that holds the handle together, remove the hinge or spring and lift off the damaged blade, replacing it with the new one.  Whilst the secateurs are apart, clean the pieces with soapy water and then spray with a lubricant before putting it all back together again.

There are plenty of rusty old secateurs lurking in garden sheds which are dragged out every few months only to make a hash of a pruning job.  Rusty but good quality secateurs can be salvaged by pulling them apart, scrubbing with steel wool and metho, replacing the blades and then spraying with lubricant.  But cheap rusty secateurs need to be replaced.

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