What are Pruning Shears?

Mary McMahon

Pruning shears are specialized scissors which are designed to be used in the pruning of woody plants and flowers. They have sturdy blades which can cut through woody branches, along with thick handles to make the shears easier to handle and use. Many gardeners keep a pair of pruning shears around for minor pruning tasks, along with a set of lopping shears to cut larger branches. Garden supply and hardware stores typically stock pruning shears, along with protective covers which can be pulled over their blades for storage.

A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.
A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.

There are several different pruning shear designs, from lightweight floral thinning shears to heavier all-purpose pruning shears. In anvil shears, one blade is sharp, and the other blade is blunt, with the branch being pinned against the blunt blade during the cutting process. Bypass pruning shears have two sharp blades, one of which is curved, while parrot-beak pruning shears have two curved blades at an offset angle to translate pressure into power.

Pruning shears can be used to cut away branches, twigs and other growth on trees.
Pruning shears can be used to cut away branches, twigs and other growth on trees.

Some companies make ratchet shears, which are designed to increase the pressure on the branches being trimmed with a ratcheting mechanism as the shears are closed. Ratchet pruning shears can be very useful for people with weak hands and older gardeners, as they require only light pressure from the user to function. Pruning sticks, another variation on the basic pruning shear, are mounted on a long handle so that the user can trim foliage and branches up high or in tricky corners of the garden.

For gardeners with limited space for tool storage who may want to think carefully about the purchases they make, pruning shears are highly recommended. An all-purpose pair will be extremely useful for everything from deadheading flowers to trimming the branches of fruit trees, and most pruning shears will last a lifetime, as long as they are maintained properly. Pruning shears are small enough to be stashed in most toolboxes or left in a gardening toolbelt, and they are a highly flexible gardening tool to have around.

Like other bladed garden tools, pruning shears require some special care. Ideally, the shears should cut smoothly and cleanly, so that plants do not incur damage. If pruning shears are not properly maintained, they will mangle instead of cutting, which is very undesirable. Pruning shears should be sharpened if they start to feel blunt, and it is a good idea to oil them at the end of the pruning season, to keep the metal in good condition.

For the avid gardener, a nice pair of pruning shears can make trimming duties much simpler.
For the avid gardener, a nice pair of pruning shears can make trimming duties much simpler.

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Discussion Comments


My philosophy is that trees should be pruned as little as possible because pruning simply slows the growth process and I want my trees to grow. On the other hand, I cut my bushes back considerably each year. Otherwise, they quickly grow out of hand, blocking window views and spreading into other bushes and other places where I do not want them.

Wait until after the flowering bushes have bloomed and the flowers have fallen off before trimming the plants. Otherwise, you miss out on some beautiful blooms that year, and some people say you do damage to future blooms for years to come as well. I advise sharpening your pruning shears and lopping shears so you can make even, decisive cuts and create less stress for the plants.


@mobilian - The plants you are pruning and the time of the year when you are pruning them will determine which of your gardening tools is best suited for the task. However, you should avoid using pruning shears on bushes in general.

Instead, use your trusty lopping shears and remove some of the oldest stems on the bush each year to make room for future stems. The old stems should be cut low. This is easier to do when there are little to no leaves on the bush so you can better see what you doing.

Pruning shears work well on hedges. They are the perfect tool for getting distinctive shapes. Some people use the pruning shears on bushes and trees to shape them, but I prefer bushes and trees that have a more natural growth pattern. I think they look almost artificial when they are over shaped.


When you are doing any serious pruning you will need lopping shears at the least. I use lopping shears exclusively. That is all I have ever used. After reading this article I do understand how pruning shears could be faster with some jobs than the lopping shears, but I do not think pruning shears would be able to handle the thicker branches of scrubs and bushes.

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