Like surgery, pruning keeps trees healthy by removing dead, dying or otherwise damaged branches. Removing problem limbs, branches and shoots can address disease or pest problems, while thinning crowded growth shapes a tree's canopy, while improving air circulation and light penetration to keep the plant growing strong in your landscape. Choosing the correct tools to cut a tree's limbs prevents unnecessary trauma to the tree and reduces the potential for disease or pest invasion through a ragged wound. Keeping all cutting tools clean, well-oiled and sharp makes cutting tasks pruning easier and safer for you and your trees.
Loppers and Hand Pruners
Hand pruners and loppers, or lopping shears, are useful for cutting off small limbs or portions of limbs. Hand pruners can sever branches with a diameter of up to about 1/2 inch, while loppers, with their longer handles that provide greater leverage, can cut through branches up to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The blades of these tools are either anvil- or bypass-type. Anvil-type blades have a sharp upper blade that crushes the plant stem against a flat lower plate to sever the stem. Bypass-type pruners have two sharp blades that cut using a scissoring action. Bypass-type pruners are generally more expensive but make cleaner cuts. Some loppers offer shock-absorbing bumpers or ratchet joints to make pruning jobs easier. Even if entire, large tree limbs are being cut off, using a loppers to remove small branches growing out of the large limbs or cutting of the branch end can make it easier to prune off or handle the large branch.
Pruning saws are available in a range of sizes and forms. Saws with curved blades that cut only on the pull are useful for cutting tree limbs that are crowded or difficult to reach. Bow saws are good at making large cuts but are difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Folding saws encourage safe carrying and handling. A saw blade's fineness is measured in teeth per inch, or points. An 8-point saw is considered fine while a 4 1/2-point saw is classified as coarse. Coarsely-toothed saws are used to cut branches greater than 2 1/2 inches in diameter while fine-toothed saws are suitable for smaller limbs.
Pole pruners or pole saws are used to prune of branches that are out of reach of a regular saw or loppers and consist of a wooden, fiberglass, plastic or aluminum pole with a pruning device at the end, typically a saw or a shears controlled by tugging on a length of rope. Some poles are telescoping and lightweight, permitting greater reach and easier storage. A pole saw with an aluminum pole is not safe for use around power lines.
Chainsaws are useful tools that expedite extensive pruning jobs and are particularly suitable for cutting limbs already removed from the tree into logs. Chainsaws are dangerous and should only be used by experienced, properly-trained operators wearing appropriate safety gear. If a pruning task is very extensive or challenging, consider hiring an insured professional to complete the task.
Safety glasses are extremely important, as they protect eyes from debris ranging from very fine sawdust to larger branch stubs. Thick work gloves guard hands against cuts, scrapes, pinching and other injury. A hard hat is a good idea if you are using a pole pruners or loppers to remove any branches or limbs above shoulder level. Use a household disinfectant to sterilize pruning tools between uses or trees or, if you are removing limbs because they may be diseased, after each cut.