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As you’re tending to your garden through the spring and summer months, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right gardening tools. A set of hand pruners, also called pruning shears, is one of the most important pieces of equipment for gardening beginners and experienced gardeners alike: They can be used for everything from clipping away dead leaves and stems to harvesting fresh fruits and veggies in your garden.
“[Pruning shears] make clean cuts, which is important because jagged cuts on plants can invite pests and diseases,” explained Julie Bawden-Davis, author of "Indoor Gardening the Organic Way" and the master gardener behind Healthy Houseplants. “Clean cuts also look better, and plants will leaf out more quickly after pruning.”
To learn more about the types of garden shears out there and how to shop for them, we spoke to gardening experts about what they look for in pruners and what these tools are best used for. We also highlighted some of their specific recommendations.
What are the different types of pruners and garden shears?
The experts we spoke to listed three main types of pruning shears to consider — anvil pruners, bypass pruners and ratchet pruners — each with its own unique benefits. They also mentioned loppers, which are similar to pruning shears but require two hands.
Anvil pruners have one top cutting blade that pushes down onto a piece of metal or plastic underneath. Since these tend to crush when they cut, anvil pruners are best for cutting deadwood or making rough cuts on thicker, harder stems.
Bypass pruners are designed to cut living plant tissue — they’re the best type for making clean, precise cuts and reducing the healing time of the plant after a cut thanks to their two curved blades, according to Bryan McKenzie, a landscape designer and co-founder of Bumper Crop Times. He added that bypass pruners can be great for polishing rough cuts from anvil pruners.
Ratchet pruners are technically a subset of anvil pruners since they have one blade — however, they have a more “catch and hold” mechanism where you're able to “press down slightly and then press it again a few times to cut all the way through,” according to Ashlie Thomas, a professional gardener who runs the blog The Mocha Gardener. Ratchet pruners allow you to exert less force when cutting, which can be great for anyone with a hand injury or those who can’t use a lot of force.
To cut thicker branches, shrubs and bushes, experts told us you’ll need to use a lopper — this technically isn't a pruning shear, though it resembles one (and comes in the same types listed above). Unlike a gardening shear, a lopper has a longer handle that requires you to use both hands. Loppers can also be used to cut “hard-to-reach places, such as elevated plant parts or in the interior of a plant where you might not want to reach your hands, as you could get hurt,” Bawden-Davis added.
In terms of cutting capacity — the distance between the blades — hand pruners can “rarely cut stems and branches that are thicker than 1.2 inches,” said McKenzie. He noted that some models can handle up to 1.5 inches, but they aren’t as common.
The best pruning shears to shop in 2022
We spoke to experts about the different types of pruning shears available and what they look for when shopping for one. Below are our experts’ favorite anvil, bypass and ratchet pruners and loppers, all of which include recommended features like safety locks, high-quality blades and ergonomic handle designs.
Best anvil pruners and garden shears
Fiskars is a favorite brand among the experts we spoke to. Thomas recommended this anvil pruner from the brand to “clip through small stems, branches, and twigs that are no bigger than 1/2 inch.” These pruners have a ⅝-inch cutting capacity and feature a corrosion-resistant coating on their steel blades, according to the brand. Fiskars also notes that the ergonomically designed softgrip handle can accommodate both right- and left-handed users.
Thomas also suggested this anvil pruner from Gardena. It has a cutting capacity of nearly 1 inch, a fiberglass-reinforced handle for durability and a non-slip coating on the blade for smooth cutting, according to the brand.
These anvil pruners, recommended by Thomas, feature a ⅝-inch cutting capacity, a double-bevel cutting blade that can cut through wood and a rubber shock absorber that helps reduce stress to the hand and wrist, according to the brand. These pruners equip a non-slip handle with a PVC coating and they’re available in two colors: orange and green.
If you’re looking for a more forceful lopper with long handles for hard-to-reach spaces, Bawden-Davis suggested this anvil lopper from Corona. It features 32-inch handles made from durable fiberglass, 8-inch non-slip foam grips and a non-stick coated steel blade that’s both resharpenable and replaceable, according to the brand.
Best bypass pruners and garden shears
Made of high-quality Japanese Izumo Yasuki steel, these durable bypass pruners feature a comfortable vinyl handle, a 1-inch cutting capacity and 2-inch blades for a clean, precise cut, according to the brand. Thomas told us these pruners can “cut through stems and branches that are little over 1/2 inch” and are best for “cutting through fresh green stems.”
These bypass pruners from Felco — another popular brand recommended by Bawden-Davis — have a uniquely shaped ergonomic handle and an angled head that can be suitable for gardeners with larger hands, according to the brand. These pruners also feature a sap groove and a rubber shock absorber that Felco says can reduce the strain on your hand and wrist.
Bawden-Davis recommended Corona pruners because they’re “solid, feel good in the hand and work smoothly.” She also mentioned their durability, noting that “you don’t want to fall in love with a pair of pruners only to have them fall apart on you after a couple of seasons.”
We previously highlighted these ARS pruners in our guide to gardening tools because they’re lightweight and have sharp, elongated blades that are “great for reaching through tight places to snip off your plants,” according to Thomas. She added that they’re simple yet multipurpose and can be used for harvesting vegetables, fruits and fresh herbs, as well as clipping flowers. Thomas also noted these pruners have stainless steel blades, which can “minimize rusting over time.”
Bawden-Davis recommended this bypass lopper from Fiskars. It has a non-slip grip handle for more control and a low-friction blade coating that allows for smoother cuts and avoids stickiness from sap, according to the brand. It features a 1.5-inch cutting capacity and 27-inch handles.
Another bypass lopper recommended by Bawden-Davis, this option equips ergonomic and anti-shock rubberized grips for comfort and features what the brand calls a “compound action system,” which means the lopper has multiple pivot points to help it open wider and increase the force applied to the blades, according to Tabor Tools. It has a 1.75-inch cutting capacity and 30-inch-long handles.
Best ratchet pruners and garden shears
Ronnie Collins, a gardening blogger for Electro Garden Tools, highlighted these as his favorite pruners due to their ergonomic design — the pruning shears have a three-step ratchet mechanism, which lets you “minimize resistance and make more cuts with minimal effort,” he explained. Collins also called out their “lightweight aluminum frame” and the ability to replace the blade when it gets dull instead of having to sharpen it. These pruners feature a carbon steel blade with an anti-sticking coating, according to the brand.
This hand pruner from Fiskars helps reduce the effort needed to cut through branches thanks to its ratcheting mechanism, which cuts plant material in stages and “is ideal for those who lack hand or wrist strength,” said Thomas. The hand pruners feature a ¾-inch cutting capacity, a durable steel anvil blade and a low-friction blade coating that prevents the blade from becoming sticky with sap and helps resist rust, according to Fiskars.
Another option from the expert-favorite brand Corona, this ratchet pruner features a ¾-inch cutting capacity and a nonstick-coated blade for smoother cuts, according to the brand. Corona says these pruners equip a molded handle to fit most hand sizes and have a stainless steel construction for durability.
Another expert-approved Fiskars option, this lopper has a ratcheting mechanism that eases the amount of force needed to cut, according to Bawden-Davis. Fiskars says this device features a steel, rust-resistant anvil blade, a 2-inch cutting capacity and a low-friction coating on the blade that prevents it from gumming up with sap.
What are the benefits of using pruning shears?
Regular pruning can help your plants look good and stay healthy. Not only do pruning shears allow you to cleanly cut off diseased or damaged stems, which can help stave off pests and diseases, but they can also help manipulate how your garden looks and prevent your plants from growing to an undesirable length. Pruning shears can typically cut anything from small branches and spent flowers to fruits and fresh herbs.
Thomas said there are specific benefits to pruning shears depending on where you are in the gardening season. “Clipping off a few leaves to do some basic trimming at the beginning of the season is very helpful,” she said, adding that plants that produce a lot of branches — like tomato plants — need to be cut regularly so they have room to grow.
In the summer, Thomas said you’ll want to use your pruners to “cut and harvest your leafy greens and cut a few herbs here and there.” And around the fall when the temperature drops into the 60s and below, you can use your shears to cut away plants that are going into dormancy or those that have completed their plant life. “You really want to start allowing fresh leaves and fresh foliage to come through,” said Thomas.
How to shop for pruning shears
It’s important to look for a pruner that’s capable of doing the job you’re attempting to do. In addition to buying the right type of pruner for your needs, our experts recommended looking at additional aspects, including blade quality, ergonomic grip and safety features.
Blade quality and sharpness
The quality of the blade is one of the most important factors our experts highlighted. “Any blade will lose its sharpness over time and require sharpening, but low-quality blades can also deform and make it impossible to restore the cutting ability,” said McKenzie. He recommended looking at the material the blade is made out of (steel or titanium-coated blades are typically good options) and checking the reviews online.
Our experts noted it’s a good idea to physically hold the tool before purchasing to ensure the quality of the blade — the pruning shear should have some heft and “feel solid in your hands,” Bawden-Davis said. “When it comes to pruning shears, you can rely on the fact that the more expensive the pruner, the likelihood it is of higher quality,” she added.
In addition to high quality, the blades should also be sharp. “A sharp blade is very important because it's going to create that smooth, clean cut,” said Thomas. “if you have a dull blade, then you're going to be hacking away at it and that's going to be a strain on your hands as well.” She suggested using a pruner sharpener or any other basic sharpening tool to keep those blades sharp and smooth.
Both McKenzie and Thomas suggested looking for pruning shear models that emphasize comfort and include an anti-slip cushioning or grip. “You need to be able to grip the pruner comfortably, especially being in the garden when you're around water and so many different types of substances,” said Thomas, adding that maintaining a comfortable grip minimizes the chance of the shears slipping and injuring you.
Since pruning shears have sharp blades, it’s important to keep safety features in mind. Pruners with a safety lock can keep the tools shut when they’re not in use to prevent injuries. Some pruning shears also have a sap groove, which is a small detail on the lower blade that directs sap away from the blades and prevents them from sticking together.
In addition to those features mentioned above, Thomas recommended a few optional things to look out for that can make pruning a little easier. She suggested pruners with handles that can attach onto your wrist to help you keep track of them when you move around your garden, as well as bright colors to ensure you’re not losing them among your plants.