Must-Have Pruning Tools for Trimming Bushes, Trees, and Plants

set of blue pruning shears sitting on a table next to large sunflowers

Tools are a gardener’s best friend. If your bushes and trees are overtaking your lawn, here are nine tools you need to tame your urban jungle.

1. Bypass pruner

Bypass pruners cutting a leaf from a rose bush
jacqueline macou | Pixabay

Bypass pruners will be your go-to tool to remove small branches and limbs around your landscape. These basic pruning shears (AKA secateurs or clippers) are your pocket-sized workhorse that will remove branches up to 1 inch (may vary by brand). There are also electric pruning shears for homeowners who want to save wear and tear on their hands.

Why you need it: Bypass pruners are ideal to trim bushes, remove branches at the main stem to let more light in, and trim water sprouts or small tree limbs.

Pro Tip: Several of these tools are “bypass” tools. Bypass refers to the cutting action of the tool. These tools have a scissor-like action where one blade runs alongside the other to make the cut. Anvil pruners, by contrast, will slightly crush the stem as one blade lands flat against another. Anvil-action tools are best for dead stems; bypass tools are best for living plant tissue.

2. Bypass snips 

pruning snips laying on a wood table
Alexei Chizhov | Pixabay

Bypass snips are a smaller tool that is used for your lightest cutting jobs. Snips are ideal for non-woody plants. Like bypass pruners, the scissor action will cut, not crush, the live stems. 

Why you need it: If you like to grow herbs and flowers, bypass snips are just the right size for clipping kitchen herbs or cutting flowers for floral displays. They’re also useful for deadheading.

3. Bypass lopper

Think of bypass loppers as a pair of extended arms that will reach farther into the canopy of your trees and bushes. This tool removes bush or tree branches up to 1 ½ to 2 inches wide (varies by brand) and has long handles that give you that extra reach and leverage. This makes it easier on your back when you trim low shrubs. Or, if you’re reaching high into a tree, you get several more inches of reach before you’ll need a ladder.

Why you need it: Bypass loppers are the cutting tool that handles jobs that are too large for bypass pruners but not large enough for a pruning saw. They also give extra length to reach high or low branches.

4. Pruning saw

pruning saw used on a small tree limb
Jerzy Górecki | Pixabay

If you need to prune trees, make an investment in a pruning saw. Pruning saws work well if you need to cut branches that are 1 ½ inches wide or larger. Pruning saws come in different lengths and come in straight blade or curved blade models.

If you’re tempted to use a regular carpenter’s saw, know that pruning saws have coarser teeth and a thinner blade to get the job done with greater ease. They’re worth the investment and are affordable, starting at under $20. As an added convenience, many smaller pruning saws fold into their handle when you’re done, making it easy to store in your back pocket as you work.

Why you need it: A pruning saw takes care of larger branches and is indispensable if you need to prune a few branches from a tree.

5. Pole saw

A pole saw is to a pruning saw what loppers are to hand pruners: it extends your reach and allows several more feet of cutting length before you have to use a ladder. Pole saws come in manual, corded, battery-powered (AKA cordless), and gas models. Look for one with an extendable pole. 

Why you need it: If you don’t like heights or ladders, buy a pole saw and keep your feet firmly on the ground. A pole saw gives you several extra feet of reach to remove branches that are too far off the ground for your loppers. 

6. Chainsaw

man starting a chainsaw next to two trees that were recently cut down
Abby Savage | Unspalsh

After a heavy pruning job, you may want to cut up the wood for firewood or make it easier to haul away. If so, a chainsaw is a helpful tool. If you prefer a manual approach, a bow saw also works well.

Why you need it: Once your tree pruning session is over, you may want to cut the branches into smaller pieces. If you want to make quick work of this, a chainsaw may be your best bet.

7. Electric hedge trimmer

Electric hedge trimmers shear the tips off of growing bushes and shrubs. Shearing should be done infrequently, but it is a technique sometimes used on formal hedges.

Why you need it: Electric hedge trimmers are best used sparingly, if at all. If these are something you can’t live without, they make quick work of shearing formal hedges.

8. Ladder

wooden ladder leaned up against a tree
Kevan | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

To prune trees, you need a specialty ladder. Look for an orchard ladder or tripod ladder. As you may surmise, these ladders are often used in smaller orchards to pick the bounty from fruit trees. These ladders have three legs and allow you to trim (or pick scrumptious fruit) safely.

Why you need it: It’s a safer bet than a traditional ladder if you’re working in a tree.

8. Anvil pruner

Anvil pruners being used on small, dead branches
Apple and Pear Australia Ltd | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Anvil pruners have a more limited role in the garden but can be helpful at certain times of the year. Anvil pruners have a crushing action instead of a scissor-like action that the bypass cutting tools have. This action does not work well on living stems because it crushes the stem, damaging the tissue. 

Why, then, do you need them? They work well for removing lots of dead stems at the end of the season. Like bypass pruners, they come in many different sizes with short and long handle lengths. If you do landscaping work or simply have lots of dead material at the end of the season, these are good to have in your arsenal.

Why you need it: Great for removing dead wood in the off-season.

9. Safety gear

safety glasses with pink lenses and black frames
wilson montoya | Unsplash

As you haul out your pruning tools into the yard, don’t forget your safety gear. No one wants a pruning session to turn into an ER visit. Take precautions and prevent injury. 

What you should have:

  • Safety glasses 
  • Face shield 
  • Gloves 
  • Hearing protection (if you use electric tools)
  • Chainsaw chaps
  • Protective footwear 
  • Hard hat

Why you need it: An ounce of prevention is much preferred to a trip to the ER. 

Sharpen and clean your tools

A dull garden tool is more dangerous than a sharp tool. In addition, keeping your tools sharp ensures a clean cut, prevents tearing the plant stems, and makes the work easier on you. 

If the tool is spreading disease, that’s no good either. As you go from tree to tree, wipe your tools with rubbing alcohol or a diluted bleach solution. If you have a tree with diseased branches, clean the tool after you make each cut.

Clean cuts and clean tools go a long way in promoting plant health.

Sharpen: There are many ways to keep your tools sharp. On hand tools, most people use a hand file to do the sharpening. There’s no set schedule for this; do it when the blades start to get dull. Experts recommend that you take your pruning saw to a professional for sharpening, as needed.

Clean: Use horticultural cleaner, rubbing alcohol, or a diluted bleach solution to prevent disease and virus transfer from plant to plant.

Oil: If you’ve been cleaning your pruners between trees or bushes all day, oil them at the end of the day. This will prevent the water in the cleaners from corroding your tools.

If you’d rather let someone else get out the pruning tools, contact one of our local lawn care professionals to get your bushes, trees, and plants pruned and ready for the season to come.

Main Photo Credit: Bruno /Germany | Pixabay

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.