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KC Gardens

How to keep your trusty pruning shears in prime cutting shape

As spring grows closer and days grow longer, our urge to get outside increases. Late winter is an excellent time to begin sprucing up the landscape, including pruning many plants such as deciduous trees and summer flowering shrubs. It is also a good time to cut back winterkilled growth in the flower garden.

That means it’s time to put hand pruners back to work. These shears are used to trim small limbs and remove dead growth. But one of our most used garden tools is often neglected and in need of basic care.

There are two types of hand pruners. Bypass pruners cut with scissor-like motion. They have a sharp cutting blade that slides past a flat hook. Sharp bypass pruners make a clean, smooth cut. They are best for getting into tight branch angles, ensuring the cut is made at the right spot for quick recovery.

Anvil pruners work when a sharp blade is squeezed onto a fixed flat surface. The pressure of the blade makes the cut. Anvil pruners are cheaper, but as they dull they do not make clean, smooth cuts. Dull anvil pruners smash, and a smashed branch doesn’t heal. Avid gardeners prefer the bypass pruners.

Anvil pruners work when a blade is squeezed onto a fixed flat surface. File photo

Ratchet or gear pruners are also available but are usually more costly. They come in the same cutting actions as either bypass or anvil but offer one advantage: They work with a gear motion. Ratchet pruners leverage your own strength, assisting those with strength and grip issues such as carpel tunnel or arthritis.

No matter what type you prefer, pruners need care. Dulled blades do not leave clean cuts and cause you to work harder. Clean them frequently to remove sap build-up by using hot soapy water, steel wool or a wire brush. Once they are clean, apply a light application of a household oil to keep them in good shape.

Pruning shears need to be sharpened for best action. The internet is full of tutorial videos on how to sharpen pruners with a few simple tools. Hardware stores often provide this service for a small fee. New blades are also available for higher quality brands.

Pruning shears come in various sizes and for left-handed or right-handed users. The larger size allows for a bigger cut. Hand shears are designed to cut a limb no more than  1/2 to 1 inch. Attempting to cut too large of a limb will spring the hinges and dull the blade.

Pruning shears can cost anywhere from $10 to as much as $100. How much to invest is an individual decision, but the better care your pruners receive, the longer they will last.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to or visit

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