Gardening: In praise of pole pruners, and no ladder climbing


Two millennia ago, the Roman writer Columella described the vintoria falx, a specialized six-part pruning tool for grapes. What…

Two millennia ago, the Roman writer Columella described the vintoria falx, a specialized six-part pruning tool for grapes. What a stir this tool must have caused in Roman winegrowers when it was introduced!

A more recent innovation in pruning, over the last century or so, was the pole pruner, which is a pruning saw or shear blade activated by a rope mounted at the end of a pole. With it, you can work on branches up to 15 feet high while your feet are planted on dry land.

This is perfect for people like me who prefer not to work from ladders.

My pole pruner comes with both a saw blade and a shear blade, which makes the pruner not as nifty as Columella’s six-part tool, but useful nonetheless.


The main problem with using a pole pruner is that it is difficult to maneuver a blade at the end of a long pole. The problem is compounded with larger branches as they require an initial undercut to prevent tearing of the bark as they descend; to make this undercut, you have to work the post against gravity.

Enter the electric pole pruner, a 21st century innovation. This tool is essentially a chainsaw at the end of a telescopic pole. In some models, the motor or motor is mounted on top of the pole, near the chain. In others, the motor or motor is at the base of the post, where you hold the tool, with the rotational motion being transferred along the post to the chain at the end.

Compromises are inevitable when you mount a chainsaw on the end of a pole. A compromise between weight and power, for example.

An electric pruner can take some of the cutting effort off you, but you will need to position and hold this power saw perched on the end of a long pole. If you make the saw lighter, it translates to less power. The cutter bars on these saws are typically less than a foot long.

Electric motors are lighter than gasoline engines, so this is another solution to the weight problem. The battery power would seem ideal, except that the battery power is limited. A corded electric pruner therefore seems to be a good compromise, provided you are not too far from an outlet and have a good extension cord.


A variation of the pole pruner is causing a stir, at least in my garden. This is the electric pole hedge trimmer, an oscillating hedge trimmer mounted at the end of a pole. They can also be powered by gasoline or electricity.

Why put a hedge trimmer at the end of a pole? For tall hedges, of course! An interesting feature of most pole hedge trimmers is that the angle of the head can be changed, a useful feature if you are trimming the top of a tall hedge so that it is flat.

Like stone or brick walls, tall hedges create bold, venerable shapes that mask and surround the landscape and direct our eyes and feet through it. Since acquiring a pole hedge trimmer, I have been able to carve my 9 foot tall tea crabapple hedge into a green wall with a carved “gate” – all with my feet planted happily on the ground. closed.


Lee Reich writes regularly on gardening for the Associated Press. He is the author of several books, including “Growing Figs in Cold Climates” and “The Pruning Book”. He blogs at He can be contacted at [email protected]

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