Secateurs or saws? Choose the Right Tool for Late Summer Pruning in Your Yard and Garden


Last week we highlighted the importance of late summer pruning of trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials. But which tools are best for each job? Here, your answers, from the smallest to the largest pruning work:

Manual pruning. Light cutting is best done using a pair of sharp, quality hand pruners. They are lightweight and useful for removing growth up to one centimeter in diameter, or about the thickness of your little finger. Make sure your hand pruners are sharp each time you use them, as well as cleaned and lubricated with general purpose oil.

Loppers are a large version of hand pruners that work on the same shearing principle, using bypass or anvil type cutting blades. The main difference is that loppers have long handles – sometimes with extensions that help you reach up to a meter into a tree or shrub to cut mature, woody stems. The long handles and heavier blades of the loppers make it easier to cut green branches up to 2.5 cm or one inch in diameter.

A bow saw, or pruning saw, cuts both the forward and reverse stroke and is designed to cut green wood.

A pruning saw is unlike any saw. Unlike the crosscut and rip saw, a pruning saw cuts on both the front and back strokes, halving the labor needed to get the job done.

Unlike your camp saw, which is used to cut small branches to make a campfire, a pruning saw is designed to cut green wood. You will find the difference striking. And the job of using a good net size saw a joy over anything else.

Chain saw. Unless you have been trained in the correct and safe use of a chainsaw, we recommend that you skip this step. Removing one of your own limbs is never the idea behind a good pruning job.

There are now excellent long-handled rechargeable chainsaws that are lightweight and relatively easy to use. Stihl makes a great rechargeable model. After all, if the chain is several feet away from you, what can go wrong? A lot – for example, a limb falling on your head. This is another reason why signing up for a chainsaw course, like Mark did, is a good idea. Landscape Ontario has an excellent one at

Your pruning equipment does not stop at the cutting tool. Other essentials to ensure safe and efficient work:

  • Thick gloves. Let’s say you miss cutting the branch and the blades hit your finger. Do not laugh. Heavy leather gloves help protect fingers and hands. If your gloves have a long cuff to protect your wrist and forearm, great.
  • Protective glasses. Obvious — and important. The sawdust created by limb removal is a hazard to your eyes. The same goes for small branches of shrubs and trees since we often don’t see that little stalk coming our way.
  • Long sleeves. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt is particularly advisable if you are working with conifers such as spruce or juniper, which have prickly foliage. Exposed forearms that come into contact with junipers often suffer from “juniper rash”.
  • Safety boots. For any limbs that crash to the ground from somewhere in a tree, there is a risk of foot injury. Not to mention tripping over the roots of mature shrubs and trees while your attention is focused on the limbs above your head. Steel-toed boots offer a level of wearer confidence that’s hard to describe, and they’re not always as clunky as the construction boots you probably have in mind. We love Blundstones. Put it this way: when you know the risk of bodily injury is minimized, your confidence levels increase and it helps you make smarter choices. Leave the flip flops on the deck.

If this all seems a bit obvious, thank you for your awareness of the risks. Unlike the rest of us, for whom this reminder can be very helpful.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors to The Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4


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