When you’re pruning smaller hedges, small trees, flowers and plants, you’re going to need several smaller hand tools as you’ll only complete the job satisfactorily if you use the appropriate cutting tool to match the size of the task. Secateurs are used more for trimming smaller branches on plants whilst shears are more commonly associated with trimming hedges, although power tools can also do the job these days.
Shears come in different varieties. There are short handled ones which can be used to clip hedges or for cutting through long grass and topiary enthusiasts cannot create their marvellous hedge ‘artwork’ without them. Longer handled garden shears are more commonly used to trim lawns even more closely after a cut and to trim and shape borders around the garden. There are also varieties which can be used with one hand for pruning very soft stems.
They also come in different sizes and weights so you should try them out first in your local garden centre to ensure that the size of the handles and weight of the blades are not too heavy. Most decent ones come with rubberized shock absorbers between the handles which makes using them more comfortable.
Secateurs are used for more intricate pruning jobs and are often used with one hand to trim thinner and softer stems of smaller plants and shrubs. They are also used to take cuttings of plants.
There are a few varieties of secateurs but, whichever type you choose, a ratchet model allows you to make thicker cuts in several stages. People who do not have a particularly strong hand grip or those who have small hands find these particularly useful.
Most models have a safety catch that keeps the blades firmly closed when they are not being used so you should also ensure that the safety catch cannot be turned off accidentally. Handles can come in both plastic and metal but plastic ones are better as working with metal ones can make your hands get cold very quickly. Blades come in stainless steel, coated steel and carbon steel. The coated variation is easier to clean but stainless and carbon blades tend to be more durable.
Before you buy a pair of secateurs, you should try them out in the shop first to make sure they’re the right size for your hands and that you feel comfortable using them. The amount the handles open and the effort it takes to close them again can vary greatly so choose a pair that suits you. You will also find that you can buy both left and right handed pairs.
Safety and maintenance
When using shears or secateurs, you should always wear a sturdy pair of gardening gloves, the thicker the better as you will be working with thorns and other prickly plants that can cut or scrape you, not forgetting the sharpness of the blades themselves so they should be used carefully and kept in a safe place away from children after use. You should always lock the safety catch after use as an extra precaution.
A good pair of shears or secateurs will last for ages if you look after them properly. Keep them sharp as a blunt pair will rag or crush stems which could possibly cause damage or disease to the plant. When cutting, hold the stem of the plant securely as it will be much easier to make a clean, accurate cut. Once the job’s complete, always clean the blades after use to remove any dried sap. Keeping the blades lightly oiled by wiping them with an old rag will also prolong their life.