Spring is here, and that means there’s a laundry list of stuff to do that’s a mile long to prepare for our gardens and clean up after winter. Here’s another thing to add to that list: buy yourself a decent pair of pruners this spring and it will make your vegetable harvesting, flower picking, and woody plant pruning life a lot easier for you and a lot healthier for your plants.
IMPORTANCE OF PRUNING
There are four main reasons why you’d want to prune your plants:
Restricting the growth of plants is sometimes necessary, especially in cases when trees or shrubs are planted in locations that are too small for their mature size. But some perennials and vegetable plants, like zucchini, also benefit from some size-motivated pruning. Hedges also require special attention to form and shape control.
Plant health is enhanced and ensured with proper pruning. It’s important to prune out any dead, diseased, or dying branches or foliage that might carry disease or otherwise steal nutrients away from healthy growth (be sure to sanitize your pruners after pruning diseased plants with a spritz of bleach water). This is true for woody plants (trees and shrubs), and herbaceous plants (flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc.) alike.
Plant quality is enhanced with proper pruning, too. More is not necessarily better, as is the case for perennial flowers like roses, and more. Pruning out smaller, weaker flowers allows that energy to go towards supporting larger, healthier flowers. This is better for the plant and better for enjoyment. The same holds true for fruits and vegetables; pruning out those suckers on tomato plants, for instance, allows for healthier and more robust fruit production.
Pruning plants when they are young encourages proper form as they mature. In other words, plants can benefit from being trained early on to grow where we want them to; doing so when the plants are young eliminates problems later. This is especially true for woody plants, and for special cases like espaliers, proper pruning is indispensable.
TYPES OF PRUNERS
But pruning needs to be done with the proper tools, or you risk injuring the plant and creating a situation that encourages disease. There are two basic kinds of pruners available: bypass pruners and anvil pruners. Bypass pruners should be the only kind of pruner you purchase, and here’s why:
Anvil pruners act like an ax or a knife, where there is a single flat surface upon which a blade lands and cuts. The problem is this only works well if the blade is perfectly sharp, and in gardening situations it is very difficult to keep a blade sharp enough on an anvil-style pruner. The duller the blade gets (which doesn’t take long), the harsher the cut is to the plant. Cuts become more rough and stems can be smashed more than cut cleanly. Even if you don’t see it, it’s happening. Ragged, unclean cuts heal more slowly and leave the plant open to higher rates of disease.
In contrast, bypass pruners act more like a pair of scissors, where the curved blade slices by another curved blade or base. The blade stays sharp much longer than with anvil pruners, and even when the blade does begin to dull, the bypass action in itself ensures a cleaner cut for the plant. Bypass pruners produce consistently cleaner, closer, better cuts.
My favorite bypass pruners come from Felco. While they are expensive, running up to $50 for a pair of pruners, they will last a lifetime. I’ve had my Felco pruners for a few decades now, and beyond replacing a blade that just couldn’t be sharpened any more, my pair is indestructible.