Fruit trees are pruned annually during the dormant period before trees begin to grow in the spring. Like any project, having the right tools always makes the job faster and easier. Most fruit trees can be pruned with hand shears, loppers, and a pruning saw, except for very large trees on non-dwarfing rootstocks. Choosing sharp high quality tools also helps minimize body fatigue.
Hand shears are generally used to prune branches smaller than one inch in diameter. Two types of hand pruners can be purchased. The best type is the bypass or scissor shears. The curved blades on these shears enable the pruner to make precise cuts on limbs with narrow crotch angles or other tight places on the tree trunk. Expect to pay $50 for good pair of shears. These have bright red handles that make them easy to locate if misplaced. Replacement blades can be purchased for the better brands should the blades become damaged. Anvil shears are another type of hand pruners, but are not recommended. The straight blades of these shears tend to crush the plant tissues but they can cut through larger diameter limbs than bypass pruners.
Bypass loppers are generally used to prune up to two and a half inch-diameter branches. Long handles increase the leverage that can be exerted to make a pruning cut. However, long handles are also heavier than short ones and increase forearm fatigue. Handles may be a fixed length or telescoping and are often constructed from wood, steel, aluminum, or fiberglass. Wood handles are durable but are usually heavier than other types. Bumper cups located on the handles positioned near the blades are also important in absorbing shock as the blades close and reduce injury to elbows when loppers are used continuously for several hours. A good pair of loppers usually ranges from $60 to $130.
Pole pruners are useful when removing limbs that are less than one and three quarters inch in diameter and are beyond one’s reach. A standard pole pruner is usually equipped with bypass blades, a saw blade, a pulley with a rope attached to a six foot pole, and two additional sectional poles (each six foot-long). Handles on these pruners are constructed from wood or fiberglass. Good pole pruners will generally cost around $200.
Many types of pruning saws are available. Saws used for tree pruning cut wood most efficiently on the pull stroke whereas those used for carpentry cut easily on the push stroke. Pull cutters tend to be safer with better control than push types. Good pruning saws generally have a curved blade with seven to eight teeth per inch. The kerf describes the angle of the teeth on the blade. A small kerf and more teeth per inch usually make the smoothest cut. Saws with slightly curved, folding blades (usually about seven inches-long) are handy to carry and the blade is protected from damage when folded. Saws with non-folding curved blades (13 inches-long) can be used for pruning for large diameter limbs. These types of saws usually cost about $30 and replacement blades are also available for high quality saws.
Pruning tools may seem expensive when purchased for the first time. However, pruning helps develop a strong tree structure, enhances flowering and fruiting when limbs become shaded by others, and limits the spread of overwintering diseases and pests when infected or infested wood is removed. Thus, the expense of purchasing good pruning equipment that will last a lifetime is well worth the investment.
Professor of Horticulture & State Fruit Extension Specialist
REVISED: September 29, 2015