Pruning Equipment

Pruning is an important part of house plant care. Having the right tools helps you get the job done quickly and easily, and helps the plants stay healthy and attractive. Cutting back house plants that grow too large is an obvious case of pruning, but every time you take a stem or leaf cutting, or deadhead faded flowers, you are also pruning. As with any task, using the right tools helps you get the job done quickly and neatly.

Buy the best pruning tools you can afford. Top-quality secateurs, for example, last a lifetime, working out more economically in the long run than cheap but easily bent or broken ones.

pruning-equipmentGeneral guide

Tools made by reputable manufacturers are worth paying extra for – garden centres sometimes have special offers on selected pruning tools. ‘Famous-name’ tools usually carry guarantees, and replacement parts are available, Always try tools in your hand before buying, to make sure they are the right size and comfortable to use.

Tools with precision-ground stainless steel blades are expensive, but are long-lasting, clean cutting and easy to look after. There are good-quality, hot-forged carbon steel tools, some with a corrosive-resistant finish. Avoid thin pressed metal, unless you are prepared to treat the tools as throw-away items, to be replaced regularly.

Some secateurs have blades that grip cut-off material until you release the handles. These let you prune and deadhead without creating a mess – simply hold the full secateurs over a rubbish bag or container, then release the handle.

Garden knifegarden-knife

Though not essential, a garden knife is useful for taking cuttings from woody house plants, and many ‘old-time’ gardeners prefer a garden knife to secateurs. For cutting offsets from the base of bromeliads, a garden knife can get into the awkward space between the offset and mother plant. Choose a carbon or tungsten steel blade, 10-12.5cm (4-5 inches) long, with a slightly curved end. For safety’s sake, the blade should fold back into the handle when not in use. There are also special garden knives for budding and grafting, but these are for commercial growers.

There is a wealth of pruning tools on the market, from lightweight scissors, to garden knives and powerful secateurs for cutting through tough, woody plants.


Garden scissors are stubby, with sharp, curved blades. They can be used for light pruning, in the same way as secateurs.

Vine scissors are used to thin the berries of developing grapes, and have blades that taper sharply. They’re also useful for flower arranging!

Blunt-ended scissors are useful for cutting herbs or for deadheading, as there’s no danger of piercing nearby stems. A good, sharp pair of household scissors is fine.

Small tools

For bonsai house plants, there are various pruners and knives, to cut different thicknesses of wood. These are available from bonsai nurseries and specialist suppliers. Again, it is worth paying a little more for well-made tools.

Large tools

Pruners have more powerful cutting heads than secateurs and extra leverage from the handles. Pruners cut stems 1.5-4cm thick. As well as ordinary pruners, there are long-armed, or long-handled pruners, with handles up to 4m (14ft) long, for cutting high branches or stems of climbers or fruit trees.

Pruning saws come in several shapes and sizes, including ones which fold up when not in use. Use saws for stems thicker than 4cm (11/2 inches). Some are straight, with fine teeth on one side and coarser teeth on the other, but in small species, or where branches grow close together, saws with single-edged, curved blades are better.

Looking after tools

How long your pruning tools last is largely up to you. The most important factor is quality, but all tools benefit from the following care:

  • Clean pruning tools after use.
  • Store tools in a dry place, otherwise rust and/or rot may set in.
  • Hang tools up or put them in a drawer after use, so they don’t get stepped on or lost! Disinfect tools occasionally. Disease can spread from one plant to another via cutting blades.

Sharpening tools

The cleaner a pruning cut, the quicker it heals, and the less risk of infection. As well as damaging plants, blunt tools are hard to use and can cause blisters. This is especially important with anvil-type secateurs.

Top-quality secateurs, which cost up to 5 times more than the cheapest models, can go for 25 years without needing sharpening. The cheapest pruning tools have relatively blunt cutting edges to start with, and cannot be sharpened, as the blades’ finish is unsuitable.

Moderate-priced pruning tools can be returned to the manufacturer for regular sharpening – indeed, some manufacturers recommend this. Or you can lake them to a reputable knife sharpener, which is quicker. Some farm shops offer an on-the-spot tool sharpening service.

Always clean secateurs after use, and wipe them down with a light oil to protect them from rust before putting them away:

Dealing with rust

Prevention is better than cure. Spray metal tools such as pruners and saws with moisture-dispersing lubricant before putting them away for winter. All secateurs will benefit from an occasional drop of oil.

At the first sign of any rust, rub down the rusty patch with wire wool, then dab with grease or oil. For more severe patches, scrape off any flaky rust, using a wire brush, then dab on proprietary rust-killing liquid or jelly.



  • Keep pruning tools out of the reach of young children.
  • Take good-quality tools to a specialist tool sharpener if the blades are badly nicked.
  • Try to get good-quality tools whenever possible.


  • Try to cut through a stem or branch thicker than your secateurs can cope with. You’ll only damage the tool and the plant.
  • Twist secateurs round while cutting. This movement tears the stem or branch, which can then become infected.

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