A guide to pruning tools: when and how to use them

Tips for proper pruning

Inspirations / Evergreen tips


Estimated reading time 5 minutes

Pruning doesn’t only mean thinning out vegetation and removing unproductive, dead or diseased branches. Pruning has several functions, such as controlling the shape of young plants; containing or shaping the canopy of adult plants; restoring old, diseased or weather-damaged specimens; and optimising the production of flowers and fruits.

Pruning is all about knowledge, in terms of knowing the plant that you are pruning, knowing about pruning techniques and how to use them. But also know-how in terms of choosing the most suitable pruning tool for a certain situation based on the diameter of the branches, their position/accessibility, the hardness of the wood and, last but not least, the workload. Therefore, when pruning, it is better to have a range of tools—both manual and motorised—so that you can select the best one for each job: today we will find out when to use a lopper, a battery-powered chainsaw, a brushcutter and a hedgetrimmer.

Which tools are best for pruning?

Pruning tools each have their own merits and drawbacks: each is suitable for a certain type of cut, according to the variables we listed above. Here is a rough outline of what the different pruning tools are used for:

  • Pruning shears: for pruning branches up to 2.5–3 cm in diameter.

  • Lopper: for pruning branches up to 4–5 cm.

  • Pruning saw: for pruning branches up to 10 cm thick.

  • Telescopic pruning shears: similar to pruning shears, but useful for pruning tall or distant branches without a stepladder (the shaft can be extended up to 3.5–4 m in length).

  • Telescopic pole saw: for pruning tall or distant branches without a stepladder (the pole can be extended to over 4 m).

  • Chainsaw: for pruning branches over 10 cm in diameter (depending on the power rating and power supply).

  • Telescopic pruner: similar to a chainsaw on a pole, for pruning tall or distant branches without a stepladder (the pole can be extended to over 3 m).

  • Brushcutter: for cutting reeds, brambles, shrubs, saplings and groups of suckers, including of large diameter.

  • Hedgetrimmer: for trimming hedges and shrubs (also available with telescopic shaft).

When pruning, we recommend that you always wear the most appropriate protective clothing: face shield or protective spectacles, work jacket and trousers, utility gloves, safety shoes and, when using very noisy tools, noise filtering ear defenders or ear plugs. When working with a chainsaw or telescopic pruner, opt for cut-resistant clothes, gloves, and footwear. If you are at risk from falling branches, pieces of wood or other objects, also wear a protective helmet. By the way, here you will find some rules for safely using a chainsaw (both battery-powered and other types).

Regardless of the equipment, the best times to prune are winter and the first months of summer. At different times of year you get different results, because the plants’ response to cutting changes: find out more about when and why it is better to prune in winter.

We mentioned that in order to prune the right way you need knowledge and know-how. In short, it takes experience or specific training, like that needed to become a professional pruner.

When should you use a lopper and a battery-powered chainsaw?

Loppers are like long-handled pruning shears and are also available with telescopic handles, similar to telescopic pruning shears.

With a lopper you can cut branches that are too thick to be pruned with regular pruning shears, using the force of both arms (unlike pruning shears, which are operated with one hand) and the leverage provided by the handles, which mean you expend less effort. Loppers are also handy for pruning at a certain distance from inaccessible places, such as inside a tree’s canopy.

For branches above a certain thickness, a pruning saw or chainsaw is preferable to a lopper. A chainsaw is imperative when tackling thick branches and for working quickly or on numerous plants. Of course, its potential depends on how many kilowatts the engine develops and the type of power supply (read our blog post on how to choose a chainsaw according to your needs).

A battery-powered chainsaw is a convenient solution for pruning small and medium diameter branches without the constraints of a power cord or the need to work near to a power socket, which are drawbacks of electric chainsaws, and also without the noise, exhaust fumes and maintenance demands of a medium-power petrol engine chainsaw (here you will find our guide to chainsaw maintenance).

There are chainsaws made especially for pruning, namely pruning chainsaws. These are professional machines—more compact and lightweight than regular chainsaws—which even allow you to work while climbing (wearing a harness).

Telescopic pruners, on the other hand, are essentially chainsaws mounted on a telescopic pole with handle. They are adjustable in length to widen the range of action, so you can prune at a specific height and distance while standing on the ground. Discover all uses of telescopic pruners and other tools for pruning high branches (essential for pruning oleanders or any other plant capable of growing to an impressive size).

How should you prune a tree? By cutting branches off at the base, or shortening them. When is one preferable to the other? Which branches should you keep and which should be sacrificed? When should you prune? How to minimise plant stress? Learn the fundamentals of how to prune a tree (here you will also find an introductory guide on everything you need to know about pruning).

When and how to use a brushcutter or hedgetrimmer for pruning?

A brushcutter enables you to mow grass and weeds like with a lawnmower, but you can also do much more. By mounting appropriate blades and discs or using high-performance trimmer line you can cut and prune much thicker vegetation in the countryside and woodland, such as reeds, brambles, shrubs and tree saplings. Not all brushcutters are compatible with these accessories, nor can they tackle such demanding jobs: this is the case with electric and less powerful models.

How to use a brushcutter for pruning? With discs and blades you cut by moving the brushcutter from right to left and, in the case of brambles, also from high to low. The cutting is done by the left side of the disc or blade (the section between 8 and 12 o'clock). To avoid kickback, which is also a danger with chainsaws, avoid cutting with the segment between 12 and 3 o'clock. The stems of the shrubs and saplings you are cutting should have a maximum diameter of 5 cm.

As the name implies, a hedgetrimmer is useful for pruning small-medium hedges and shrubs of varying consistency, depending on the power rating of the model. There are also telescopic hedgetrimmers, which enable you to easily trim vegetation high up or from a distance, on rough or sloping ground.

How to use a hedgetrimmer? The technique varies slightly depending on whether the blade is single-action or double-action: we talk this in our article on pruning the cherry laurel.

Just like all pruning tools, hedgetrimmers require maintenance to ensure the cleanliness of the blades—which need both cleaning and disinfecting—and optimal sharpening to achieve a clean cut, which is essential for the look and health of the plants.

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