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Pruning Tools: Care, Use and Selection

The old adage, "A craftsman never blames his tools," actually carries two distinct but important messages. The first is that a craftsman takes personal responsibility for the work he produces and second that he uses and maintains his tools in such a way that they only enhance the quality of his work.


Past issues of Arid Zone Times have discussed the best techniques, times of year and methods for pruning desert-adapted trees. All this information is of little value if the pruning tools used are not up to the task. Research has consistently shown that smooth-edged, clean pruning cuts heal quickest and are least prone to invasion by insect pests or disease organisms.


When selecting pruning tools, three key words to think about are CLEAN, SHARP and APPROPRIATE. These three ideas share the common purpose of producing clean, smoothed edged cuts. Pruning tools should be kept clean, should be sharp and should be the appropriate type for the limb size.


Cleaning pruning tool blades after each cut reduces the chance of spreading disease-causing organisms from one tree (or one part of a tree) to another. To sanitize pruners, dip the blades in a solution that is 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. This cleaning solution should be refreshed by adding more bleach every 20 to 30 minutes, as it loses its disinfectant potency quickly. Remove debris (wood fibers, bits of debris) from the cutting edge as they serve to dull the cutting surface and prevent clean cuts. For greatest ease of use and long life, regularly oil the hinge and the blades of pruning tools.


Before each pruning session inspect the cutting surface of the pruners to see that they are clean and sharp. Consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s instructions regarding the appropriate sharpening methods and tools. With some tools, particularly saws, it may be advisable to have them professionally sharpened.


Pruning and pole saws along with hand pruners and loppers come in many sizes and forms. Most pruning tasks can be accomplished with three basic tools. The tool ultimately selected is determined by the diameter of the branch being pruned. As a general rule, hand pruners should be used for removing branches smaller than the diameter of your finger (about 1/2" in diameter), loppers for branches slightly larger than your finger (about 1"in diameter) and pruning saws for anything larger. In spite of these rules, several other factors influence tool selection. Never force pruners through a cut. In these situations the blades do more crushing than cutting and the resulting wounds heal very slowly.


The pruner used should easily cut the branches being removed. In some instances green wood (young growth) may be quite soft and easily cut while hardened, dead, mature or dormant wood may prove more difficult to cut. Most popular pruners and loppers are the "hook and blade" bypass type where both blades have sharp edges and the cutting edge of one blade passes underneath the other. Properly sharpened bypass pruners produce smooth cuts with minimal hand effort.


Arborist’s saws range in size from 6 to 26 inches long with varying numbers of teeth per inch along the blade. Higher numbers of teeth per inch make for smoother, cleaner cuts. Such saws generally do not cut as quickly. Ideally, for cutting larger limbs, use a large toothed saw for the initial cut, then make a finish cut with a fine toothed saw to leave a clean rapidly healing wound surface.


Most straight saws tend to cut on the forward or push stroke while most curved saws cut on the pull or back stroke. Curved saws are ideal for cutting branches that are above head level. Folding or fixdod blade saws work equally well and selection is generally based on the users preference and ease of carrying. Avoid "bow" and chain saws for making finishing cuts. Both these saws are best adapted for felling trees or large branches, not careful pruning.


Appreciate that if done correctly and regularly, pruning should rarely (wind damage or other injuries excluded) require the removal of limbs larger than 2" diameter. To maintain greatest vigor, health and appearance, desert trees should be pruned lightly and regularly as opposed to heavily and infrequently.


Disclaimer: The information provided here was gathered from research literature published by the University of Arizona, other professional Landscape and Horticultural organizations and our experience at Arid Zone Trees. Always consult local landscape experts for recommendation for your specific area.

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