Pruning tools and cuts

StephenHayes -

I favour the very expensive Felco number 8 secateurs, I have (had, see note) 1,000 trees so I must have the best tools to reduce repetitive strain injury, but you can manage with cheaper tools. Secateurs are of 2 types, blade onto anvil or blade past blade (or block). I prefer the latter as I think they give cleaner cuts while the anvil types tend to crush the wood. I don't think it matters much to the gardener with 2 or 3 trees, any secateurs will do if you keep them clean and sharp. Most will cut wood up to about 8mm thick, you can cut thicker wood by pulling the wood away from the blade as you cut. Place the open secateurs over where the cut is to be made and start squeezing. As you do this, grasp the branch above the secateurs and bend it away from your other hand as you carry on squeezing. This has the effect of stretching the wood fibres as they are facing the blade, and this will make them easier to cut. Try it and you'll se what I mean. If as you do this you rock the secateurs to and fro a bit, you will be able to cut through much thicker wood than is possible without the technique. Don't attempt too much though, I have broken a cheap pair of secateurs trying to go through wood that was too thick. For wood of 2cm or thicker you must have a pruning saw. A very good folding one is made by Sandvik ( now I think known as Bahco), who make very good medium price pruning tools. WATCH IT with these saws! I will put a picture of the scars on my left hand up when I have time, it has been wounded by knife, saw, secateurs and once by a scythe, so remember that if your tools are sharp enough to be fit for purpose, they are sharp enough to hurt you quite badly.

NB note on pruning tools added June 2007, for the last 2 seasons we have only used Japanese made Silky Fox saws to prune our apple trees. Julia and I have one each as we used to fight over it when we only had one! These are expensive but better than anything else we have used and I cannot recommend them too highly, if like us you feel that nothing is too good for your trees and/or are getting aches and pains. The Gomtaro Apple 300mm with graduated teeth is the one to get, it comes in a wooden scabbard. I suggest a short prayer for the safety of your hands before withdrawing the blade, one pull will go right through a 1.5 cm branch leaving a perfectly smooth cut and you only have to touch your skin with this saw's teeth to draw blood. With an orchard to look after, better to pay £40 for a saw or secateurs that are more efficient so your wrists last longer-they can't be replaced. Put Silky Fox into Google and you will find a supplier.

Pruning cuts should be made at the correct angle, usually a slanting angle just above the bud you want growth to come from. Larger cuts e.g. removal of main branches from the trunk, should be painted with tar emulsion such as Arbrex to promote wound healing and keep out disease. Don't cut too close to the main trunk, ideally about 1-2 mm above. Don't leave a stump, it will have no sap supply so will die.