Good hand pruners are indispensable for snipping through stems and branches.
The grip should feel comfortable, and you should be able to open and close the blades easily. Try different brands and different models before purchasing. Some pruners are specifically designed for small hands, or for gardeners with arthritis or other physical issues. If you don't know how to sharpen the pruners, ask before you buy. A good quality pair of sharp pruners will make any pruning task much easier on your hand and wrist--and clean cuts are healthier for your plants. Select from the three main types of hand pruners: bypass, anvil and ratchet.
Bypass pruners work with a sharp-edged blade that pivots past a second blade, similar to scissors. For a sharp pair of bypass pruners for a small garden, look for affordable tools with strong tempered blades and comfort-grip handles. Properly curved blades make stem snipping a breeze. Look for different models that will handle small branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Bypass pruners should be used to cut through green branches and stems. For small gardens, an inexpensive but sturdy tool is ideal.
The Fiskars Softgrip Floral Bypass Pruner is under $10 dollars, as of March 2010. Besides the new shape of the blades and lightweight fiberglass handles, these pruners have non-stick coated blades that easily slice through sappy stems with reduced friction. The blade lock is ergonomically designed, a built-in stem stripper easily removes thorns, and a sharp notch is included for cutting twine. When making your purchase decision, compare features such as these that will be useful in your own garden.
Anvil pruners have one sharp blade with a straight cutting edge that pivots to cut against a flat surface, or anvil. Anvil pruners were designed for pruning dead, woody stems and other difficult cuts.
The comfortable handle grips on Gilmour traditional anvil pruners have good spring resistance and return, and the cutting blade is easy to sharpen. These lightweight pruners cut branches up to 3/4 inch in diameter. One feature that makes the Gilmour anvil pruners popular is the replaceable solid brass anvil. Brass is soft enough to avoid damaging the tempered cutting blade, yet hard enough to make a stable cutting surface for stubborn stems. The brass anvil lasts longer than the plastics used on some brands, but it does eventually require replacement. Parts availability and simplicity of maintenance tasks are important considerations when choosing pruners that will need to endure tough use.
Ratcheting pruners cut by using a series of short, easy clips, with each one ratcheting the cutting blade further through the stem. This type of pruner is ideal for cutting through troublesome stems and branches, even if your hands are small or weak.
The small, family-owned Florian company patented their ratchet pruners in 1960. Still a favorite of gardeners 50 years later, these mid-priced pruners make it easy to cut through tough branches up to 3/4 inch thick due to their incremental ratcheting mechanism.