Tool Tales-More About Pruning
by Bob Martin, ARS President, San Diego Rose Society
In the last (and first) installment I said the most important tool of the rosarian is [are?] pruning shears. That is true and worth repeating, as I just have. And because I have used Felco pruning shears for more than 30 years, I devoted the entire article to a discussion of the extensive line of Felco pruning shears and related products.
There are, however, other pruning shears to consider, some of which have specialty uses. And, there are heavy-duty pruning tools such as loppers, pruning saws and other tools that may be called on when hand pruning shears are not enough. I turn my attention to these this month.
There is also another fine tool company with local origins, whose representatives have been supportive of local rose societies. That company is Corona, Inc., a leader in the marketing and manufacturing of professional and consumer tools for the garden.
Founded in the 1920s, Corona’s history is tied to the first product they manufactured, the AG 5050 Orange Shear, which they still make today. That tool was formerly called the “9B Orange Clipper” (now simply the Orange Shear”) and is linked directly with the U.S. citrus industry, which started near Corona in the city of Riverside.
Since January 2000 Corona has been a division of Corporación Patricio Echeverría (CPE), a Spanish hand tool manufacturer founded in 1908. CPE is a global manufacturer of hand tools that has upheld Corona’s strong tradition of quality.
Pruning Shears Redux
*Corona 4250 Bypass Pruner - 1 in
Corona manufactures and sells a line of pruning shears that rival Felco and provide about the same diversity. Its basic bypass pruner is the Corona 4250, which has lightweight forged aluminum handles, a high-carbon steel blade, and an ergonomically angled head. It is comparable to the basic Felco #5 and at $20 is much less expensive.
*Corona 6360 Forged Large Aluminum Bypass Pruner - 1 in
As mentioned in my previous article, my pruning shears of choice is the Felco #8 with the ergonomic grips. The most comparable Corona bypass pruner is the Corona 6360, which has lightweight forged aluminum handles with rubber bumper to absorb shock, a replaceable high-carbon steel blade, and an ergonomically angled head. It costs about $40, about $16 less than the Felco #8.
*Felco F-100 Cut ‘n’ Hold Pruning Shear
In my essay on the Felco line or pruners, I neglected to include this one, in part because it isn’t listed on the A.M. Leonard site and I am not even sure Felco still offers it. I mention it now because it has a unique cut and hold feature that holds the stem until you release it and enables you to cut blooms with one hand. My friend Suzanne Horn uses cut and hold pruners to cut miniature roses, especially for show, and she gave me a pair to try – maybe this model or maybe one by another manufacturer. I did not much like them because I don’t regard it as a big deal to use two hands for cutting roses and also because they are light duty and suitable only for cutting thin stems of less than a half-inch in diameter. Still she likes them a lot and so I mention them as an alternative to be considered, and in part as an introduction to the next pruners that do I like.
*Corona LR 3460 Long Reach Cut ‘n’ Hold Bypass Pruner, 1/2" Cut
We grow a lot of climbers, as well as hybrid musks that grow as climbers, and several Austin shrubs that also grow as climbers. Pruning climbers from the top can be quite a challenge, particularly since it can be difficult to position a ladder near the base of a rose. Besides which, many of our climbers are on sloping ground and frankly I am getting a little old to be climbing ladders. My solution to this problem is the Corona “Long Reach” bypass pruners. These have an overall length of 46 inches, which permits me to reach at or near the top of climbers. It has the cut and hold feature I describe above. That feature makes a lot more sense when cutting a stem high in the air, thereby enabling you to bring the stem over and release it into a waiting trash can.
The pruner has a high-carbon steel blade that is non-stick coated for easier cutting up to ½-inch diameter. That diameter is generally adequate for high pruning, since the thicker stems are usually much lower. There is also an adjustable foam grip with ergonomic handles. It costs about $31, which is actually less than most pruning shears and to me is a bargain for this specialty use.
*Barnel B8 Ergonomic Pruner
Barnel is a Portland, Oregon manufacturer of quality hand tools with an international reach. My friend Wendy Tilley of Harlane, LLC (the company I get rose labels from) is a distributor and encouraged me to buy the B8 8-inch pruner, which is best for people with a larger hand. This is a lightweight by-pass pruner that makes easy cuts to 3/4". It has high carbon blades of “sword steel” with a hard chrome finish. The blades are extremely sharp and also feature a two-position lock that can be set to make repeated smaller cuts and reduce hand fatigue. The handles feature ergonomic thermoplastic rubber non-slip grips and there is also a patented center oiler bolt that appears to facilitate oiling.
Having used the pruners, I can see why the Barnel pruner could be a favorite. The blades are very sharp and the two-position lock feature is cool. I have, however, found them more light-weight than my Felco #8 and not as effective on large stems. The very sharp blades also concern me from a safety standpoint. I now primarily use the Barnel B8 pruner on my propagation bench because the sharp blades make more effective cuttings. And, from time to time I put them in my grooming kit to make cuts of roses at the show.
Barnel also makes the B7 pruner, which is designed for smaller hands. The B8 retails for $47.95, while the B7 costs $2 less.
*Slimmer Trimmer Hand Shears, 7.5-inch Length
We have a lot of these pruners, aka hand shears, and in truth they are Dona’s favorites even in preference to the Felco #6 pruners I bought for her as a present. They are lightweight with 2.25-inch high carbon steel blades that are heat-treated and Teflon-coated for friction-free cutting action. They also have comfortable coated handles and shock-absorbing contour grips. They come complete with a wrist strap, the purpose of which is obscure. We keep several in our grooming kit for use at the show and I also use them extensively for precision pruning of miniature and polyantha roses. They cost about $29.99.
Those paying close attention to my discussion of pruning shears, both above and in my previous article, will observe that pruning shears are generally designed to handle stems from ½-inch to perhaps as much as 1-inch in diameter. Once you get to stems that are 1-inch or more in diameter, you will struggle with pruning shears and can actually damage your shears and/or hand trying to cut stems that are too large. Instead, such large stems require the use of a stronger pruning tool such as loppers. Loppers are basically large pruning shears that are operated with two hands and provide the leverage to cut thick stems.
*Corona 8442 26-inch High Performance Orchard Lopper
My choice of loppers is the Corona 26-Inch High Performance Loppers. It has a smaller bypass blade design very similar to pruning shears. The blades are made of fully heat-treated forged steel and can be re-sharpened as well as replaced. The lopper has lightweight, high-strength elliptical 26" aluminum handles with rubber bumpers to absorb shock. They cost about $74.99.
As you investigate loppers, you will find any number to consider. There are in fact 26 different models of Corona loppers alone. That is because loppers have many uses, including cutting tree branches, and woody shrubs other than roses. Some are very heavy duty and much more than you would ever need to prune a rose. I bought mine at the local Grangettos several years ago, after trying out many different models by hand. You may wish to do the same so that you can get loppers you are comfortable with.
Another approach to cutting thick stems is the pruning saw. Pruning saws can typically be handled with one hand and can be used to cut stems that are too big for your loppers. More commonly a pruning saw is used in pruning roses near the bud union or base of the rose, or of a stem that is so close to another stem that it becomes impracticable to get loppers into position.
*Felco Model 600 Tri-Edge Folding Pruning Saw, 6.3-inch Straight Blade
My choice of pruning saw, which I have had for more years than I can recall is the Felco folding pruning saw. I like it because it is compact and can be carried in my rear pocket. The blade is still sharp and I have never had the saw sharpened. They are not too long to fit into the tight spots in which I use them.
It appears that my model is no longer even offered by Felco and has been replaced by the Felco Model 600. This has a 6.35-inch hard chrome-plated cutting blade with teeth that don’t clog or bind. It cuts on the pull stroke and is said to be able to handle a branch of up to 4-inches in diameter. The saw has a rubberized grip with push button style latch to safely lock the blade when not in use. It costs about $32.99.
*Corona Quick Saw
Corona also makes a folding pruning saw that they claim cuts 20% faster on average than comparable professional saws. I have no idea how you measure such things. It has a patent-pending tooth pattern that helps keep the cut channel free of sawdust. The 7-inch high-carbon steel blade is somewhat longer than the Felco model and has dual cutting positions; one for regular cuts, and another for difficult to reach branches. The saw has an aluminum handle and release button that makes it lightweight and easy to carry. It costs about $39.70
*Corona Root & All Purpose Saw
This is another one I use from time to time. Although denominated a “root” saw, I don’t use this for roots. Instead it is like a keyhole saw that can be used to get into the tightest places possible, as for example when there are two canes in the center of the rose bush that cannot be accessed with pruning shears, loppers or even a folding saw. This one features a 6 1/2" chrome-plated, taper-ground blade that cuts on both the push and pull stroke, which is hand in tight spots. It also has an ergonomic handle for comfort and costs a very reasonable $14.99.
In 1982 I had occasion to visit the Gardens of the Rose, the home of the Royal National Rose Society in St. Albans, U.K. There I observed first hand the results of a study on pruning techniques that I had previously read about. Three plots of roses of the same size and composed of the same varieties had been set aside. One was pruned in the traditional manner with pruning tools, one was left unpruned, and the third was pruned with hedge trimmers. The unpruned plot was as expected, but the surprise was that there was very little difference between the plot pruned with pruning shears and that pruned with hedge trimmers.
I was not that impressed at the time, since the plot pruned with hedge trimmers had to my eye a lot of unpruned growth in the center that I believe would build up over time such that the differences between the techniques would become a lot more noticeable in subsequent seasons. I also preferred to believe what I preferred to be true, which was that the tried and true pruning shears would always give superior results.
The results of the test nevertheless stayed with me and in time I saw other cases where a preliminary pruning with hedge shears made the pruning job a lot easier. I also grow a lot of polyantha roses, which are low growing with many stems and take hours to prune using traditional pruning shears stem by stem. As the garden grew and I aged it also became harder and harder to get all the pruning done. And, in 2015 I never even got to pruning the seven dwarfs polyantha garden and it went mostly unpruned.
A funny thing happened though – the unpruned polyanthas thrived and grew very bushy, thus providing a real challenge for the next season. With that in mind, my thoughts returned to hedge shears.
*Corona Forged Dual Cut Hedge Shear 7140
When Phil Rogers of Corona spoke to the San Diego Rose Society meeting in 2016, the seven dwarfs had not yet been pruned. There he displayed a duty Corona hedge shear with very sharp blades. Having examined it when passed around, I promptly went home and ordered one, following which I pruned the seven dwarf garden with them as well as some other polyanthas and some miniature roses that had not yet been pruned. It was quick and it worked well.
This model has blades fully forged steel with a patented blade and hook design. The handles have contoured soft grips and a shock-absorbing integrated bumper. They are a little heavy but very sharp and easy to use. The cost is about $58.
*Stihl Heavy Duty Hedge Shear
The previously mentioned Corona Hedge Shears weighs about 2.6 pounds and are 26 inches in length, making them a little on the heavy and awkward side. After two seasons of wrestling with them, I was pleased to come across at my local hardware store the Stihl Heavy Duty Hedge Shear that weighs in at 1.8 pounds and 22 inches. I haven’t researched Stihl but I would not be surprised to find out they are in the sword business as well because these shears come with ultra-sharp carbon steel blades that cut right through rose foliage, in theory up to 3/8th inch in diameter but in practice a little more. They also come with very attractive oak wooden handles that are very easy to handle. I am in my third season with these and have found them a mainstay in doing the initial cut on polyanthas, miniatures and smaller floribundas and shrubs. The blades can be sharpened but I have yet to find the need. The cost here is also about $59 making them comparable in value to the Corona shears.
*Ryobi 40V Hedge Trimmer
A newer tool for pruning, introduced in the 2017 season the is the Ryobi 40V Hedge Trimmer. I learned about this model from Bob & Kitty Belendez. Bob used it in the 2015 season and Kitty wrote an article about it in her newsletter. Having let some time go by and encouraged by my own success with the Corona hedge shears, I inquired of Kitty to learn if they still thought highly of it. Kitty graciously responded that they did and provided further detail, following which I made a suggestion to Dona that this would be a wonderful 2016 Christmas present. It was.
Ryobi advertises this as one of the first line of cordless tools with what they call Gas-Like Power™. With a 40V lithium-ion battery, it avoids the hassle of gas, oil or extension cords. It features two 24 in. dual-action blades, a HedgeSweep™ debris shield to help clear branches and growth as you trim, and a wrap-around handle for greater user control. To date I have used it for the bushier floribundas and shrubs, making a preliminary cut to the desired height and then manually cleaning out the debris as well as the lower ineffective growth. It has greatly speeded up the pruning process and has now become a basic part of my pruning program, together with my pruning shears, loppers and pruning saws.
Pruning shears, loppers, saws and other pruning products need to be kept clean and sharp. We’ll talk about how to do that next time. Until then here’s a point to ponder:
“Natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
All photos submitted by Bob Martin