If you have plants with stems thicker than a toothpick, sooner or later you’ll need a pair of pruning shears. A good pair of steel blades lets you cut dead branches off shrubs and trees, remove rose canes that are rubbing and damaging other canes, and deadhead perennials to spur new blooms—all without tearing or splintering your plants. A great pair of pruning shears also feels comfortable in your hands, and is easy to sharpen and repair.
We tested 10 of the best pruning shears on the market for quality, price, sharpness, leverage, and sturdiness. Our best overall pick is the Felco F-2 068780 Classic Manual Hand Pruner (available at Amazon) , a sharp, effective garden tool with enough replacement parts available to keep your pruning shears in top shape for decades. Felco pruners also come in a variety of sizes, so if you have big hands or tiny fingers, you can find a pair of Felcos that feels natural.
Our best value pick is the Fiskars Softgrip Bypass Pruner (available at Amazon for $8.99), which are surprisingly sharp and powerful for the price. They did a better job of cutting thick branches than any other pruners in our sample.
If multiple gardeners in one household are going to be using your garden shears, opt for an adjustable pair that can accommodate different hand sizes. Our top pick is the tropical-colored Grüntek Pruning Shears “Flamingo” (available on Amazon for $13.19). These shears performed almost as well as the Fiskars in testing, and a flick of the lever adjusts the Grüntek handles to fit either large or medium/small hands.
When to use these pruners: Grab your Felco pruners to cut just about anything (except your bangs). Felco pruners have a solid reputation for a good reason: They cut cleanly through every plant you’re likely to encounter in your garden, from delicate flower stems to half-inch diameter branches.
Strengths: Versatility. With the Felcos, which come with a limited lifetime warranty, you can cut down the last year’s growth on your yew hedge, trim your roses, give them a quick clean, and then snip a few basil leaves to pretty up your plate of spaghetti. All of your cuts will be clean and straight, with no crushed or mangled stems or half-cut branches. And with 22 different replacement parts available, you can keep these pruners in good repair pretty much forever. They may be more expensive than other pruning shears on this list, but they’re built to last.
Drawbacks: Although the manufacturer says that the F-2s have a one-inch cutting capacity, that “capacity” depends on your hand strength. If you’re a weekend gardener and don’t spend much time flexing with grip strengtheners, you’re not going to be able to cut through a one-inch branch even though the shears open wide enough to attempt.
When cutting softer plant materials like raspberry canes, the action can feel a little sticky, as though the mechanism is getting ever so slightly stuck, although the cuts are clean. The lock is easy to close with your thumb, but can be hard to re-open one-handed. Curiously, they did a worse job of cutting through a plastic mulch bag than the Fiskars.
Bonus features: The Felcos don’t have any special bells or whistles, like adjustable-width handles or ratcheting action found in ratchet pruners. They don’t need them; they just work.
When to use these pruners: The Fiskars Softgrip bypass pruning shears are great all-around pruners, although they lack the Felco’s finesse. Use Fiskars for pruning twigs, canes, and branches up to three-quarter-inch diameter—but get a pair of scissors for snipping herbs and soft flower stems.
Strengths: The Fiskars feel smooth and cut clean straight out of the box. Despite the low price point, these were the best-performing pruners in our sample for cutting thick dowels, and they sliced easily through smaller branches, raspberry canes, and rose twigs. The lock is easy to slide with one hand, and the thick, rubberized top handle and thumb grip makes it easy to keep hold of these pruners in slippery circumstances.
Drawbacks: Unlike our other top picks, the Fiskars didn’t cut cleanly through scallions after minimal use, leaving ragged stringy leaves instead of a straight cut. Torn, ragged cuts are a sign that the pruner blades have become dull. It’s easy to sharpen your pruners, but these Fiskars may require more frequent maintenance than a more expensive brand like Felco. Replacement parts aren’t available, so if you nick the blade or lose the spring, you’re out of luck.
Bonus features: Fiskars states that the low-friction coating resists rust. There was no evidence of rust in our testing period.
When to use these pruners: These are pruners for sharing. The adjustment lever lets the pruner handles expand a little, or a lot, enabling users with small and big hands alike to use these shears comfortably. If you share yard equipment with a friend or loved one who isn’t the exact same size as you, these are the pruning shears to get.
Strengths: You’ll never have to worry about losing these screaming-yellow pruners under a bush. Their adjustment lever makes it easy for users with different-sized hands to use them.
Drawbacks: These pruners are a little stiffer and take slightly more force to close around larger twigs than the Fiskars or Felco pruning shears. The tip of the Grüntek’s cutting blade chipped off during the drop test—something that didn’t happen to any other pruners in our sample.
Bonus features: The top blade is coated with Teflon to resist rust and make cutting smoother.
Meg Muckenhoupt is an environmental and travel writer. Her book Boston Gardens and Green Spaces (Union Park Press, 2010) is a Boston Globe local bestseller. Meg was awarded a certificate in field botany by the New England Wild Flower Society, and has earned degrees from Harvard and Brown University.
We researched 78 different models of pruning shears and tested 10 that rated highly for quality, price, or both. We put these 10 through dozens of different tests of performance, durability, and ease of use—cutting scallions, rose bushes, raspberry canes, pine and cottonwood branches, hardwood dowels, a T-shirt, a plastic mulch bag, and plastic cable ties. Then we dropped them on a concrete garage floor to see how they held up.
All of our pruning shears went through an initial round of “Can it cut?” tests for sharpness and power. We trimmed quarter-inch diameter currant bush twigs, one-third-inch raspberry canes, and half-inch cottonwood and pine branches, and sliced through a plain white T-shirt and a heavy plastic mulch bag.
Pruners that performed well sliced through all of these materials effectively without crushing the material, leaving dangling fibers or ragged edges, or requiring heavy two-handed pressure. Five models were clearly superior to the rest for this first round of testing: ARS, Felco, Fiskars, Grüntek, and Haus & Garten.
They moved on to the second round when we cut hardwood dowels measuring one-quarter inch, one-half inch, and one inch in diameter. We also used them to cut rose petals and plastic cable ties. None of the pruning shears were able to successfully cut through the one-inch hardwood dowel (although the Fiskars eventually made it through after repeated attempts), and all of them needed multiple cuts and severe pressure to get through the half-inch dowel.
Finally, each set of pruners was dropped from waist height onto a concrete garage floor to simulate everyday consumer clumsiness.
Our final round rated pruning shears on aspects that weren’t related to performance. We strongly considered whether the blades were damaged during testing, how comfortable the shears felt to use, whether they came in different sizes, whether they have replacement parts available, and how easy it was to use them overall.
What You Should Know About Buying Pruning Shears
What Are Pruning Shears?
Pruning shears are essentially big, heavy scissors with a spring in the middle that makes them re-open after each cut. Although most pruning shears are sharp enough for snipping garden herbs, they’re primarily used for thicker, harder stems, twigs, and branches that your kitchen scissors can’t cut.
They’re useful for pruning roses, raspberries, “suckers” on tomato plants, and small branches on trees and shrubs. If you need to cut off branches that are thicker than your thumb, consider buying long-handled loppers, which will give you more leverage for powerful cuts.
Hand-held pruners come in two main versions: bypass and anvil. Bypass pruning shears have two blades that “pass” each other, like a pair of scissors. Anvil pruning shears have a cutting blade that strikes a flat “anvil” blade.
Anvil pruners are great for cutting hard, dead wood, but they tend to mash and tear greener, more elastic stems. We stuck to bypass pruners because they’re more flexible for a variety of garden tasks, and can cut your living plants without damaging them.
How Do You Sharpen and Clean Pruning Shears?
Pruning shears have three main components: blades, springs, and handles. A lot of manufacturers boast that their pruner blades are made out of “carbon steel,” stainless steel, or some other metal that’s supposed to be especially hard—or that special blade coatings prevent rust.
High-quality, hardened steel, like SK-5 steel, and other metals are a good idea for pruner blades, because they will stay sharp longer than regular metal, but sooner or later, every pair of pruning shears needs sharpening. That sharpening will remove the coating from the blade’s cutting edge, which is the part of the pruners you want to keep from rusting to keep clean cutting.
Instead of worrying about optimizing the ultimate metal for pruner blades, you and your plants will be happier if you learn how to clean and sharpen pruners. Every time you use your pruners, wipe off debris and grime with a rag, paying special attention to the sap groove that helps blades from sticking, and wipe the blades with a little bit of WD-40 or vegetable oil to keep moisture off.
Top-of-the-line brands like Felco and ARS also offer replacement parts if you’ve sharpened your pruners one too many times, or if the spring flies off—something that consumers frequently report in reviews of cheaper pruners.
What Type of Handle is Right for You?
Pruner handles matter because handles that are too big or too small for your hand will be unwieldy and uncomfortable. We looked for pruners that come in a variety of sizes when possible so that you can find the perfect fit for your grip. Many are ergonomically designed with comfort in mind.
Less-expensive pruners tend to feature plastic handles that will inevitably crack or break over the years; premium brands like Felco, ARS, and Okatsune tend to offer coated metal and aluminum handles, which should be more durable. (The ARS HP-120EU 8-Inch Hand Pruner we tested has a plastic handle, but it also costs $20 less than their premium pruner, the ARS HP-VS7XZ.)
Other Pruning Shears We Tested
When to use these pruners: Use the ARS pruners anywhere, any time. They’ll do the job right.
Strengths: Sharp blades, comfortable handles, and an easy-open, easy-close latch make these pruners perfect for all-around yard work. The action feels flawless, and the plastic handles have a smooth texture that isn’t slick. The chrome blade is unlikely to rust. Replacement springs and bolts are available.
Drawbacks: The ARS 8-inch Hand Pruner can cut through half-inch branches and dowels, but it requires more effort than the Fiskars or Felco, and the light, springy mechanism makes the recoil from cutting hard branches painful.
Bonus features: None. They’re great just the way they are.
When to use these pruners: The Okatsune #103 Bypass Pruners are elegant, precision instruments for trimming your garden to your exacting standards.
Strengths: The single word to describe these pruners is “smooth.” Opening and closing the Okatsune #103 pruners feels effortless, like a perfectly-tuned precision mechanism, and they close with a satisfying quiet “snnnk” sound.
The blades are tantalizingly sharp, and made of the “finest Japanese steel,” they have a reputation for staying sharp over the long haul. The black, white, and red color scheme is more subtle than other brands. Replacement springs are available.
Drawbacks: For a small pair of pruners, the Okatsune #103 pruners open very wide—5 1/2” at the base—and the mostly-straight handles are made of slick, slippery plastic. Those with smaller hands may find it hard to grasp and hold these pruners. They’re also not as effective at cutting through branches over a half-inch in diameter as the Felco or the Fiskars, partly because of their unwieldy handles; it’s hard to bear down with enough pressure to make deep cuts.
Also, the steel will rust without proper care: Clean the pruners after each use, and wipe the blades with a thin coating of WD-40 or cooking oil. The locking mechanism at the bottom of the handles cannot be closed with one hand. You can hit them against a tree trunk or your thigh to lock or unlock them one-handed, but some gardeners may be reluctant to hit their pruners repeatedly.
Haus & Garten Enduro Pro Titanium Bypass Pruning Shears
When to use these pruners: These pruners are good, sharp tools for short rounds of everyday pruning.
Strengths: The sharp top blade has a rounded tip, making it less likely to break if your pruners hit a hard floor or an embedded nail in a tree branch. The ergonomically designed curved handles make it easy to keep your grasp on these pruners even when the handles are wide open. Titanium-coated blades will forestall rust, and replacement blades are available.
Drawbacks: The action feels slightly crunchy and catches slightly at the close. It isn’t as pleasingly smooth as the ARS or Felco pruners, and can feel as though it’s pushing back on your hands. As with most other pruners in this sample, the Haus & Garten pruners had a tough time cutting through a half-inch dowel.
Bonus features: There is a small wire-cutting notch at the base of the blade, so you can cut through fine mesh without ruining your blades. The notch isn’t large enough for cutting chicken wire, though.
When to use these pruners: If you need to order a lot of cheap pruners for a community garden, and you don’t want to worry too much about getting them all back, Bugui pruning shears are cheap enough to be a reasonable choice.
Strengths: At $18 for a two-pack, the Bugui pruning shears are the least expensive shears we sampled.
Drawbacks: The Bugui pruning shears are definitely lightweights. The shears are noisy, and the action feels choppy and springy, not smooth. You can cut through sticks thicker than a quarter-inch, but it’s not easy, and you may need to reopen and close them repeatedly to hack your way through the branch.
Bonus features: There are no bonus features. What you see is what you get.
When to use these pruners: These sturdy pruners are good for most garden chores—but there are better choices for your precision-trimmed bonsai tree.
Strengths: The simple style of the Corona ClassicCUT pruners has a retro appeal. They do a decent job of cutting through twigs and sticks, although they require more effort to close than the Felco or Fiskars. Replacement springs, bolts, and latches are available.
Drawbacks: These Corona pruners lacked finesse. They didn’t slice cleanly through half-inch cottonwood branches, leaving strings and fibers dangling that had to be re-cut. The action feels stiff, as though the blades are rubbing against each other.
It’s hard to shut the latch one-handed. The top blade had obvious damage after testing—two one-millimeter nicks, similar to the damage reported in user reviews.
Bonus features: None—you can probably find a pair of pruners that look like these in your grandfather’s basement somewhere.
When to use these pruners: For short periods of garden work, these inexpensive pruners will work just fine.
Strengths: These low-cost shears have comfortable non-slip handles with a comfortable rubber coating on the lower handle. The locking latch is easy to open and close.
Drawbacks: Like the Okatsunes, these pruners open fairly wide, and the spring has a strong recoil. People with medium to small hands will struggle to constantly reclose these pruners. It takes more hand strength to close these pruners on even small twigs than for similarly-priced Felco.
Bonus features: These pruning shears come with a hanging loop for easy transport and storage.
When to use these pruners: These pruners are fine for light-duty trimming of bushes, but don’t expect to get into any heavy work.
Strengths: The blades are sharp, and the pruners are lightweight. The handles are a charming red.
Drawbacks: These ineffectual pruners twisted and failed to cut through a half-inch soft-wood pine branch, even though the manufacturer claims it will cut one-inch branches. The latch is difficult to close with one hand.
Bonus features: For this price, you don’t get bonus features.
Meg Muckenhoupt is an environmental and travel writer. Her book Boston Gardens and Green Spaces (Union Park Press, 2010) is a Boston Globe Local Bestseller. Meg was awarded a certificate in Field Botany by the New England Wild Flower Society and earned degrees from Harvard and Brown University.
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