If you've got even one shrub, sooner or later you'll need to remove unruly growth and dead or injured branches. With the right assortment of pruners and loppers (pruners are one-handed tools, loppers require two hands), you can keep any plant healthy and well manicured, from rosebushes and shrubs to privacy hedges and small trees.
"The first tool you should buy is a pair of bypass pruners," says Roger Cook, This Old House landscape contractor. "You can use them for everything, so it's worth investing about $50 for a good pair; cheaper ones can fall apart with all the use." Because bypass blades sweep past each other like scissors, they're best for making clean cuts in living wood. For chopping dead branches, you'll want to add an anvil lopper (about $30), which has a blade that hits against a soft plate, and a folding saw (about $20) for slicing through thick branches. "You'll be able to manage most pruning chores with that set of tools," Roger says.
Pruning can be heavy, repetitive work, and trying to take too big a bite with the wrong tool is the quickest way to increase your own weariness and frustration while also shortening the life of your equipment. Certain tools, like those with compound-action gears, will make the task easier. But the best way to keep things comfortable whenever you go out to prune is to wear gloves and make sure your tools are clean and sharp.