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How to Choose and Use Pruners

Ask This Old House landscape designer Jenn Nawada shares some tips about pruners.

What is an Anvil Pruner?

Pruners get their names by the way they cut. The blades on the bypass pruners slide slightly past each other, hence bypassing one another. The blades on anvil pruners perfectly line up and crush together when cut, like a hammer to an anvil.

Because of their intense cut, anvil pruners are stronger and great for cutting dead wood or bulk material. However, that strong cut can also damage the tissue of live plants, so it shouldn’t be used for delicate pruning.

What is a Bypass Pruner?

Bypass pruners, on the other hand, can cut in a way that doesn’t damage the tissue of the plant and are perfect for precision cuts. When pruning, Jenn recommends looking for V’s in the plant and making the cuts there until the plant is shaped and healthy-looking.

How to Clean Pruners

After pruning, Jenn recommends cleaning the pruners thoroughly to prevent them from transferring disease from one plant to another. To do this:

  • Take a small bucket of three parts water and one part bleach mixed together and swirl the pruners with the blades open in the solution.
  • Then wipe the blades dry to prevent rusting.


When it comes to pruning, Jenn prefers to use a pair of bypass pruning shears, which are manufactured by ARS. For cutting back dead wood and bulkier items where a precision cut isn’t needed, anvil pruners will get the job done faster. The pair Jenn demonstrated are Fiskars anvil pruners.

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Nawada Landscape Design.