Secateurs are the most important part of any gardener’s toolkit, so it’s important to get the right pair for the job. There are two basic types of secateurs, bypass and anvil.
Bypass secateurs are rather like scissors, because the two blades overlap. They are the most useful because they make a clean cut through stems of all types. The wound is clean and crisp, so it doesn’t let in any infections. However these scissor-like secateurs can’t deal with thicker, woodier stems - like anvil secateurs can.
Anvil secateurs are generally used on dead wood or thicker pieces of wood. They crush the stems as the main blade comes down and that’s a bit a knife like chopping up carrots on a board. They bruise the stems, so they’re not suitable for a lot of plant pruning because you can’t make a clean cut, so most gardeners stick to using bypass secateurs. However anvils are good at cutting woody material when it’s dormant, because they can deal with thicker wood up to two inches in diameter. If you’ve got lots of shrubs and trees you’ll need a pair.
Choosing the best secateurs
Whichever secateurs you choose, they must be comfortable to handle whether your hands are small or large.
They must also do the job well, so the blades are likely to be carbon steel or steel, and they must be robust and well made because otherwise they will fall apart.
It also helps if the handles are a bright colour, because it’s very easy to mislay your secateurs when gardening so bright-red or fluorescent handles are far easier to spot that dull blacks and greys.
Looking after your secateurs
If you’re using secateurs a lot, it’s a good thing to invest in a leather holder so that you can pop them back in safely, because secateurs shouldn’t really be popped in pockets.
Secateurs blades can get sticky, so washing them in soapy water and drying them off helps enormously. Blades are often coated to keep them shiny and prevent them from rusting.
There is usually a safety catch that keeps the blades shut for safety reasons. Sometimes the catch can be fiddly and sometimes it’s a quick release. I prefer a fiddlier catch, because quick-release catches can be easily triggered if you do have to slip them in a pocket for a moment or two.
Find out about cleaning, sharpening and disinfecting your garden tools.
Five of the best secateurs
Prices vary greatly, but when it comes to secateurs it’s far better to invest in good brand that lasts. Cheaper secateurs tend to fall apart.
Shop around, because it’s often possible to get a good deal - with up to 30% off.
The benchmark bypass secateurs:
Felco Originals, £33.99 - £59.99
Felco pruners are the brand leaders and most professional gardeners prefer them to anything else. They’ve been made in Switzerland for over 70 years and they don’t fall apart. All the parts are replaceable and you can have old pairs refurbished for £25.00 (look for servicing information at www.worldoffelco.co.uk/servicing.)
The most popular size is Felco no 2, made for large and medium-sized hands.
Those with smaller hands may prefer no 6, a smaller version of the no 2 that many gardeners with smaller hands find easier to handle.
Felcos will last a lifetime and they come with a lifetime guarantee. Many cheaper brands are inferior Felco copies. Felco are now doing economy secateurs, such as the Felco Model 5 Economy Secateurs (£32.99) and the Felco Essentials Small (£29.99).
Felcos fit the hand perfectly and come in different sizes.
The non-slip handles make it possible to work in wet and cold weather.
Bright-red handles help you to locate them, should they go missing in a border or compost heap.
The forged aluminium handles are light and lessen the weight.
The hardened steel centre bolt and nut ensures exact adjustment of both the cutting and anvil blades.
There’s a rubber cushion and shock absorber which provides a smooth working action and soft closing.
The steel blades are superb at cutting through thick branches and woody stems.
Some gardeners find the wheel-like safety catch fiddly to use.
Other excellent Felco products
Folding Pruning Saw
This folding red-handled saw is useful for tackling thicker woody stems. It’s easy to use, however large your hands are, and the rust resistant, hard-chromed blade is made of high-quality steel. It cuts very cleanly and, after use, the blade can be inserted into the handle. You can get replacement blades. From £25.00
Felco Leather Holster
Slots on to a belt in two ways, by a clip or you can thread it through your belt. The tough, waxed leather sheds the rain and lasts for years’
Where to buy - www.worldoffelco.co.uk
A recent arrival that’s light to use:
Niwaki GR Pro Lightweight Secateurs, £69
These elegant, yellow-handled bypass secateurs are all made in Japan, in various forges, and they’re the new kids on the block. Many professional gardeners are already raving about them because the quick-release mechanism at the bottom is easily managed in cold weather, or if you’re wearing gardening gloves. There are also left and right-handed versions as well as a pair designed for larger hands.
The lightweight, slightly smaller secateurs are recommended for people who may be suffering form arthritis or weak wrists, because there’s no weight in the hand. They weigh just 190g, so they’re perfect for making repeated cuts and will slice through stems the width of a little finger - although hopefully not yours! The heavier Niwaki Pro, weighing in at 2390g, will cut through stems the width of an index finger. The large spring tensions the blades and there’s a spare spring with every pair of secateurs should the old spring lose tension. I’m assured that it’s an easy job to replace the spring.
They’re incredibly strong because the blades and handles are forged from one piece of KA70 carbon steel, so there are no joints and rivets. The blades keep their edge really well, although they’re also very easy to sharpen.
The Niwaki range reflects the art of Japanese gardening, so precision pruning is key. They also sell tripod ladders needed to prune larger topiary, flower scissors, hand shears, brooms and arm covers so this is one for topiary lovers.
Economy secateurs with a strong action:
Wilkinson Sword Razorcut Pro Angled Head Bypass Pruner, £29.00
A Felco look alike at a budget price which will cut through thick woody material up to 22cm, or ¾ of an inch. The black handles may make these difficult to find if you lose them, but they are strongly made. The blades are made from high quality ultra-sharp Japanese SK3 steel and attached to the light, aluminium handles. There are rubber buffers to lessen the stress of your wrist and hands as you cut and the grip is definitely comfortable. This may be a budget version, but it’s strong and you can acquire replacement springs. Widely available.
Practical and stylish:
Sophie Conran Precision Secateurs, Burgon & Ball, £27.99
Design meets the practical in Burgon & Ball’s Sophie Conran range, a small nimble range of tools designed for slightly smaller hands. The Sophie Conran Precision Secateurs are a best seller because they’re not only functional, they’re also stylish. The stainless steel body is resistant to rust and there’s a simple release catch in brass that’s easily operated when wearing garden gloves. There are also precision snippers in the same Sophie Conran range, so these would make an excellent gift duo. Both are beautifully boxed and guaranteed for 10 years.
Burgon & Ball also have strong links with the RHS and there are more traditional, competitively priced bypass secateurs in their RHS range priced at £19.99. There’s a 10-year guarantee on these products as well. The National Trust range, which also contains bypass secateurs, was just launched in January 2020.
A double deal - anvil and bypass set:
Spear and Jackson Kew Gardens Razorsharp Cutting Set Bypass and Anvil Secateurs Set, £26.00
For the gardener who needs to tackle thicker woody material with the anvil secateurs as well as finer pruning using the bypass secateurs. The green, soft-feel handles are comfortable to grip and stand out well when you put them down, so you can relocate your tools when working. The smaller size makes them perfect for smaller hands, so ladies often enjoy using these. The blades are high carbon steel and they’re also coated and this stops them rusting and getting sticky. Both have adjustable cutting widths, operated by a button - which may be tricky to operate if wearing gloves.
Spear and Jackson supply these, although these are widely available.
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