There's nothing more frustrating for the home gardener than hacking away at your favourite roses with a pair of blunt secateurs, and seeing those delicate stems fray like rope between dull blades. And cutting back a shrub can take three times as long if you're using secateurs that aren't up to the task.
Secateurs keep shrubs, trees and bushes tidy, trimmed of dead wood, and pruned to promote flowering and fruiting. There are hundreds of models on the market, which can cost anywhere from $5 to up to $100 - so how do you pick the best secateurs for your needs?
Types of secateurs
When choosing a pair of secateurs, one of your first decisions is which type to get.
The most common type, bypass secateurs work like scissors: the plant rests on the curved bottom blade and is cut by the sharper top blade as it slices past the bottom blade.
- Bypass secateurs can cut branches off right against the stem.
- They are said to be more suited to cutting softer, stringier living stems.
- They're good for reaching spots that are hard to get to.
Anvil secateurs have a flat blade (the "anvil") at the bottom. The top blade does the cutting, coming down onto the anvil like a guillotine.
- Anvil secateurs are supposed to be better for cutting thicker, woodier stems, although in our secateurs tests we've found some bypass models are also good at this.
Powered blade cordless secateurs
CHOICE has found some powered cordless secateurs that claim to make pruning effortless. These secateurs may be useful for people with weak hands, such as those with arthritis, but check the weight as they can be heavy to hold and operate.
What to look for
For a pair of fancy plant-scissors, there's a lot to consider when buying secateurs. Here's what you should take into account before making a purchase.
The cutting diameter is a measurement of the thickest branch the secateurs claim to cut. Bear in mind that the diameter listed is usually for green or soft wood. If you're cutting hard, dry wood, they will underperform.
If you have left-handers in your household you'll need ambidextrous secateurs. These feature a safety catch that is positioned centrally so that it can be easily accessed no matter which hand you use to hold the secateurs, and the handles are not specifically shaped to fit one hand in particular.
Secateurs come in different sizes to suit smaller and larger hands. Handles should fit your hand comfortably, especially when opening and closing the blades for cutting.
These make the secateurs easier to locate in the garden!
This is operated by a thumb lever or a sliding catch. Check that the catch is easy for you to operate.
The bolt holding the two blades together should be easily adjustable with a screwdriver or spanner.
These are supposed to keep the blades from rusting, although the coating could come off over time. Any blade made of stainless steel should be relatively rustproof, as long as you take care of it.
Being able to replace blades and springs will give the secateurs longer life.
Avoid secateurs with sharp points - they're generally unnecessary.
Ratchet or gear mechanism
Some secateurs will have a ratchet or gear mechanism for more powerful cutting. These might be worth trying if you have a weak grip or a lot of hard wood to prune.
Top tips for care of your secateurs
- Keep your secateurs sharp by sharpening them on a small oil stone — besides making the secateurs less effective, blunt blades can also damage a plant.
- Once you've finished a clipping or pruning session, clean off the sap by rubbing the secateurs with an oily cloth.
- Don't use your secateurs to cut branches bigger than they're capable of cutting — it could damage them.
- Pull your secateurs apart occasionally and oil the moving parts, including the pivot.