Every gardener needs a good pair of shears. From the hobbyist trimming back begonias on the front lawn to the landscape designer sculpting hedges and boxwoods on a big estate. Regardless of scale and experience, amateur green thumbs and professional horticulturalists are basically looking for the same thing: a sharp, comfortable, durable pair of shears that can accomplish the task at hand and hold up well over time.
To find the best tools for any job, we spoke with three experts who know a thing or two about gardening shears: Kurt Morrell, VP of landscape operations at New York Botanical Garden; Rachel Burlington, curator of the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon; and Caleb Leech, horticultural manager of the Met Cloisters Museum. Below, their recommendations for the best pruning shears, hedge shears, lopping shears, and garden scissors.
Best bypass hand pruners
Our experts told us that if you had to choose just one type of garden shear, nothing is more essential than a good “bypass” pruner — or secateur — which is basically a one-handed pruner with two curved blades. This is the go-to tool for clipping delicate branches and trimming shrubs, perennials, and flowers because the blades are specially designed to give a “clean cut” without tearing the plant tissue. As Kurt Morrell at New York Botanical Garden puts it: “The cleaner the cut, the quicker a plant heals. The quicker a plant heals, the less susceptible it is to disease.” As a rule of thumb, if you’re working on a live plant, you should use bypass pruners.
Every gardening expert we spoke with mentioned the Swiss-made Felco F2 as the industry standard. “A good gardener or horticulturalist anywhere in the world is most likely going to have a pair of Felcos,” says Morrell. Gardeners prize the F2 for many reasons, but it’s perhaps most famous for its durability. “I still use my original pair from when I started here in 1985.” Morrell also told us that the NYBG’s School of Professional Horticulture gives a pair of F2’s to every new student. Our experts say the large handles of the F2 and strong coiled spring make it the most comfortable pruner on the market. They also like that it uses interchangeable blades, which allow the pruner to feel “like new” no matter how old it is. “They’re a staple of every gardener’s tool box,” says the International Rose Test Garden’s Rachel Burlington. “I never leave home without mine.”
While Switzerland’s Felco might be the most recognized name in premium pruners, Japanese gardening-tool companies like Okatsune and ARS have amassed a cultlike following in the States. Caleb Leech at the Met Cloisters Museum almost exclusively uses Japanese-made shears. “I just love how Japanese hand tools are built,” says Leech, who appreciates the craftsmanship and likens their appeal to “the way a chef would want the best knives.” Most Japanese hand pruners lock with a latch, which Leech vastly prefers to the “dial lock” used by Felco and many American brands.
“Just from my experience, you can kind of close it on your leg when you’re holding it with one hand.” He says the dial locking mechanism can be “fiddly” and doesn’t always close right away. “I just like simplicity.” While Leech declined to mention a specific brand — per the museum’s policy — we have a strong suspicion this Okatsune pruner is the one he was referring to, since it fits his description and all of the experts we asked confirmed the brand’s reputation.
The Felco F6 is the same idea as the classic F2, but it’s built for smaller hands. Morrell says the F6’s smaller blade is “nicer for pruning in tighter spots” with roses, for example.
Best anvil hand pruner
While “bypass shears” are definitely more generally useful, Burlington says a good pair of “anvil shears” is important to have in your kit. Anvil pruners can sometimes crush the branches or stems as they cut, so while you wouldn’t want to use them on living plants that need to heal quickly, they can be really helpful if you want to “deadhead roses” to encourage reblooming or “cut back herbaceous material like annuals and perennials.” Basically, “if you’re looking more for speed than precision,” an anvil pruner is a good choice according to Burlington, who uses these needle-nose hand shears from ARS. “It’s hard to find a good anvil pruner because a lot of time they’re cheaply made. I highly recommend this one.”
Best hedge shears
According to Morrell, these German-made Berger hedge shears are the only model used to trim and shape the many hedges and bushes on the NYBG’s property. His favorite thing about them is the wooden handles. “A lot of homeowners will go for something with rubber handles because they think it’s cushiony, but rubber gets slippery when you sweat. The wood is just more comfortable if you’re working all day long.” Morrell says that while it’s a higher upfront cost to supply all their groundskeepers with these, it ends up being worth it because they almost never need to replace them. “If you go and buy something cheap, it may only last one hedge trimming. If you’re using a tool all day long, you want something that’s durable and that’s going to last. We have pairs that are 15 or 20 years old.”
“Hedge shears are really geared toward cutting soft fresh growth on a hedge,” says Leech. The long sharp blades are perfect for shaping hedges and even for topiary design. These have wooden handles and the same high-quality construction that Leech values in Japanese garden tools. Leech says the strong steel blades will hold an edge, but “you have to take care of them” by periodically sharpening. That’s all part of the process that Leech appreciates, and it’s key to getting many good years out of these or any other garden shears.
This type of tool — “sheep shears” — might look a little strange and impractical, but that’s what Leech loves about them. He likes to use something like this on the Cloisters’ hedges and lawns as a nod to the museum’s medieval focus: “You can look back at medieval manuscripts, and one of the ‘labors of the seasons’ that was a big deal, specifically in Northern Europe, would be shearing the sheep, because wool was so important. The gardeners and people who worked the land were depicted doing that.” He says a pair of sheep shears like this is about the closest you can get to the medieval version, and the horticultural staff at the Cloisters sometimes uses them to shape hedges and trim grass. “No one else is crazy enough to do that, but we like our tools to look the part,” he says. (Leech cautions that these do not have a locking feature, so they should always be used with a sheath and probably avoided altogether if child safety is a concern).
A lopping shear — or “loppers” — comes in handy for “larger woody things,” says Leech. “It’s like a big pair of hand pruners that you can use for large diameter branch.” Morrell is partial to Felco “loppers.” For something less expensive, Morrell says Corona “has a good reputation with homeowners.”
Best extendable pruner
The staff at NYBG use this ARS telescoping pruner when they need to cut hard-to-reach branches or trim a high hedge. “It keeps you from having to get on and off a ladder,” says Morrell.
Best garden scissors
“My No. 1 tool is actually something more like bonsai scissors or ‘grape scissors,’” says Leech. “We have a ton on hand all the time,” he adds, because they’re perfect for detail work and trimming flowers.
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