A good pair of secateurs is an indispensable tool for a gardener. I can’t think of anything else that I use in the garden more frequently. In this post I’m going to explain what differentiates a good pair of secateurs from a bad pair and tell you which ones I use and recommend.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I did a post about secateurs and didn’t explain what the heck secateurs are. Just about everyone, including the companies that sell and market secateurs, call them “pruners”. I get it. But since this blog is designed to educate and inform, I’m going to use the correct terminology:
So, good from bad, what criteria should we use to judge secateurs? In my mind there are just a few things–they need to be sharp and able to hold an edge, they need to be sturdy, and they have to be comfortable for the user.
Sharp and able to hold an edge
Dull secateurs are extremely frustrating to work with, and they will inflict damage on your plants.
Several years ago, my garden mentor and I were walking through my garden and he decided to show me how to prune a particular shrub. He asked for my secateurs, which I handed over to him.
A look of horror crossed his face.
Then I got a lecture that went something like this “Would you want a doctor to do surgery on you with a knife this dull? When you’re cutting a branch you’re cutting through the skin of a plant. Do you want a clean cut or do you want to hack at it and rip it all to pieces? A clean cut doesn’t leave room for infection—the tree can heal it. These things (motioning to my now disgraced dull secateurs) will rip the cambium and strip it—how is the plant supposed to heal over that? You might as well chew the branch off as use these things.”
Any time since that he’s asked for my secateurs you can be sure they’ve been sharp!
To be clear, in this case the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have a quality pair of secateurs; the problem was that I wasn’t sharpening them regularly. But I’m telling the story here to illustrate how important it is to the health of your garden to have sharp secateurs.
As to dull secateurs being frustrating—well, try cutting something with a pair of sharp secateurs and then use a dull pair for a few minutes. The difference will be clear.
Of course, all secateurs are sharp when you first buy them. Keeping them sharp depends on you sharpening them but also on the quality of the metal used to make the blades. When you sharpen the blade, will it hold the edge? Or is the metal so soft that it’s chewed up with a couple cuts? Can you replace the blade or other parts of it when they eventually do wear out or an accident befalls them? For me, I’d rather be able to replace components on one quality pair of secateurs than buy a brand new pair every year (creating more landfill) because the blade is toast.
I’ll be writing a post on how to sharpen your secateurs soon.
A good pair of secateurs won’t fall to pieces when you try to cut a branch that’s just a little bit too large (they may get stuck in it, but they won’t disintegrate). I’ve seen lots of cute little secateurs, often with floral prints on the handles, sold as “gifts for gardeners” or even in the “garden aisle” at the dollar store. Usually, these are just a waste of money. Pretty? Yes. Practical? No.
As with clothing, fit is everything. Using a pair of secateurs that are the wrong size or weirdly shaped will make your hands sore. A pair that’s too small will make you feel like you’re using a pair of kids safety scissors with adult hands. A good fitting pair of secateurs should give you a sense of being in control—they’re an extension of your hand.
My recommendation for the best secateurs
Any pair of secateurs that matches the above criteria for you, is a good pair of secateurs. Depending on where you’re at in your gardening and financial journey, your choice may be different from mine.
Personally, I use Felco brand secateurs (Note: I do not have a relationship with Felco and this post is not sponsored by them.) They have several models that differ in size and type of handle, and offer some designed for left handed gardeners as well as right. Mine are the Felco #8* for right handed people. Just about every part on them can be replaced, and I have replaced both the spring* (mine sprung off into the garden one day, never to be seen again, when I dropped them at a bad angle!) and the blade* on mine.
I’ve had my Felco’s for about 10 years and I expect to have them for at least another 10. They are not cheap, but on a cost per use basis, over 20 years, I think they’re good value. I asked for them for Christmas one year, on the recommendation of one of my instructors in the college horticultural science classes I took. He taught us what to look for in a pair of secateurs (and yes, he also drilled into us the difference between the terms pruner and secateur), and told us that he used Felco secateurs. He also named another brand of similar quality, whose name I have long since forgotten. Felco secateurs are not the only right choice–if you find a pair of secateurs that meets the criteria above for you, then buy and enjoy them! The purpose of this post was just to show you what to look for in a good pair of secateurs.
*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are Amazon affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.