Shears for gardening
Hand shears cut in the same way as scissors, with edged blades closing onto the material to be cut, and it’s handy to have a pair of these in the shed, ready to tackle soft growth that needs trimming back.
Shears for hedges and other plants
Smaller shears are fine for short lengths of leafy hedge and other soft trimming jobs such as tidying up herbaceous perennials and heathers. But woodier material tends to slide out of small-bladed versions, so larger shears are necessary to give you the leverage and power to snip through twiggy hedges with their thicker harder stems. Very woody material can still escape, so shears with wavy-edged blades (such as Drapers) are the better choice here. But generally, the meatier the shears, the heavier they are, so if you think this will be a problem, look for lightweight shears such as the ARS K1000 (from Burton Mcall), which weigh 650g (that’s about 1lb in old money).
A cutting notch at the base of the blades is also useful for cutting through the occasional thicker twig without having to fetch the secateurs. However, hedge shears are not suitable for cutting back into older wood — it takes a lot of effort to cut material more than 3mm (1 inch) thick.
Trimming hedges soon becomes tiring, so make the work as easy for yourself as possible by choosing shears with adjustable blade tension. This solves the problem of the blades being too tight or too loose. If the blades are too tight, it’s difficult to open and close the shears. When the blades are too loose, they don’t meet and can’t cut material cleanly.
Also, look for shears with shock absorbers in the form of rubber stops or buffers fitted to the handles, because these reduce the jarring each time the blades are closed.
Trimming above waist height really tells you about your arm and shoulder muscles,and although long-handled shears give you greater reach, they are usually heavy, so many gardeners prefer to use their usual shears and stand on steps to reach the hedge top. But if you can track down a supplier of ARS long-handled shears, you’re on to a winner, as these are incredibly lightweight –however we’re not sure if they’re still available in the UK, so let us know if you find out where to get them from. In our notes we have a comment that they weigh 60g but we have not been able to check this.
Long-handled shears are too awkward to use for jobs where you don’t need the extra reach, so if you have many different tasks in mind, but only want one pair of shears, then choose a version with telescopic handles for versatility (eg from Spear & Jackson).
Shears for lawn edges
Lawn edging shears
Long-handled edging shears are made by nearly all the garden tool companies and you’ll find a good range available.
Designed for you to tidy up lawn edges (best done after every mowing session so that the clippings can drop and shrivel unobtrusively), the main points to look for are appropriate handle length, blade length, and weight. Ideally you should be able to edge your lawn while standing upright, not stooping over and getting backache. Shorter blade versions are better for curving lawn edges and are lighter too.
Some gardeners hate lawn edging because they make it hard work for themselves –by opening and closing both handles as if using loppers. A more efficient technique is to hold one handle still (the one connected to the lower blade) and just move the handle connected to the upper blade in order to snip through the grass. Try it and see — t’s faster and less tiring.
You have to bend down to use these short-handled shears, which are specially made to trim grass in awkward places and are also useful for snipping off flowering grasses (that the mower has missed) and for dead-heading flowers in the border. They are easier to use on dry grass, but will cut wet grass if the blades are in very good condition. Most hand tool manufacturers include these in their range.
Grass shears are designed for single-handed use, leaving your other hand free to gather up the material. Basic grass shears open and close in the same plane as the handgrip so you have to twist and turn yourself for different angles; more versatile ones have adjustable blade angles so you can twist them around for vertical lawn edging.
The handles on grass shears are off-set to be higher than the blades so that you don’t graze your knuckles on the ground, but for greater protection, consider Wolf’s range — in addition to having an enclosed handgrip, they are suitable for left- and right-handed use, and have swivel blades.
Looking after your shears
Whatever shears you have and whatever plants you trim, the job is much easier if you take care of your shears.
The sap which builds up on the blades makes opening and closing them more difficult, so wipe them clean with an oily rag after use (and part-way through trimming, if there’s a lot to do). For ease of use and cleaning, consider buying shears with stainless steel or teflon-coated blades. Stainless steel doesn’t go rusty and teflon-coated blades are easier to clean than ordinary ones.
Check the blade tension is correct and oil the pivot point regularly.
Some shears are self-sharpening. If not, check whether one or both blades have a cutting edge, and sharpen that edge at the same angle with a sharpening stone (a whetstone — from Felco, Multi-Sharp, or hardware/DIY shop).