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easy does it: lightweight pruning tools (why i’m grabbing snips vs. bigger pruners)

CONFESSION: I haven’t used my pricey, famous-name pruning shears in a few years. No, the garden’s not an abandoned mess; I’ve been making dozens (hundreds?) of cuts daily in season, but not with the usual tool in hand. I’m a convert to sleek little snippers that are variously called grape scissors or needle-nosed fruit pruners, and my well-worn right hand, especially, is thanking me for the easier going.

Why waste energy over-efforting or over-powering a task? A traditional pair of bypass pruning shears might weight 8 or 9 ounces—like 224 or 252 grams—and the fruit pruners weigh like 4, or about 110 grams. Why heft twice the weight while gripping double the bulk, too? Yes, sometimes larger, stronger cutting blades are called for—but often what I am finding is that I can do most tasks with my snips, and if something’s really too big I use my favorite lightweight loppers.

Other than weight and bulk, there is the added bonus of maneuverability in my choice of the smaller everyday shears. This of it this way: Did you ever try to use a regular pair of pliers when a needle-nose was really called for? The fruit pruners are like that, something that proved a real asset the other day when I extracted the oldest wood from the top tangle of a honeysuckle that was twisted around and around onto itself and the porch post, making for tight spots to get into for each cut.

why i love ars pruning tools

My snipper journey—the path of least resistance, away from bigger pruners—began in 2014 with a gift from a reader, who had discovered ones like the orange pair at left in the photo above (now running about $25). I loved those, but then I discovered the even-slimmer, more ergonomic-feeling handles of the two red styles pictured (one has carbon-steel blades, about $20, and the other features stainless steel one, about $30). Note: prices change constantly! All three models pictured are by the founded-in-1876 Japanese company ARS.

Even my heavy, too-big old loppers got sidelined when I found the ARS “vineyard loppers” (above)–just 19ish inches long and barely 1.8 pounds. (There’s an “orchard lopper,” too, like 25 inches if you need heavier duty, but still only 2.1 pounds. That’s about half the weight of my old guys.)

I shouldn’t be surprised that all roads with precision cutting gear—from loppers that don’t weigh a ton but do serious work, to the 4-foot extended-reach pruner and pole saw I have relied on forever—seem to lead to products with their label, though generally it’s not so well-known to gardeners as names like Felco, Corona or in recent years Fiskars–all good brands, but not as trim and light feeling in my hand. At a trade show one recent winter, an ARS dealer had mounted a whole display of their gear, aimed at the arborists and orchardists in the audience, but this old gardener pored over every last item, longingly (and came away with yet another pair of snips).

(Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)

    1. margaret says:

      Great idea to keep the blades in good condition — you are spurring me onward to ever-better behavior, Lisa. : )

  1. Lorraine Tooley says:

    I have been using Fiskars Floral Snips forever. They’re my most used garden tool. I have two on my potting bench and a new spare pair in my cupboard. I’ve also gifted them to at least 10 friends. They are so easy on the hands and perfect for deadheading, cutting and trimming green stems. They also cut through thinner woody stems.

  2. Megan says:

    Yes, I too, set my Felcos aside for the smaller snips. I discovered them a few years ago when I added floristry (not forestry!) to my repertoire.
    So much more precise…snip, snip, snip!

    1. margaret says:

      No kidding, Julie. I have beaten up my hands bigtime in 35 or so years of manic gardening, and a doctor friend was like, “What can you do differently so you can keep gardening and gardening?” Not wasting any effort or overdoing anything is the key. It really helps reduce fatigue to get the tools right.

  3. Heidi says:

    I have a pair of pocket snips from gardeners supply that have become a favorite of mine. Perfect for deadheading, cutting flowers and getting into tight places. I bought them on sale last year and didn’t realize how handy they were until recently. Looks like your shears are in between in size. Hmmmm…might need to pick up a pair.

    1. margaret says:

      The two red-handled ones shown are about 8 inches total length, if that helps, and the orange one is longer (with a bigger handle too) at like 9.75 inches total. I have become addicted to the small ones, which are just so easy in the hand.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Linda. Okatsune, whose snips you link to, is the other Japanese company with great cutting tools, agree. Great stuff.

      1. Mickie Marquis says:

        I am so glad to read this post. As far as these two different Japanese snippers; red or orange handles are easier to find. We must also consider our aging eyes. Snip snip!

        1. margaret says:

          Snip snip indeed. The two models I show — red or orange — each are a different size and shape, and lately I am more into the red ones but the orange show up on the lawn better!

  4. Paula l. says:

    Fiskars may be popular, but they don’t last. I bought a pair when I misplaced my red ones. The fiskars didn’t survive 2 weekends of clearing vines along my fence. Never again.

  5. Jan Small says:

    I use these very same snips for trimming my goats’ hooves every eight weeks or so! I think I’ll buy a new one for the goats and retire the current one to my garden tool bag. Love all your info, Margaret!

    1. margaret says:

      That is hilarious, Jan (and I love goats). Lucky you to have them as companions, though I suspect I would have my hands full explaining to them what not to eat here. : )

  6. Marilyn Wieland says:

    I am a Master Gardener in the beach area of San Diego and I buy 6-8 wonderful light weight, extremely sharp, long needle nose snippers from the 99 cent store each year. Nice little thank you gifts for gardening friends and school garden teachers. Useful at group gardening projects, of which I have many. I keep a pair in my car at all times for those occasional “appropriations”. If lost or left behind, it is not an expensive loss. I suggest, if you see them in the 99 cent store, buy several. They are a seasonal item and go fast.

    1. margaret says:

      Lovely idea, Marilyn. I sent a pair of the ARS ones to my best garden friend this week as a little surprise, and he was delighted with them. Thanks for saying hello.

    2. Mary says:

      I buy them at the dollar store too and I haven’t had to get rid of a pair yet and I’ve been using them for 4 or 5 years. Can’t beat that!!!

  7. Robert Scherer says:

    I love Japanese garden tools from ARS. As for saws, you can’t beat Silky. My all purpose pruner is ARS 140L.

  8. Hello Margaret, I work with Louie at Wave Hill and have written a new book for people who love to build woodworking projects for their gardens. When I saw that you favored a specific tool I thought of one of my projects the Garden Stool/Toolbox would be helpful. “Build It Yourself Weekend Projects for the Garden” published by Princeton Architectural Press includes 12 easy woodworking projects. This book was inspired by the workshops I teach at Wave Hill. Please visit my website http://www.frankperrone.com All the best Frank.

  9. Ginny Ballou says:

    Too funny! I have 7 pair of what I call snips that I use constantly. Have not used my Felco’s in eons. These are so great for deadheading annuals like petunias (yeah, I have them in containers and the new varieties are AMAZING but still need deadheading to thrive. This is the tool I use. Also works great on hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, etc. Lightweight, sharp and gets into tight spaces. Used to only buy from Gardener’s Supply (in orange and green) but found cheaper and just as good on Amazon for $7.95. They also make a GREAT GIFT for gardening friends!!!!

  10. MB Whitcomb says:

    LOL Margaret, if you are worried about hand fatigue…I have severe fibromyalgia but garden day in and day out (care for 10 substantial gardens). My secret? Go smaller yet and high quality. ARS Bonsai scissors with carbon tempered steel. I have accidentally tossed these in the compost and found them years later, and snip, snip, snip. 6.25″ AM Leonard. No wrist strain. Worth every penny. I do keep felcos in my carpenter’s apron, but they are largely unused this time of year. Try them:)

    1. margaret says:

      These snips I use and small in the hand and carbon steel (or stainless — there are two kinds available) and very high quality. Agree with everything you say. Go easy, right? :)

  11. Mary Perez says:

    Discovered the ARS pruners 14 years ago and have loved, used and abused them. (digging tool and cutting large branches) The first one lasted at least 10 years and was able to order a replacement online. Enthusiastically second the recommendation.

  12. Lami says:

    My all-time favorite is also Japanese, the Genzo Ikenobo Flower Arranging Shears 165MM size. Every few years I take them to a professional sharpener. Mostly use them on my roses, but can’t beat the light weight and sense of control.

  13. Marsha says:

    Hello, Margaret;
    I have a question for you and Ken about rhubarb. I have not been successful with it. I have volunteered to keep a garden for a small restaurant. It has a beautiful garden space but it is full of challenges which is actually turning out to be a great learning experience, although frustrating at times. While most of northern Virginia is zone 7, this is zone 8 because it is near the water (the Potomac River). The garden is walled on all four sides, three of them brick, so it gets hot. I am wondering if that is the problem, since my husband told me that when he was in Buffalo, rhubarb grew on the side of the road. Because of that, I ordered it this year from Monticello, which is south of here, thinking that whatever variety grows well there would probably grow well for me. However, I think it is a higher altitude so may actually be cooler. I planted the rhubarb in a raised bed in which the soil was amended, although I don’t know how long ago. The original soil in the garden is very alkaline and hard packed – so no worms, and I can hardly get a fork in it, but I don’t think that affects the rhubarb. It gets about 5 hours of direct sun; everything I read about rhubarb says it needs full sun although just lately I heard it can take some shade. Last year I did have one plant in less sun and two in heavy shade but of the six I planted last year and the six this year, only one is hanging in and I suspect it will be gone also. The leaves turn brown and then the whole plant just dissolves. Would shade cloth help or would that be too much shade? I don’t know what else I can change to make it work.
    Thanks for the great website, podcasts, books, etc. I am a master gardener in Fairfax County, Virginia but I have learned so much from you. You are still my favorite go-to-source.

  14. Lynn Ellen Wolf says:

    I read your words and then realized I had done the same thing. I work in a garden center and my body is wearing out in spots. I love my Felco’s for spring pruning, but they are so heavy. I find that I can get by with a pair of snips for almost everything else. But in my own yard I also arm myself with a Japanese grass hoe. I can “mow” my tiny lawn, reach out and snag things with them and slice & dice the warring vines in my yard (Virginia creeper vs. fall-blooming clematis vs. wisteria vs. Japanese honeysuckle – I will win!). I have bought one for most every gardener I know.

    1. margaret says:

      I am smiling at the image of you “mowing” with the grass hoe, Lynn, and beating back the warring vines. This crazy “hobby” of ours, huh?

  15. Lynne says:

    My biggest problem is not the tool but how to keep from losing it in the garden! Last week I lost my third pair of these snips. I tend to put them down to use 2 hands for something and then if I don’t pick them up right away, I lose track of them. And then sometimes I put them down to do something else or get a drink of water or bathroom break – and unless I’m really
    mindful, I don’t always remember where they are! I think my last pair got carted off to the compost pile along with all the stuff I had clipped with them. So my question is how do you keep your clippers and other small hand tools nearby and easily accessible when you’re working? I’ve tried different tool belts but the ones that are light enough to be comfortable on my small frame tear after a few times of inserting sharp pointed things and the more durable ones are too stuff and heavy for me. I currently carry my hand tools from place to place in a bucket but I still have to manage the pruner when I have to put it down to use both hands for a task as the bucket doesn’t always fit into small spaces where I’m working int he garden. I am desparate for ideas – can’t keep replacing my tools each week! (And I think it’s getting worse as I get older…..)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lynne. I have exhumed clippers, trowels, sunglasses and more from the compost heap over the years for sure. I am pretty methodical about putting down the stuff I am working with in one place while I’m working in each area of the garden, usually near my tarp or weed carier or wheelbarrow (depending what else I am using) so that hopefully I don’t leave stuff behind…but as for other tactics, really you have explored them all: the belt, the carrier, etc. As for tool belts, the only ones durable enough are leather ones for carpenters or the serious leather “holsters” carpenters use fr a few small hand tools, like this. The gardener’s tool pouches/belt are total junk. Shocking, really, that they even sell those nylon/mesh ones that tear in a day. But I am not comfortable with all that serious stuff in the holster on my hip, so I put it on the ground and hope for the best. Sorry not to have a better answer.

  16. Kimberly says:

    These Jakoti Hand Shears are hands down my favorite garden tool ever!! They are light weight, really sharp and amazingly strong. Plus, I can take the blades straight into the ground and use as a weeder. They are a bit long to fit in your pocket but that hasn’t phased me one bit.

    1. margaret says:

      I have a pair of more traditional grass shears, too, but like your Jakotis they are much longer w/a bigger blade than my little snips. I will have to look into this brand; don’t know it. Thanks.

  17. Nancy Weigandt says:

    I love this article Margaret! I have a flower farm on Detroits lower east side and as such cutting tools are essential. I bought a Felco pruners at the start of our business, and promptly lost it, I’m sure it will turn up. I then bought these.

    These babies are amazing, we even used them to divide our approximately 1000 dahlia tuber clusters. This season I went to reorder the same (we’ve expanded) and didn’t take the time to make sure I was getting the same thing (sigh!). Instead what I ordered were the ones you have pictured – the ARS. The difference is significant. The AM leonard needle nose are so much better. They are the same size, but the steel is different. The AM Leonards do not rust or corrode, the strap at the bottom is much easier to use on the Leonards. I have not figured out the best way to sharpen yet, but I’m sure its doable.

    I so appreciate your blog website and you Margaret! Thank you

    1. margaret says:

      I had the AM Leonard ones first, too, but they were discontinued. My favorites now are the red-handled fruit snips pictured, and they come in stainless blades.

  18. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on these nice pruners. I used the link in your post to hop right over to Amazon (just about my favorite place to shop) and ordered the red one.

  19. Barbara Sanders says:

    I’ve been using my new snips for about a week now and I love them. They are replacing my ‘barber’ type scissors that work great but are too long and often would stick out through my gardening tool pouch and sometimes even stick me. Thank you so much for the great recommendation.

  20. mindy says:

    hi m, another voice!:
    these American, Ct. made Florian ‘snippies’–Florian P-450 Fine Nose Pruner –are what I will be buying now, as their feather-light yellow plastic precursors ( 3 pair simultaneously, but keep getting lost!) have been my ‘CANNOT live withouts” since seeing them at a Florian display at the New England Flower Show back when Allen Haskell was undisputed King)some 20 years ago….But the original ones had rubber that closed them but broke with wear, and they have some funky antiquated system of ‘send back your originals with a check for $15 and we’ll send you the new version.” that requires me to tax my memory to find all three!

    All this to say I have not yet tried the new version but I found them here on Amazon and am ordering them now. Yellow, not pink. Hint: I tie a piece of neon orange rubber ‘tape’ through the handles, to make more findable in the jungle that is here more often than not………….

    chapeaux as always to you, the most amazing M!
    mindy

    1. margaret says:

      I have tried the Florian, and just didn’t like the handle shape as much as the even more streamlined ones I settled on, but they are good, yes. I think it’s ideal if one can “try them on” at a show as you did or a garden center that has a selection of models…but not always possible! Thanks for the suggestion, Mindy.

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