There are two basic designs. The more popular type, bypass secateurs, cut like a pair of scissors; one blade passes another, unsharpened blade. The second type, the anvil design, has a single blade which cuts against an anvil, or block. The bypass secateurs are designed to be more suitable for soft stems that would be crushed by the anvil action. The panel found secateurs of both types that they liked.
Your choice of secateurs will depend on the type of gardening job you need them for - while several pairs would cope very well with light dead- heading, only some would be up to slicing through thick woody stems cleanly and easily. Our testers also added a note of caution about cheaper models, which work well when brand-new but might not last as long. "They seem good value, but buyers should realise that they deteriorate rapidly and go rusty," said garden designer Sharon Farnham.
Mary Keen, gardener, designer and Independent on Sunday gardening writer; Sharon Farnham, garden designer; Amanda Horton, housewife, and Edward Poultney, journalist, both keen amateur gardeners.
The panel tried the secateurs out on light and tough stems, and gave them marks for how cleanly they cut, how comfortable they were to hold, how easy to use, and value for money.
*BULLDOG MEDIUM BYPASS SECATEUR 0706
These secateurs cut very cleanly but were uncomfortable to hold. Sharon Farnham's comment was typical: "A very good cutting action, let down by poor handle design. The handles were a bit too square and the lower one slippery." Other comments about the handles were "too large" and "very heavy". As a result, the panel thought this pair poor value for money. "Very expensive for what it is," Mary Keen commented.
****FELCO CLASSIC 8
Professionals swear by the Swiss-made Felco - and the price matches its reputation. Our panel thought they were by far the best at achieving a clean cut. Mary Keen said: "I may be prejudiced as I use these all the time, but they are outstandingly better than any other secateurs. Double the price they may be, but they will last 10 times as long as any other pair and can be sent back to be mended for a reasonable sum." Amanda Horton commended the long slim blades, which allowed her to reach such out-of- the-way places as the centre of thorny bushes.
But Sharon Farnham, while praising the superb grip and smooth, comfortable action, found that "surprisingly, they didn't cope with tough stems any better than some of the other bypass models at half the price". Available for left-handers too.
*****GARDENA BYPASS SECATEURS 215S
These were popular, and unlike some could tackle substantial jobs successfully. They didn't cut as well as the Felco pair but were comfortable, easy to use and only half the price. "Good-looking and easy to hold, in a good colour for finding out of doors. The cutting blade was not as strong as the Felco but a good secateur," commented Mary Keen. Edward Poultney was enthusiastic about the left-handed version (the 215SL) that he tried. "What a treat - there are four lefties in this family. Easily the best of the bypass secateurs. They have an effective non-slip grip, suit all hand sizes and have a good cutting spread," he said. A drawback is that they lack a notch for cutting wire.
*SPEAR & JACKSON
RAZORSHARP 2 MEDIUM BYPASS SECATEURS
The panel liked these secateurs least of all - although they cut cleanly, the design made them awkward to use. They were uncomfortable too. "The surface of the handles is slippery, so the grip is poor. They have a stiff cutting action and the opening of the blades is small and difficult to position around stems," said Sharon Farnham.
Amanda Horton found the catch was fiddly to operate with one hand. "They also need to be forced open to their fullest extent to prune thicker stems," she said. Despite such drawbacks, Edward Poultney didn't find them too bad: "I could have lived with them happily if I hadn't met the opposition," he said. Also in small and large sizes.
***B&Q BLACK FORGE
Not a bad pair of secateurs, especially considering how cheap they are. Mary Keen recommended them as very good value if you just want to prune and dead-head roses, although she added: "Perhaps they are not up to the heaviest work." Amanda Horton agreed. "This pair were perfectly adequate on thinner-stemmed bush roses and young green tree-stems. But when I tried them on thick stems they got stuck."
A basic model in a small size, lacking the comfort grip that is a feature of more expensive Gardena secateurs such as the bypass pair in our test. This model was not quite as popular as the other but the panel found it easy to use and good value.
However, these secateurs were Amanda Horton's favourite: "Something about the secateurs made it feel as if they were doing all the work, not my hand. Maybe the small, stubbier blades had a more precise cut. The colour, a vivid turquoise, is excellent - easy to spot from the house if left on the lawn, while the safety catch is bright orange and easy to operate with one hand," she commented.
Mary Keen observed that they were very small for anyone with a large hand. "For light work only," she said.
***WILKINSON SWORD CLASSIC MEDIUM BYPASS PRUNER
These were easy to use, light and comfortable, but most of the panel did not find them effective on tougher stems. "Some thick rose-stems proved too much for this pair of secateurs - a strip of wood was left behind, which could lead to die-back," Amanda Horton reported. The safety catch was also a bit tight, but Edward Poultney liked the catch because it was the only one designed to be used by both left- and right-handers. It has a sap groove to prevent clogging, and a wire cutter. Available in large and small sizes.
**ROLCUT SWING ANVIL PRUNER
The manufacturer claims that this model's swing action makes it up to 25 per cent easier to use than a conventional pair, and thus particularly handy for elderly people or gardeners with weak hands. The blade swings up towards the anvil, making sure the twig or branch to be cut is correctly positioned.
However, our panel didn't find them particularly comfortable or easy to use. "Workmanlike, old-fashioned-looking, all parts replaceable. Good value for money," commented Mary Keen.
This pair would come low down on Edward Poultney's shopping list: "None of the members of my family liked these. They were left aside by each one of us after a quick trial."
***SPEAR & JACKSON SELECT RACHET ANVIL
Another model designed to be suitable for gardeners who are elderly or have weak wrists. The user clicks three times; once to cut a notch; secondly to cut more deeply; and on the third click the stem should be cut right through. The panel found them easier to use than the far more expensive Rolcut pair.
"Cuts without great effort, perfect for the gardener with fewer muscles," said Edward Poultney, who gave them his highest score. He added: "These had the lowest price and were the biggest success. They are easy to hold and have the simplest lock, but I'd pay a bit more for a non-slip grip."
Sharon Farnham found that the anvil action squashed soft stems. On the other hand, others on the panel found these secateurs a bit small and flimsy for really heavy-duty pruning.
Bulldog: telephone 0942 244281 for stockists; Wilkinson Sword: B&Q, Homebase, Texas and some garden centres; Gardena: larger garden centres and Selfridges, London; Spear & Jackson: phone 0114 2449911 for stockists; Black Forge: branches of B&Q; Felco: phone 0116 2340800; Rolcut: available from hardware shops and garden centres.Reuse content