In Praise Of Pole Pruners | ACCENT

Two millennia ago, the Roman writer Columella described the vintoria falx, a six -part, special pruning tool for grapes. What a commotion that instrument caused Roman vine growers when it was first introduced!

A more recent innovation in pruning, in the last century or so, was the pole pruner, which is a pruning saw or rope-activated shear blade mounted on the end of a pole. With it, you can work on branches even 15 feet tall while your feet are planted in terra firma.

That’s perfect for people like me who prefer not to work from the stairs.

My pole pruner is covered with both saw blade and shear blade, which makes the pruner not as good as the Columella six-part tool, but useful nonetheless.


The main problem with using a pole pruner is that it is difficult to maneuver the blade at the end of the long pole. The problem is exacerbated by large branches because they require an initial undercut to avoid tearing the skin as it descends; to make that undercut, you have to make the pole against gravity.

Enter the powered pole pruner, an innovation of the 21st century. This tool is, essentially, a chainsaw at the end of a telescoping pole. In some models, the motor or machine is mounted on top of the pole, close to the chain. In others, the motor or machine is at the base of the pole, where you hold the tool, where the turning motion is transferred to the pole with the chain at the end.

Compromises are inevitable when you mount a chainsaw to the end of the pole. A compromise between weight and power, for example.

A powered pole pruner can relieve you of a bit of cutting effort, but you will need to position and hold the motorized saw perched on the far end of a long pole. If you make the jigsaw lighter, it means less power. The cutting bars on these saws are usually less than a foot long.

Electric motors are lighter than gasoline motors, so provide another solution to the weight problem. Battery power looks perfect, except that battery power is limited. A corded, electric pole pruner seems like a good compromise, then, as long as you’re not too far from a plug and have a good extension cord.


A variation on the pole pruner is causing a stir, in my backyard at least. That is the powered pole hedge trimmer, an oscillating trimmer mounted on the end of a pole. These, too, can be gasoline or electric powered.

Why put a hedge trimmer on the end of the pole? For high hedges, of course! A nice feature of most pole hedge trimmers is that the head angle can be varied, a useful feature if you are cutting the top of a high hedge to be flat.

Like stone or brick walls, large fences create bold and respectable shapes that cover and enclose the scene, and direct our eyes and feet to it. Since I got a pole hedge trimmer, I was able to sculpt my 9-foot-high tea crabapple hedge into a green wall with an engraved “doorway”-all my feet were happily planted in terra firma.

Lee Reich regularly writes about gardening for The Associated Press. He is the author of several books, including “Growing Figs in Cold Climates” and “The Pruning Book.” She blogs at He can be reached at [email protected]

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