Secateurs – king of gardening tools

Pruning the asparagus foliage.

Pruning the asparagus foliage.

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Secateurs are arguably the most important piece of equipment in a gardener’s possession.

True, the spade is also used through all four seasons, but nowhere near as often as this tool, which fits into a handy holster attached to the belt and gives license to resolve at a snip any disputes unruly plants cause. It prunes shrubs according to type, cuts down dead stems or live flowers for vases, detaches all manner of cuttings from parent plants. I’d be lost without mine.

Summer snipping began way back in July as the first flush of roses faded and continues to this day. Look down a stem for the first sound bud below a spent bloom and prune just above it. Constant ‘dead-heading’ persuades them to keep forming new flower buds and ultimately seeds in order to perpetuate the species.

The same principle applied to summer annuals, in conjunction with watering and feeding, ensures that all our bedding displays last longer.

As growth took off in the mixed border, plants with aggressive tendencies quickly displayed their true colours, smothering neighbours. This can be avoided by allowing adequate room for development at planting time, but it’s always tempting to cram in too many. So from July onwards the secateurs have worked overtime in controlling plant growth, allowing each variety the space to shine.

There was a definite need to prune on a daily basis in the greenhouse throughout summer. From the moment embryo bunches of grapes appeared on the vine all laterals had to be stopped. This is to concentrate energies into the developing fruits rather than support further unproductive growth. But a one-off snip is not enough. The vine persists. To avoid rampant shoots and the risk of mildew vigilant pruning continued.

Tomato vines are just as demanding. The side shoots are easily taken out with finger and thumb when they’re small, but secateurs or a sharp knife are necessary for any over ten centimetres. Clean cuts reduce the risk of disease, bruised stems increase it.

The reducing of lateral shoots on apple trees in early August was not just about ensuring developing fruits got a lion’s share of available nutrients. It also encourages the young growths to embrace maturity with next year’s crop in mind. I prune each side shoot back to 20cm, then follow up with the definitive snip in deepest autumn, leaving three fruiting buds.

But not all the debris from pruning ends up in the composting bin.

Flowering stems of shrubs, annuals and herbaceous perennials are collected for vases throughout the main growing season and beyond. Good, sharp secateurs will take them all in their stride.