Taking cuttings? Know how to sharpen secateurs so they’ll survive 

Keep your cutting tools sharp and at their peak performance.

Once you’ve chosen a new pair of secateurs, the most important thing is to look after them. And even if you’ve got an old, battered pair, it might not be too late to revive them.  

If you don’t look after your secateurs their performance is going to dwindle. Covered in sap and plant debris, they’ll become sticky and blunt, resulting in secateurs that are hard to prise apart and give a poor cut. They’ll also need replacing more frequently, so investing your time in maintaining them and keeping them sharp will save you money.

A pair of secateurs with open blades covered in dirtCredit: Shutterstock/Horst-Koenemund
Blunt blades will give a poor cut and will damage your plants

But why is it important to keep secateur blades clean and sharp? “It’s much easier to make a clean, healthy cut on a plant if your blade is sharp,” says Rainer Schubert, managing director at Burgon and Ball. “A blunt blade can crush or damage the stem, as it struggles to complete the cut, and this wound then leaves the plant vulnerable to infection.” 

A dull blade can also cause a problem when taking cuttings. Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society), says that “cut ends won’t callus and form roots.” 

Apart from giving a clean cut, sharp secateurs also make pruning easier, reducing the strain on hands and wrists. That’s a bonus if you struggle with arthritis or have limited hand strength. 

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How do I know if my secateurs need sharpening?

Take the paper test

You should be able to tell from the cut if your secateurs need to be sharpened. Instead of making a clean, easy cut, your secateurs will struggle and leave a broken stem behind. However, if you’re not sure, John Myers, head gardener at the National Trust’s Ham House and Garden, recommends a simple test that you can do to check if they need sharpening. 

“Sharp secateurs should easily cut through a piece of paper,” he says, “so test them by snipping through a sheet.” 

If their performance in under par, it’s time to get sharpening.  

person holding a pair of secateurs feeling the bladeCredit: Shutterstock/eleonimages
Test the sharpness of your secateurs but cutting through a piece of paper

How to sharpen secateurs

Follow our five easy steps

You’ll be pleased to discover that routine sharpening can be done without dismantling the blades, making the task somewhat quicker and easier. Here are our five simple steps on how to sharpen your secateurs. 

Five steps to sharper secateurs

Before you can sharpen your secateurs, you’ll need to give them a clean to get them ready for sharpening. See our article on how to clean secateurs and follow our step-by-step guide.

Spray the blades with a small amount of oil.

“Using a diamond whetstone,” says Barter, “rub the flat side of the blade first to remove any burrs, but don’t sharpen the edge. Then sharpen the angled side by carefully grinding the edge until it is very sharp.”  

He also shares a top tip: “Some people blacken the edge with a marker pen,” says Barter, “so you can see if any parts are missed – any sharpened parts will lose the blackening.” If you’re sharpening anvil secateurs, you’ll need to sharpen both side of the blade. Anvil secateurs work by the cutting blade landing on a flat solid base, whereas bypass secateurs work in the same way as scissors.

Wipe the blades with a cloth to remove any debris.

Spray the blades with a maintenance oil to help prevent rusting, then wipe away any excess oil with a clean cloth. 

Which type of oil is best for secateurs?

Household oil will do

Japanese secateur manufacturers, Niwaki, recommend camelia oil for its own brand of carbon steel secateurs. Although any standard oil will do, such as a household vegetable oil or olive oil. 

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Top tip

For serious gardeners, Barter suggests carrying a pocket diamond sharpener, this will allow you to sharpen your secateurs throughout the day, helping to maintain a consistently sharp edge on your secateurs.  

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Tip 

“Buy a pair of secateurs from a brand that provides replacement parts,” advises Myers. “You’ll be able to replace a small part without buying a new tool.” 

He’s certainly taken his own advice: “I still have the secateurs I trained with, and they will hopefully keep on going with a few spare parts here and there.” 

Give your secateurs an annual service

It’s a job for a rainy day

Barter suggests its good practise to give your secateurs an annual MOT. To do this, you’ll need to dismantle them and give all the components a thorough clean. Where possible, and if needed, he suggests replacing the blades. “It’s an annual winter day job that is very satisfying,” he says. 

However, how you dismantle your secateurs will depend on which type you have, as all secateurs are not the same.

Woman pruning pink roses with secateursCredit: Shutterstock/Taras Grebinets
You’ll get the most out of your cutting tools if you use the right tool for the right job

To keep secateurs sharp, use them for the right jobs

Always ask yourself, “would loppers be better?”

To protect the life of your cutting tools, the best advice is to use the right tool for the right job. You can’t expect a pair of secateurs to cut through thick branch, but they’re perfect for pruning perennials or deadheading roses.

“Keep your secateurs for fine work and use long-handled loppers for heavy work,” advises Barter, who also suggests,Keep a cheap pair of secateurs for dirty jobs, such as root pruning, that might spoil good quality secateurs.” 

What is root pruning? 

Root pruning is the process of cutting back long roots to encourage a tree or shrub to form new roots closer to its trunk. 

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Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

Published:

With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.