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by Jim Kelley

In the past few years, pruning has become an increasingly unpleasant chore for me for several reasons. Our garden has grown so large that cutting back our perennials in the fall and roses in late winter has become a very time-intensive effort. In addition, I have developed mild arthritis in both hands, which makes repetitive use of my Felco pruners a painful experience, no matter how well-oiled and sharp they are. Finally, just the time involved - both my wife and I work full-time, and there is never enough time, especially in the late winter and early spring when bad weather can often wipe out all weekend plans of pruning. 

At last count, we have over 200 roses, many of them large climbers, English roses, OGR's and shrubs. In addition, there are over 2000 perennials. The English roses, as all of us know, grow to be quite large, with dozens of canes. In addition, these canes are usually quite long. Pruning just one of these plants can take easily 30 to 45 minutes, if I work steadily. After a weekend of this, my hands by Monday are not in the best shape, and for a dentist, that is not an ideal situation at all. How to come to terms with this? 

The answer for me is the use of a pneumatic pruner. As a woodworker, I was familiar with the use of pneumatic (air driven) tools, and already owned an air compressor for use in my wood shop. There are several pneumatic pruners available for the professional gardener. Most were designed for use in vineyards, large nurseries, and for large-scale plant growers.  However, there are smaller pruners available that can be used for the amateur gardener.

The pruner that I use is Campagnola Super Star, an Italian-made unit sold in the U.S. under the name Maibo. It is lightweight, and the blades closely resemble those of a Felco pruner. The beauty of air pruning is the ease with which the cut is made. A slight touch on the trigger produces a clean cut, with absolutely no effort at all. There is no hand fatigue, and I can very quickly prune a large plant. The average size David Austin English rose takes no more than 5 minutes to prune.

Another plus in air pruning is in cleanup. In my neighborhood, our especially "twitchy" Homeowners Association would have a cow if I piled up my pruned canes and dead perennial stalks in a large compost pile and our private trash service will only take garden waste if it has been reduced to miniscule size, packaged and labeled (I am anticipating a requirement for autoclaved sterilization any day now). Air pruning allows me to stand over a large trash container and quickly reduce all of the pruned material to a small size.

A WORD OF CAUTION: An air pruner is dangerous if not used carefully and properly! You can just as easily cut a finger off as you can cut off a cane, so one must be careful to never use it anywhere near your other hand! My air pruner has a safety switch that automatically engages if you take your fingers off of the trigger, but in my mind, nothing is completely fail-safe.  Brass quick-connectors are available for the air hose, which makes set-up considerably easier.

If you are interested in this pruning method, you will need the following items, in addition to the actual pneumatic pruning shears:

 an air compressor, at least 2 HP (horsepower) and rated at 4 CPM (cubic feet per minute of air)

 a long air hose (I use a 3/8 inch hose, 100 feet in length, heavy duty)

 a heavy-duty extension cord, rated at least 12 gauge (I use a 50 feet length).

My air compressor is a portable Hitachi EC 12, easily moved around the garden. With 100 feet of air line and 50 feet of extension cord, I can reach any and all of the


Anyone interested in where these products can be ordered, please feel free to contact me at, and I'll be happy to provide this information.