What equipment do you need to start a small-scale pruning/tree care business?

A: A business focusing on pruning work seems a good idea. A number of contractors in the domestic-garden market have told me they are losing work as clients feel the pinch and take over their own garden maintenance. However, while these clients are prepared to mow the lawn, weed the borders and paint the fence, quite often they have not got a clue about pruning shrubs or keeping fruit trees productive.

The success of many cultivated plants is down to their being pruned in the right way and at the right time. If you have the knowledge and experience, then all you need is the right tools.

Start with bypass secateurs or pruners - they provide the cleanest cuts and are ideal for pruning live stems up to about 25mm in diameter. I would also opt for anvil secateurs because they give a powerful action, with the blade cutting down onto a block. The downside is that bruising can occur, so the anvil secateurs are best used where strength is needed for cutting old or dead wood.

For really difficult and tough bits, and to give extra reach for tall material, you might want to look at loppers. A lot of pruners and loppers are now offered with compound action, making the work so much easier.

Ideally, go for secateurs and loppers from firms that supply spare blades. A sap groove will help prevent the blade sticking and, combined with good cleaning habits, can prolong the life of cutting tools. Brightly-coloured handles also help you locate the tools that you have put down among the vegetation. If you intend to take on box and topiary work, you will need specialist clippers. A spirit level is also a good idea.

For general work, you may also need saws. I prefer those that cut on the pull stroke. They are easier to use when working overhead. The blade length should be appropriate for the task.

You can probably attract a lot of high-reach work but, without climbing experience, you will need tools you can use from the ground, such as the long-reach saws and loppers offered by Silky Fox. With chainsaw experience, you could go for a petrol-engined pruner. All the major manufacturers - Stihl, Husqvarna, ECHO, Makita and Efco - offer pole pruners. These will cost more but should pay for themselves relatively quickly as the saw speeds you through the work.

Quality shears will allow you to do small volumes of hedging, but invest in a hedge trimmer if it is likely to be a main area of work. So as not to rely on the client for a mains supply, choose a petrol trimmer or, where noise is an issue, go for a battery model such as that by Pellenc (supplied in the UK by Etesai).

A long-reach petrol trimmer with an articulating head has an advantage whether hedges are tall or short and make topping out a lot easier. Remember, close-spaced teeth and a faster stroke rate give the best cuts on fine hedges.

You will also need personal protective equipment. Thorn-resistant gloves are a must. For overhead work, you should wear a helmet and a visor. Eye protection is also important if using petrol hedge trimmers or pole pruners and ear defenders may also be required.

Finally, think about clearing up. To reduce the volume of waste for transport or to leave compostable material for the client, you could invest in a shredder.

Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 28 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

Email your questions to sally.drury@haymarket.com

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