Answer: Anvil pruners cut by pushing a sharp blade against an "anvil" -- a broad flat surface. By-pass pruners work more like scissors, slicing the stem between two sharp blades.
The choice is a matter of personal preference. However, in general by-pass shears and by-pass loppers are recommended by pruning experts over the anvil type. They tend to make a cleaner cut, which promotes faster healing. Anvil pruners crush the stem, leave a ragged cut that will be slow to heal. However, they are useful for cutting back dead plant material, as when you're cleaning up your perennials at the end of the season.
If the branches over one quarter inch in diameter, use loppers for a cleaner cut.
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