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Fall cleanup is right around the corner, so now is a good time to inventory your gardening tools.

If you're still using the pruning tools you picked up when cleaning out Uncle Frank's garage years ago, it's time to check out some of the new technology that has improved the efficiency and ease of cutting.

The basic set of pruning tools most gardeners need include hand pruners, long-handled loppers, a pole pruner and a pruning saw. And don't forget a sharpener.

Heavy wood and steel handles are being replaced with space-age plastics and aluminum that are lightweight, yet extremely strong. These tools are easier to use and reduce the muscle fatigue in hands, arms and shoulders that plague many folks and take the joy out of yard work.

Ratcheting mechanisms that cut in a series of squeeze and release actions allows gardeners with minimal hand strength to cut thick branches with relative ease. Power-gearing mechanisms also increase the cutting force without having to employ brute strength.

The blades on inexpensive pruning tools are easily chipped and dulled, resulting in rough cuts that damage plants, leaving them vulnerable to disease. And it takes a lot more effort to prune with dulled blades. Metallurgical advances in the forging of steel have resulted in the manufacturing of better quality blades that stay sharper longer. Teflon and titanium coatings reduce resistance, help prevent sap buildup and discourage rust.

Corona and Fiskars manufacture top-quality pruning tools with international reputations for integrating innovative design with state-of-the-art materials. In addition to brand names when choosing pruning tools, indications of quality include replaceable blades and lifetime guarantees.

One of my favorite pruning tools is the feather-light 5-foot Pruning Stik by Fiskars, priced under $50. Weighing less than 2 pounds, this pole pruner, with an adjustable head that rotates 240 degrees, is perfect for those who want to avoid stooping, bending or climbing ladders when pruning. It's razor-sharp hard forged steel bypass blades are powered by a sliding handle Power Stroke cutting action that makes removing branches a breeze. The Pruning Stik Extendable model, priced at $99, reaches to 12 feet.

Log on to the following websites to take a closer look and get information about these and other top quality pruning tools and call to find retailers in your area: Corona: coronaclipper.com (800) 847-7863, Fiskars: fiskars.com (800) 500-4849.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Friday's in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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