Although in colloquial language, scissors and shears may be used interchangeably, in specialized fields, there are differences, and the two terms do not always mean the same thing. It is important to understand the terminology when considering garden tools. In the world of crafts and sewing, scissors generally refers to an implement that is no more than 6 inches (15 cm) in length, with both “bows” –- the holes for fingers –- identical in size. Shears, on the other hand, refers to an implement longer that 6 inches (15 cm), with one of the bows elongated to make room for two or more fingers in order to provide more leverage.
Garden scissors usually look very much like craft scissors or shears. Their handles are designed similarly, and they have long, thin, straight blades that bypass each other as they cut. Sometimes, the only obvious difference between garden scissors and craft scissors is in the packaging and instructions. In fact, there are a number of multipurpose scissors designed for both crafts and garden use.
Garden scissors have many uses. They can be used to harvest herbs, such as chives and parsley. They can be used to deadhead flowers on plants that benefit from the operation. Garden scissors can be used to prune dead leaves if the stems have a thin diameter, and to cut fresh flowers. They can also be used to cut garden twine and open bags of fertilizer or mulch. Garden scissors are also used for shaping bonsai and topiary.
Garden shears, on the other hand, are generally more heavy duty implements. They may have a bypass or an anvil design. Often, the former have heavy, curved blades, while the latter’s blades look something like a parrot’s beak. Even when the blades are more scissors-like, the handles often aren’t, having squeeze handles like those characteristic of pruning shears, or long straight handles like hedge shears, neither of which design features finger holes. This is true whether one looks at pruning shears, grass shears, hedge shears, thinning shears, or lopping shears.
There are exceptions to the above descriptions of both garden tools. Some garden scissors have features usually associated with garden shears. You may find examples with curved blades, or you may find garden scissors that have one handle with a finger space, and a thumb side with a squeeze handle. Others have double squeeze handles, like those seen on shears.
Of all the kinds of garden shears, those called floral shears are most often designed like garden scissors. They are more likely to have bows, and may have blades that are remarkably like craft scissors, though often they are serrated. Because the features associated with each name vary, it is a good idea to be careful when choosing scissors or shears.