man using a garden tiller

How to Choose a Tiller and Pick the Right Size of Tiller

If you’ve spent any amount of quality time on gardening discussion forums, you know that a tiller is one of the most common tools being used to cultivate the earth in your garden. But…what is it used for? We have all the answers so you can begin using a garden tiller within your own garden.


What is a Tiller?

A tiller is one of those tools that you see digging into the ground. It is capable of working the land a lot easier than you can do manually. Whether you are starting a compost pile, planting grass (or crop) seeds or want to get rid of weeds, you can run the tiller across the land. Metal blades will dig deep into the dirt to tear it up so that it’s prepped for whatever you want to do with it.

The best tillers can be powered manually or with engines (electric or gas). The size of the land you need to work and how strong the dirt is will determine what kind of tiller you need. Regardless of what kind of tiller you get, they all have the same basic function – metal blades will rotate, working the dirt up and around.

What is a Tiller used for?

Aerating the soil is an important task when it comes to planting. Since a tiller will mix the dirt around, it ensures you get the help that you need. It makes it easier for you to give your plants better soil conditions.

There are a few major benefits to tilling:

  • You can loosen up the soil to get better soil conditions
  • You can balance water retention
  • You can reduce the number of weeds

Small garden rakes and such are fine if you’re dealing with topsoil. However, dense soil can be extremely difficult to work with. Before you even think about planting anything in the soil, you will need to break it up. It will allow for the passage of oxygen, water, and nutrients. Even the hardest packed mud and dirt can turn into porous planting soil if you till it properly.

Additionally, when you have a significant amount of weeds, the easiest solution may be to break up the root systems using a tiller.

Without a tiller, you aren’t going to break up the land. It means that if you drop seeds, they may just stay on the surface. They won’t have the ability to sufficiently penetrate the ground. Additionally, plant roots may suffocate because of not getting enough air within the deeply packed soil.

Fall & Spring Tilling

Now that you know what a tiller is used for, you will want to learn when it’s time to use such a tool. There are two seasons in which it is beneficial to till – fall and spring.

Makes it easier for you to mix all of the leaves and dead plants into the ground. They will break down so that you have better soil for the spring. Sod and weeds that you till in the fall months will decompose, giving all of your plans an extra boost of nitrogen. If you have any natural yard compost or twigs around, this is also a great time to tell them into the land so that you are better prepared for planting in the spring.

You do want to make sure that you till in the fall and not in the winter. As soon the temperature drops below 60°F, the land may harden too much and you may risk damaging your tiller.

In the spring, Tilling allows you to prep the land so that you can plan to. It’s a good idea to till at least two or three weeks before you plan on doing any major planting. Every time you till the land, microorganisms are disturbed and recovery time is necessary.

In order to boost your soil and planting conditions, you may also want to add manure, store-bought topsoil, or other fast-relief fertilizers when you begin tilling.

The Difference Between a Tiller and a Cultivator

A quick glance, you may think that a cultivator and a tiller are the same tools. While they both feature metal blades that dig into the ground, there are quite a few differences that you should know about.

A cultivator will loosen any soil that you have in an existing planting bed. It is a great way to work the area and mix compost into the soil. Cultivators tend to be smaller and a bit easier to maneuver. If you’ve got great soil conditions already, a cultivator will be able to tackle the job.

Although there are different types of tillers, these are designed to be used when you need to break up harder soils. They can be as large as you need them to be – and although they can be difficult to maneuver, plenty has electric and gas-powered options to give you a helping hand. Additionally, they are capable of covering a lot more ground, ensuring that you don’t have to spend hours going back and forth across your yard or garden.

The features can vary between cultivators and tillers, so it is worth doing some research before you buy one. Knowing the kind of work you want it to do will make the decision easier for you. Often, tillers are the more versatile option.

Types of Tillers

You can’t go out and buy just any tiller. There are many different options in terms of size, how they’re powered, and what kind of soil/dirt they’re good for. By knowing more about the tillers, you can decide which one is best for you. Additionally, it may be advantageous to have more than one type of tiller if you have various types of gardens or landscaping on your property.

Mini Garden Tiller (Lightweight)

A mini garden tiller is going to have a small motor to make it easier for you to break up the land. There are many available, and many are cordless with batteries that you can charge. Others make have a cord or require gas. The tilling dimensions can vary, though most are around 9 to 10 inches in width. If you’ve got a small space that you need to till but need more than just elbow grease, a mini garden tiller can be the lightweight and affordable option.

Front Tine Garden Tillers

A front-tine tiller is the most common tiller that’s on the market. The tines that rotate are in front of the wheels. When you have a larger landscaping bed to work with, this is going to be a great solution. As you push this, it will rotate the tines and dig into the ground. They’re lightweight and easy to maneuver. The motor is usually a 12-amp, so it’s able to dig into the dirty quite a bit, though it will not be the best option if the ground is nearly solid.

Rear Tine Garden Tillers

When you have a larger space that you need to till, you will want to look at a rear-tine tiller. These have engine-driven wheels that can work to cultivate and weed. The counter-rotating tines go in the opposite direction of the wheel, providing torque to help you with breaking up stubborn soil. Depending on the model, some will offer dual-rotating tines so you can get more work done.

Tow Behind

A tow behind tiller is capable of tilling larger plots of land. You can attach it to a garden tractor, riding mower, or an ATV. It’s a great investment that allows you to get more done in less time. It can be used to loosen your soil, prepare the ground, and mix in fertilizer and compost. While these can be expensive, it can cut down on the time of walking around your property for hours with some of the smaller tillers on the market.

Electric Tiller

An electric tiller provides you with some power without having to deal with the sound of a gas-powered tool. Plus, you won’t have to worry about always having the necessary gas mixture on hand. There are a few options with an electric garden tiller, including corded and cordless. Corded options are great if you have a small space or a long enough extension cord. Cordless options make it easier for you to cover more ground, you just have to make sure you have a sufficient charge on the battery. The type of engine available in an electric tiller can vary. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the amps and the speed (RPM).

Hand Tiller

A hand tiller is going to be your typical, run-of-the-mill garden hand tool. Most have long handles so that you can stand while you’re using them. There is no motor, so they work based on you providing a twisting motion. If you don’t have a lot of hard-packed soil, you will find that this works fine. It’s great for raised beds and flower boxes – plus it’s going to be the most affordable option.

Consider the Features

You will want to read the product description of any tiller that you are considering. This way, you know what it is capable of handling. Additionally, you may want to explore a few features:

  • Fuel mixture required
  • Ability to reverse
  • Type of terrain it is ideal for
  • How many tines are present
  • Whether it folds for storage
  • Tilling dimensions

By reviewing the features, you can ensure that you get a garden tiller that works for your land and is easy enough for you to use. Tillers can cost under $20 all the way up to hundreds of dollars, so be sure the one you buy meets your needs.

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