The author has worked in conservation and woodland management over many years.
One of the toughest jobs in any backyard or garden is preparing the ground for planting. This is especially so if weeds have been allowed to prosper. A good quality garden tiller is a fine alternative to an aching back.
If you like fresh produce, a tiller will encourage you to get more land in use and more vegetables in the ground.
Tillers also help you to improve soil quality. Not only will a tiller turn soil allowing more water and air to reach roots, it will mix in compost and fertilizer.Experience has taught me that nothing improves yields better than regular addition of appropriate organic material.
Now that I am getting a little older, a quality tiller is essential and allows me to get as much done as I used to do with a spade twenty years ago!
But how to choose the best garden tiller for your needs? This pages takes a look at some of the alternatives.
Garden Tillers, Cultivators, Rotovators and Rototillers
If you are looking for your first garden tiller, it is worth getting some of the confusion that surrounds the equipment out of the way.
'Cultivator' is a general kind of term for usually, pretty big farm equipment used to prepare ground for planting or to control weeds.
Many manufacturers like to use a different name for smaller equipment that does a similar job in backyards and gardens. Some call their products 'tillers' or 'rototillers'.
Having said all this, some makers stay with the term 'cultivator' just to confuse everyone!
How the Different Kinds Work
Garden tillers have 'tines' (steel blades) that cut through soil, breaking it up. On a farm, a tractor pulls an array of stationary tines through the soil, like a plow. Garden tillers have tines that an engine or motor turns to break up the soil.
Most garden tillers are walk behind. Some have powered wheels that move the tiller forward while the tines turn at a steady speed independent of the wheels. These are sometimes called 'dual rotating' tillers like the husky pictured above. More often this kind of machine is called a rear tine tiller.
Other tillers are powered forward by the action of the tines turning in the soil and by arm power! These are called front tine tillers
Dual rotating, rear tine, tillers are easier to operate but more expensive than the simpler front tine tillers..
Power Sources: Gas, Electric, Cordless
- The toughest, deepest-working tillers are gas powered. If you have weed covered ground that has not been turned in years, gas will be your best friend.
- Electric tillers are not to be sniffed at if you can run cables and have manageable soil that needs turning over. There are fewer maintenance issues with electric tools and never any start up problems! A good choice for well established gardens.
- Cordless have great advantages in ease of use but your soil needs to be in good shape if you take this option. A powerful 36V model can give flower beds a once a year turn over fast and can be a good choice for seniors and people with health issues.
Best Gas Power Front Tine Tiller?
Front time tillers are great for more manageable soils, and if you are fit and strong, a top quality front tine tiller will tackle really tough soils too.
Being simple machines they are less expensive to buy and less likely to break.
Mantis Commercial-Grade Tiller, Light and Narrow
The Mantis has been popular with professionals and home gardeners, alike, for many years.
One of the appeals is the light weight. At 20 pounds, pretty much anyone can use it.
It works at two depths -- either three inches or ten inches.
Some people will be put off by the narrowness of the machine. It is only nine inches and that makes it less useful for tackling very large areas. It is one valuable tool, though in narrow rows and smaller gardens!
It has a long warranty which is reassuring but perhaps more importantly, starts easily with push button priming.
Mantis also make a 16 inch tiller for around $600.
Best Electric Tiller?
Troy-bilt, Black and Decker and Greenworks offer the best models. All are front tine models which require less power to operate.
Black & Decker TL10
As soon as you know that hours of back breaking work can be avoided for a mere couple of hundred dollars, these machines become hard to avoid.
I used a similar model to this one for establishing a new lawn and it meant the project was a pleasure rather than a grim struggle with a spade in sweat drenched clothes!
The wheels (not powered) make it easy to get from shed to work place and the 8 amp motor is fine for lighter soils.
It is worth remembering that electric is not only convenient it is quiet, too. If you have pets they will appreciate the difference.
Most Inexpensive but still Useful Machine: The Sun Joe
The Sun Joe 6.5 Amp Tiller is a wonderful, inexpensive, and incredibly popular piece of equipment to help with normal garden tasks.
It will not rip through the roots of well established undergrowth, but it will turn a flower bed or vegetable patch and have it ready for planting in no time.
The simplicity of the design makes it durable and most users find that it can be pushed hard for years without complaining. More than can be said for most hip joints!
Best Rear Tine Tillers?
Gas powered, rear tine tillers will tackle the toughest jobs. As the wheels drive forwards, the tines turn in the opposite direction. This has an especially powerful affect on compacted soils.
The transmission is the thing that can let these kinds of machines down. A cheap rear tine tiller is more to be avoided than a cheaper front tine tiller where there is less that is likely to go wrong.
The general opinion is that Troy-bilt and Husky offer well constructed rear tine tillers that will keep going for years.
Troy-Bilt Super Bronco
Troy-bilt cover the whole spectrum of garden tillers from professional models to inexpensive home owner models.
The Super bronco is a good choice if you have tough jobs in the backyard. The ten inch blades will dig deep and the 200 cc engine has real power.
This is the kind of machine well worth renting to get long neglected ground back into use.
Recent price drops in the Husky product line are making their rear tine tillers very competitive.
If you have a big parcel of land to look after, a Husky for under $600 can be a good investment.
Kept in a garage or anywhere dry, a Husky will give years of service and if you have any kind of problem, the warranties are generous and repairs are easy to come by.
Best Cordless Tillers?
GreenWorks 40V Cordless
Greenworks have the most powerful cordless tiller available (though they call it a cultivator).
The working depth is about five inches and the maximum working width is ten inches.
You get better than half-an-hour run time and a half hour charge will get you back working.
Nice, hassle-free (no cables, no start up problems) machine for light use.
I will be honest, I was not much impressed when I first saw one of these devices. Surely you can do more with a hoe?
Who would buy one?
As it happens, these devices have been pretty popular. People say they bring the fun back to gardening and make weeding a lot easier.
I would recommend these for seniors and anyone who finds bending difficult. You will also need co-operative soil and dry weather. Heavy clay on a wet day will clog it up quick.