Using a tiller is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Tilling breaks up and loosens the soil, which allows it to drain with ease and allows the nutrients to reach the roots of your plants.
In order to till your garden properly, you’re going to need the right set of tools, primarily a tiller or a cultivator. Depending on your garden, the right tiller or cultivator will bring new life to your soil so that your plants can thrive and prosper.
In this post, we’ll explain the different types of tillers and what each of them is capable of doing. We’ll also talk about the different sizes of tillers and where each size can be used, as well as a few useful storage tips, and a step-by-step guide to tilling by hand.
Different Types of Tillers
Before you choose a tiller to get for your garden, you should first consider the different types of tillers available on the market, seeing as each type works best on different soils and in different spaces. There are five different types of tillers you’re likely to find.
Front-tine tillers come in three sizes: large, medium, and small. But even the largest size is more compact than other types of tillers. This means they require less storage space and they’re easy to transport from place to place.
With this type, the tines are placed in the front, as the name suggests, and their width can easily be adjusted. This attribute enables you to till both narrow and wide spaces without any challenge. In fact, a front-tine tiller can get into tight corners like around established flower beds.
Another useful characteristic of a front-tine tiller is the position of the wheels. With the wheels placed at the back, the tiller can be pushed, turned, or reversed easily.
Additionally, the tines and the wheels rotate in the same direction, so the tiller more smoothly loosens and aerates the soil.
Front-tine tillers are most ideal for homeowners and gardeners who have gardens with tight spaces and/or rocky soils. They’re also quite affordable, with prices ranging from $300 to $600.
What’s inconvenient about front-tine tillers though, is that they require some muscle strength. While you maneuver the machine, you’ll need to tip the tines into the soil, control the tilling depth, and move the machine forward. The larger the tiller gets, the more strength it would require.
The position of the engine is another issue. Because it’s usually placed slightly behind the tillers, it might jump or jerk a bit when used to break hard or new ground.
Mid-tine tillers are often grouped together with front-tine tillers because both machines are propelled by the tines, but what sets them apart is the placement of the engine.
The engine of the mid-tine tiller is placed directly above the tillers, which makes the machine much more balanced.
A mid-tine tiller requires much less muscle strength to maneuver, and it gets the job done way faster. It has the ability to turn the soil almost instantly, and the tines are wide enough to till the soil in fewer passes. This is why it’s one of the most maneuverable types of tillers.
Mid-tine tillers are available in large and medium sizes. The medium-sized ones are relatively cheaper and don’t take up much storage space, and they can be easily transported from one place to another.
Nevertheless, most models are designed specifically for tilling large and medium-sized gardens, so they won’t work in narrow areas and may even damage plants if they come near them.
Compared to the price of a front-tine tiller that’s the same size and has the same horsepower, a mid-tine tiller will cost more. They can cost anywhere between $400 and $800. Further, they require more maintenance, given the fact that they’re larger in size and more complex.
A rear-tine tiller is an industrial-strength tiller that’s aimed to be utilized for large-scale gardening projects and small farm plots. Its wheels are situated at the front and the tines are at the back of the machine, and covered to provide protection to the user.
The wheels and the tines are powered independently. While the wheels are powered by the engine, the tines are powered using a forward or reverse rotation mechanism.
As a result, these tillers are the easiest to use because they’re propelled solely by the wheels rather than the tines.
Rear-tine tillers are best to be used on untilled soil or rocky ground because they won’t jump or jerk as they till. Moreover, because the wheels are self-propelled, a rear tine tiller can be held in place while the tines dig at consistent lengths. The forward motion of the tines can also chop compost and mix it with the soil.
With prices ranging from $600 to $6,000, rear-tine tillers are quite expensive as they’re more intricate and have greater horsepower than other types of tillers. Moreover, rear tine tillers are the most difficult to maneuver. They’re quite heavy and large, so they’ll need some serious muscle strength to use, as well as lots of space to store.
Mini-tillers are smaller versions of front-tine tillers. They can handle up to 500 square feet of soft soil, and they’re incredibly lightweight so that you can carry and lift them around.
They’re ideal for raised bed gardens and landscapes. You can use them to remove weeds and loosen the layer under the topsoil. High-quality mini-tillers come with adjustable tilling widths and attachments that can be installed in place of the tines.
There are certain benefits to owning a mini-tiller. For starters, they’re so small and easily maneuvered that they may be used in places where a full-sized tiller wouldn’t fit. They also don’t require much strength, making them portable.
These tillers being lightweight is both a blessing and a curse. They tend to get congested with soil frequently, and any new or rocky soil would wreck them. As a result, they often need some upkeep.
Even though they’re very similar to tillers, cultivators are essentially a different tool and they serve a different purpose. While tillers break up and loosen the soil, cultivators churn and stir the soil that’s been already loosened. Their purpose is to keep the soil healthy.
They’re much easier to maneuver than tillers because they’re lightweight and require little to no maintenance. In addition, they usually cost around $100 and $300, so they’re a budget-friendly option for simple gardening work.
Cultivators aren’t meant to break down hard ground or untilled soil, so make sure you’re using it on an already established garden.
What Size Tiller Do You Need?
Before choosing the size of the tiller, you must first consider the size of your garden. It’ll give you a rough idea of which tiller to get.
Also, try not to go for a tiller that requires more strength to use than you are capable of. Know your own body’s limits and plan around that.
Most tiller manufacturers recommend different tillers for different garden sizes.
- Mini-tillers can till small gardens that are less than 1,500 square feet.
- Front tine and mid-tine tillers are excellent for medium-sized gardens, roughly between 1,500 and 5,000 square feet.
- Rear tine tillers will work best in gardens bigger than 5,000 square feet.
Additionally, as there are many types of soil, there’s plenty of leeway here. As a rule of thumb, the harder the soil, the heavier the tiller you’ll need.
The only way you can guarantee that the tiller you get will last for a long time is to have a proper storage place. Tillers should be stored in a dry, protected area away from weather elements.
During winter, they should be drained completely of fuel and oil, and any mud and plants should be cleaned out.
Any dull blades should be sharpened or replaced, and any loose nuts or bolts should be tightened.
Tilling by Hand
If you’re new to gardening, you may not have access to a tiller right away. Using the double-digging method, you can loosen both the topsoil and the hard soil layer underneath. As a result, nutrients and water are able to penetrate deeper into the ground.
Here are the steps you should follow:
- Dig a 10-inch trench that’s about as wide as your spade
- Place the soil that you’ve dug in a wheelbarrow
- Use a spading fork to loosen the bottom of the trench another 10 inches
- Add compost to the trench
- Dig another trench next to the first and repeat steps 2, 3, and 4
- Mix compost with the soil from the second trench to fill the first one
- Repeat this process until you’ve dug your garden bed
- Mix the soil that you put in the wheelbarrow at the beginning with compost to fill the last trench
Taking care of your garden’s soil is important for your plants’ growth and overall health. Tilling is one of the primary ways you can ensure that this happens.
Most gardeners recommend tilling at the beginning of spring because the soil needs to be dry and warm enough to work with.
You can check by picking up a handful of dirt and squeezing it into a ball. If it falls apart, then the soil is ready. Lastly, make sure the temperature is at least 60 degrees before you start tilling.