How to Select the Right Tiller for You
Anyone who has spent hours turning over soil in a garden has likely considered purchasing a tiller at one time or another. The right tiller can save you hours of backbreaking work. Here are some things to look out for when choosing a machine for your garden.
There are basically three different types of tiller:
- Mini-tillers or cultivators $250-$350
- Mid-size front-tined tillers $500-$750
- Large rear-tined tillers $800-$2000
To choose which model will best suit your needs, consider the area to be tilled and how compact the soil is.
Mini-Tiller or Cultivator
For most home gardeners, a mini-tiller, also commonly called a cultivator, will be adequate. Inexpensive, lightweight, and manageably sized, mini-tillers are great for use in small spaces and a good choice for gardens less than 1,000 square feet. Because of their light weight, most models don’t have wheels. With a tilling width as little as 6 inches, they are easy to use near existing plants, between rows, and in raised beds. Be aware that these tillers are best used in soil that is not terribly compacted, as they aren’t heavy enough to force the tines into the ground.
A step up in size and function, front tine tillers have forward rotating tines that will pull the machine forward. These generally have rear mounted wheels to allow you to push the tiller from one location to another. Front tine tillers are good for gardens of less than 5,000 square feet. A good front tine tiller will work well in loose or lightly compacted soil, but tend to skip over difficult soils rather than dig into them.
These are powerful machines with tines located at the rear and motor powered wheels in front, which pull the tiller forward. The largest and heaviest option, rear tine tillers are the best choice for large gardens more than 5,000 square feet or compact and stony soils. Because they are so large and heavy, they can be very difficult to maneuver and aren’t easily used near existing plants or in tight spaces.
You can choose an electric powered or gas powered engine. Electric engines are quiet, lightweight, and eliminate the need to keep gas on hand, but you have to deal with an extension cord. Gas engines are more powerful, but are also noisier, and can be difficult to start.
Extra Features and Considerations
Look for safety features such as anti-kickback, protective engine and tine guards, and safety switch starting systems. Other useful options include noise reduction features and self cleaning tines. Don’t forget to measure the tiller width and consider how wide you want your rows to be. Models come with widths ranging from 5 inches to 30 inches and while some are adjustable, most are not.
Before you buy, it is a good idea to rent the model you like for a day. Use it in your garden and see how it works for you. Is it easy for you to start, transport, and maneuver? What about the noise level? Always check tiller reviews online and see what customers who have bought this model have to say.