Consider These Options to Buy the Right Tiller for You

If you plan to put in a garden, a soil tiller is a great machine to have in your shed. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a soil tiller.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Spring is coming—it’s less than a month away. While some areas will have snow for a while, and frost for a while after that, the impending arrival of spring means it’s time to start making plans for planting gardens and other spring tasks. If you don’t own a soil tiller, you might consider purchasing one to aid in preparing your garden each year. A tiller is a machine that uses rotating tines or blades to quickly chop, loosen and mix soil, a useful ability whether you’re starting a garden from scratch and cutting through tough sod or simply preparing last year’s beds for another year of gardening.

Tillers are similar to cultivators, which are essentially small tillers designed for very small gardens and delicate work in between rows of plants. Tillers might be larger and more powerful, but they vary greatly in size—some models are even designed to be pulled behind an ATV, UTV or tractor, but unless you plan quite a big garden, a smaller stand-alone machine is an ideal choice. But how do you sort through the numerous options to find the right tiller for your needs? Here are a few guidelines to help you.

How Wide Is the Tiller?

All it takes is simple math to know that a wide tiller lets you cover more ground in less time than a narrow tiller. A unit capable of tilling a 20-inch swath on every pass will be twice as efficient as one that tills a 10-inch swath.

But of course, there are trade-offs. Narrower tillers can be powered by smaller engines, making them significantly less expensive. On the other hand, large models usually have wheels and move forward or backward under their own power at controlled speeds, making them easier to use (though not quite as maneuverable).

What Is the Tilling Depth?

Some models can till the soil to a greater depth than others; depending on your needs, this could be a non-issue or a deal-breaker.

Front or Rear Tines?

Some tillers have their rotating tines located at the front of the machine, while others have them in the rear, behind the wheels and closer to the handles. At first glance it doesn’t seem like this should make much of a difference, but as a general rule rear-tine tillers have powered wheels and are stronger and more versatile than front-tine tillers, offering the ability to spin the tines opposite the direction of travel.

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Manual or Electric Starter?

If you’re not a fan of manual recoil starters that require you to pull a cord to start the engine, finding a tiller with an electric starter can save you some trouble.

How Strong Is the Engine?

The strength of a given tiller is determined by the engine displacement, measured in cubic centimeters. A small tiller might have a 25cc engine, whereas larger models might have a 200cc or even 300cc engine. Stronger engines are suitable for wider tillers that can cut through a lot of soil at once, and the added strength also comes in handy for conditions that are hard to work with, such as clay soils or sod.

In conclusion, consider your needs, contemplate these questions, and have fun shopping!

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