Kristen Hicks on May 3, 2017 4 Comments Table of Contents Types of Tillers Factors to Consider When Buying Popular Brands to Consider Anyone with experience gardening knows how hard it is to break ground for a new garden and properly mix and manage the soil over time. If your garden’s at all sizeable (and even if it’s not, really), it can be exhausting and hard on your back, especially as you get older. Tillers make the work much easier. They bring a good amount of power to the job and do most of the work for you, so you can get it done faster and without expending nearly as much energy. For farmers and gardeners, they’re an invaluable tool. If you’re tired of the backbreaking labor of gardening and ready to let a tiller take some of the effort off your shoulders, here are the main things you should know before you choose one to buy. Types of Tillers Your first decision when picking out a tiller is which type to go with. You have a few options to consider based on the level of power you need and the type of work you’ll be doing. Cultivators Many people refer to cultivators as tillers, but they are a distinct category from the hardier garden tillers that are also available. Cultivators are relatively lightweight and affordable tools that are good for stirring soil. Unlike larger, more powerful garden tillers, they aren’t as useful for breaking new ground, but if your garden is already established, they can still make a lot of the labor of taking care of it easier. Cultivators are generally easier to use than tillers, as they’re both more lightweight and available in electric models, which require less maintenance. If your gardening needs aren’t too extensive, they’re an affordable option for simplifying the amount of work you have to do. Garden Tillers Garden tillers are larger machines that bring enough power to break ground, as well as being useful for soil stirring and plowing. These tillers are gas powered and come in a range of sizes, power levels, and costs. There are three different categories of garden tillers, defined by where the tines are placed and how they work. Front-tine Tillers With front-tine tillers, two tines are located under the engine in front of the tiller’s wheels. They’re more powerful than cultivators, but less powerful than other types of garden tillers. Their design makes them easy to maneuver, so they can be especially useful in gardens with narrow rows. You may still have a hard time breaking new ground with these, but they’re great for weeding between rows, mixing soil, and composting. They fall in between cultivators and rear-tine tillers in both power and cost. Rear-tine Tillers Rear-tine tillers are your more powerful option. If you’re breaking ground on a new garden, especially if you have tough soil, this is the type of tiller that will make the job manageable. These machines have large wheels with tines located on the back of the machine. Rear-tine tillers offer a couple of different options for the direction the tines can rotate. Some machines are forward rotating, some counter rotating, and some offer both. Vertical-tine Tillers Not nearly as common as any of the other tiller types mentioned here, vertical-tine tillers are a relatively new option on the scene. These machines have tines that cut forward through the soil, rather than downward like front and rear-tine models do. That makes them faster and easier to use. They work well both for breaking ground on new gardens and plowing and stirring soil on new ones. Factors to Consider When Buying a Tiller Figuring out the right type of tiller to go with is a big part of the decision, but there are a number of factors to consider to make sure you go with the right type and model. Use As the types section makes clear, you need a different level of power to start a new garden from ground that hasn’t been broken than you do for ongoing garden maintenance over time. If you’re buying a tiller for home use and will only need that ground-breaking level of power once, you can probably get by with renting a rear-tine or vertical-tine tiller for your needs and buying a more affordable model for ongoing use. If you’re buying a tiller for commercial purposes though, picking a powerful tiller is likely to pay off in easier, faster work. Soil Type Where you live has a lot to do with how challenging your gardening tasks will be. One of the factors that makes a big difference in that regard is the kind of soil you have in your backyard. If your soil is generally pretty soft and loose, you’ll have a relatively easy time digging it up and plowing it (although it will still take some work). Soil with clay in it is harder and will require more power to manage effectively. And rocky soil requires a special type of tine (chisel tine) to break it up and means you need to buy a tiller that won’t be easily damaged by a flying rock. If you’re unsure if a tiller is a good fit for the kind of soil you have, it’s worth talking to a representative from the company selling it to see if they can answer your questions. Better to do a little extra research and get the best tiller for your needs, rather than hope for the best and get one that doesn’t work well with your soil. Garden Size Many backyard gardens are pretty small and simple and going for a large rear-tine tiller would be overkill. But if you tend a particularly large garden, trying to make do with a cultivator will make the work slower and leave you feeling frustrated. It sounds like an obvious point, but the size of your garden determines how big of a job soil mixing and tilling is each season. A tiller of some sort will be helpful for any size of garden, but smaller tillers will often work best for smaller gardens, while bigger, more powerful ones will be appreciated for large gardens. Power Source Smaller tillers are sometimes powered by electricity, while most bigger garden tillers use gas. Electric tillers are usually lightweight and easier to use than gas ones, and require less maintenance. They come in both cordless battery-powered models and ones that have to be plugged in, which limits your range of use. While electric tillers are easy and affordable, the tradeoff is that they’re less powerful, so if you need a tiller that can do a big job quickly, then a gas tiller is usually the better choice. You’ll have to put a little more work and money into using it, but you’ll save yourself time and energy as a result. Tine Rotation With rear-tine tillers, you have a few options for how they can rotate: Standard rotating tines (SRT) rotate in the same direction of the wheels and are good for soil that’s up to five inches deep. Counter rotating tines (CRT) rotate away from the wheels, which makes them a bit more powerful. They’re good for breaking up tougher soils, like those with clay in them. Dual rotating tines (DRT) offer both options. Vertical dual rotating tines (VDRT) are a powerful option that point downward and turn, which makes them more efficient and quiet than other options. If you know your soil type, then figuring out the right tines will help ensure you can tackle the job at hand with the tiller you buy. Cost There’s a pretty significant range in what tillers cost and one of the biggest factors that influences price is the amount of power a tiller provides. Cultivators are therefore on the low end of the price range, usually costing somewhere between $100 and $400. Front-tine tillers are the next step up in cost at $300-$550. Rear-tine tillers and vertical-tine tillers are at the upper end of the range, costing anywhere form $500-$3,000. Within those ranges a number of additional factors can influence cost. The quality of the brand reputation makes a difference, as brands known to be high quality and long lasting charge more. And having multiple tine rotation options predictably increases the price. For anyone buying a tiller for commercial purposes, if the tiller saves you a lot of time and energy on jobs, some of those higher costs will end up paying for themselves. For home users, spending more on a well-made tiller can save you the money and trouble of dealing with repairs and replacements over time. That said, there’s no reason to spend more for more performance than you need. Many people who want a tiller for their home garden have little reason to invest in a rear-tine tiller, when a cultivator or front-tine option will do all you need it to. Consider your needs and look for the best tiller to meet them. Size Cultivators and other small tillers have the benefit of being easier to store, easier to maneuver and more lightweight. Big garden tillers are more powerful, but finding a good spot to keep them in between uses can be a challenge. If you’re buying a tiller for commercial use, getting a big garden tiller from one job site to the next is a serious consideration. And a big rear-tine tiller won’t be easy to maneuver in a small garden. All that’s to say, size matters and whether or not you’ll be better off with a small cultivator or a big rear-tine tiller all depends on your specific needs and the uses you’ll be putting your tiller to. Storage Even cultivators need to be stored somewhere, so make sure to identify space in your garage or storage shed where your tiller can be kept. With front and rear-tine tillers, you’ll need more space and finding a good spot to store them can be tricky. Before you buy, decide where you’ll be keeping your tiller and clear out a space for it. Ease of Use A number of factors influence how easy a tiller is to use. The power source makes a big difference – electric tillers (especially cordless ones) are more lightweight, easier to maneuver, and require less maintenance than gas ones. But gas-powered tillers can do a big job faster, which makes the overall work easier. A gas tiller with a 4-cycle engine is convenient since you don’t have to worry about mixing gas and oil as you do with a 2-cycle engine. And an electric starter on a gas tiller provides the convenience of easy starting that you get with an electric cultivator. Any type of tiller is likely to make your work easier, but some will be more work to use than others. Safety As with any powerful tool, safety has to be a consideration when you use a tiller. How safe your tiller is will generally have more to do with how you use it than the model you choose. Make sure you read the instructions for any tiller you buy before use and wear the proper clothes and gear (long pants, boots, safety glasses, and possibly ear plugs). Maintenance For your tiller to sustain a long life of use, you have to ensure you provide the proper maintenance. As with safety, it’s important to read all of the instructions the manufacturer provides for your machine and follow them closely. For all tillers, you’ll need to clean the tines between uses and you may need to sharpen the tines from time to time. With gas ones, you also need to keep an eye on fuel levels and refill them when needed. A little bit of ongoing work can go a long way toward making sure your tiller keeps working for years to come. Features and Extras: Forward and Reverse Speeds — Having options for different speeds and directions gives you more control during your tilling. Electric Starter — Gas machines can be notoriously hard to start. An electric starter can save you the trouble of having to mess with it. Adjustable Control Handle — A handle that lets you move your tines up and down and from side to side gives you more control over the tilling process. Popular Tiller Brands For a purchase as significant as a tiller or cultivator, brand reputation should be an important consideration. An established brand that really understands the tiller space and the needs of customers will usually serve you better than one that’s a less known quantity. To help you understand the reputation of some of the main brands in the space, we looked at customer reviews of tillers sold by each. Here’s what people have to say about their experience with various tiller brands. Agri-Fab Agri-Fab’s universal tow-behind tiller gets primarily positive reviews for making work faster and easier and being easy to use. Some reviewers say the tool is better for stirring than actually breaking up a new garden, but most reviewers praise the tiller for making their work more manageable – especially for customers that are getting older. Craftsman Craftsman makes tillers that come in a range of sizes and prices. Their tillers get mixed, but mostly positive reviews. The customers that weren’t happy had a range of complaints such as motor problems and annoying maintenance needs like having to replace parts frequently. But more common are the happy customers who like the power of the tillers, say they handle smoothly, and praise the value for the price. Cub Cadet Cub Cadet’s another brand that mostly earns positive reviews, but has some detractors amongst their customers as well. Most customers say they’re happy with how powerful their tiller is, like that it starts easily, and say it’s easy to use. Some customers say their tillers aren’t great for breaking new ground and are easily destroyed the first time you hit a rock. Reviews vary a bit across models, so check the reviews of the particular Cub Cadet tiller you’re considering to get a feel for what to expect. Earthquake Earthquake sells an array of cultivators and tillers that earn strong reviews from customers. Their products get praise for being powerful, versatile, and easy to handle. A few customers complain about their tillers being hard to start or having parts break, but they’re in the minority. The majority of customers are satisfied with their Earthquake tillers. Greenworks The electric tillers sold by Greenworks consistently satisfy customers. Reviews say they’re powerful enough to turn soil well and easy to use and clean. Customer reviews suggest that if you’re interested in an electric tiller, Greenworks is a solid choice. Honda Honda offers tillers in a wide range of styles, types, and prices. Reviews for their tillers are routinely positive. Customers say their Honda tillers are high quality, easy to use and control, quiet, and powerful. Five-star ratings are common, suggesting you’re in good hands if you go with Honda. Husqvarna Husqvarna’s tillers are well reviewed by customers happy with how powerful and easy to use they are. They say their tillers are workhorses that can do big jobs, they’re quiet, and they’re easy to assemble. Several customers complain about the instructions that come with the tiller not being all that helpful, but even most of the people who mentioned it were happy overall with their purchase. Reviews point to Husqvarna being a good choice. Mantis Mantis sells a wide range of tillers that have a strong reputation for quality amongst customers. Customers say their tillers are easy to put together, easy to start, and easy to use. They also say they’re powerful and till effectively. Reviewers have a lot of praise to give to Mantis and very few criticisms. They’re clearly a reliable brand to go with. Troy-Bilt Troy-Bilt offers a variety of tillers that earn mixed but primarily positive reviews. Many customers praise their tillers for being powerful, lasting a long time, and being a good value. A few have a variety of complaints, mostly about particular parts of their tillers not working and needing to be replaced soon after purchase. Most customers are happy and the brand overall has a reputation for building products that last a long time. Conclusion You don’t need just any tiller, you need one that’s the right fit for the kind of work you’ll be putting it to. Consider your garden, your soil, and the types of uses you want your tiller to be able to take on. The right tiller can save you a lot of work and energy, while helping you keep your garden well maintained and successful.