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Main Content

How to Pick the Right Power Tiller

Power Tillers

A tiller will make fast work of turning your garden.

A power tiller is a useful tool to own if you have large areas to till, such as plots for new flower beds, or if you want to create and maintain a vegetable garden. Whether you're loosening the soil to reseed a yard or routinely turning over a garden, a tiller will make fast work of what would otherwise be time-consuming labor. But power tillers come in a variety of sizes and types, and it's important to understand their differences so you can make the right purchase.

power tiller

How a Tiller Works
A power tiller is basically a set of blades (called tines) that are mounted within a wheeled housing and are powered by either a gasoline engine or an electric motor. Each tine consists of four blades curving in alternately opposing directions. Blades one and three are curved pointing in toward the tiller; blades two and four are curved pointing away from the tiller. The inward-pointing tines keep the clods of soil and grass from accumulating on the blades, while the outward-pointing tines are the heavy cutters. They all work in conjunction with one another to dig into the soil aggressively, all the while moving soil away from the tines to avoid clogging them.

The Three Tiller Sizes and Types
Power tillers are divided into three general categories based on the type of work they accomplish:

  • Mini-tillers or cultivators
  • Mid-sized front-tine tillers
  • Large rear-tine tillers

Mini-tillers are best used for herb or vegetable gardens that are smaller than 20 sq. ft. and for soil that is relatively loose and free of stones. Because mini-tillers are lightweight, they are ideal for gardeners with limited strength, and their narrow profile makes them perfect for tight areas such as spaces between vegetable rows.

Mid-sized front-tine tillers are more powerful than mini-tillers and are better suited for compacted or rocky soil. Propelled forward by the spinning tines as they cut into the soil, these machines can be a little trickier to handle than a mini-tiller or a rear-tine model. But their lighter weight makes them a better choice for most home gardens and moderate tilling work.

Large rear-tine power tillers are the heavy hitters of the tiller category. They're best suited for large areas (such as an entire lawn that is being reseeded) where you have plenty of room to maneuver. Because the tines in these types of power tillers are positioned behind the wheels, the wheels themselves propel the tiller forward. As a result, rear-tine tillers are easier to control when working in a straight line and they're often equipped with a reverse gear. But because they're larger, they will take up more space in a shed or garage, a factor to consider if storage is at a premium.

To select the power tiller that is best for you, match the tiller's capabilities to the type of work you're most likely to be tackling. It's usually best to purchase a model that's slightly bigger and more powerful than what you currently require, so that as your needs expand, you'll have a power tiller that can handle the increased demand. In the long run, a power tiller will be a great investment.