Everything You Need to Know About Hand and Power Garden Tillers

- And Our Pick for Best Garden Tiller From 7 Likely Contenders

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Best Garden Tiller - Working the Garden

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If you are thinking about putting one or more gardens in your yard, the first thing you have to do is dig up the ground. You can of course always grab a garden fork and start digging, but this can be a long painful process.

A much better way to do this is to invest in a good quality garden tiller. The more you know about these powerful digging machines, the easier it will be for you to buy the right one.

Here we are going to learn more about them and take a look at 7 of the best garden tillers I could find.

There Are Different Types of Garden Tillers

GardenTrax_Mini Cultivator

A small gas powered tiller. Image Courtesy of GardenTrax

As you have probably noticed, there are a number of different styles of garden tiller on the market. These include front tine, rear tine, vertical tine, and mid-tine.

They also come in a wide range of sizes ranging from the mini-tiller used to loosen the soil in flower bed all the way up to massive gasoline powered, rear tined behemoths and those designed to be attached to a tractor.

For our purposes, we are only looking at those designed to be operated by hand.

Garden Power Tillers

Front Tine Style Tillers

With this style of garden tiller, two or more tines are mounted in front of both the engine and the wheels. You can adjust how deep the tines go into the ground, allowing you to control how far into the soil you dig.

The blades of this type of tiller rotate forwards, this means they tend to pull very hard and require significant strength to control. They are ideal for smaller gardens (under 1,000 sq.ft.)

These models are often referred to as “mini” tillers and can be powered by either a two-stroke or four-stroke engine.

Mid Tine Style Tillers

If you are interested in a well-balanced tiller, this style may be the better choice. With this type of garden tiller, the tines and engine are all mounted in the center. Most have two tines as they are intended to be used in light-duty applications.

They are ideal for those who have medical conditions such as back, knee, and shoulder problems.

Rear Tine Style Tillers

As the name suggests, these tillers have the tines mounted behind the engine and wheels. They are available with tines that rotate both forwards and backward based on your personal tastes. Some even allow you to reverse the rotation of the tines for ease of operation.

You can also adjust the depth based on your needs. The rear tine tiller is great for large gardens and softening soil. This type of tiller is the best choice for breaking new ground and is much easier to steer and control. They are more expensive than the others.

Vertical Tine Style Tillers

This style of tiller was introduced by Cub Cadet and is one of the most unique on the market. The tines do not chop into the ground, but instead, work the ground over with an egg beater like motion.

The tines rotate vertically in the soil, giving you soil that is better blended without damaging it. They can be used to dig new gardens or refresh old ones and can get the job done in a single pass.

A Note on Hand Tillers

While powered tillers are great for bigger jobs, what are you supposed to use for those smaller jobs?

When it comes to working around existing plants and aerating the soil around them, nothing comes close to a hand tiller or as they are sometimes called a hand cultivator.

Hand tillers typically consist of three parts:

  • A set of spikes or prongs
  • A wheel with a blade
  • A long handle

The prongs or spikes help the tiller dig into the ground, while the blade on the wheel is designed to turn and mix the soil. Many newer tiller have done away with the wheels and simple consist of prongs you twist in the ground.

The long handle makes it possible for you to stand up while tilling the soil and gives you a bit more leverage. These tools are extremely easy to use and as long as you buy the right one will do a great job!

Garden Tiller Power Choices

While you are thinking about the different types of garden tillers, you may want to consider how you want your tiller to be powered.

For many years, the best garden tillers had gasoline engines, but with advances in technology, you can find them powered by battery packs, solar panels, and electric motors.

Let's take a quick look at the good and bad points of each type of power plant.

Gasoline Power

These tiller range in size from small two-cylinder powered models to those with large, powerful 4 stroke engines.

  • Very powerful and able to work for a long period of time on a tank of gas.
  • Noisy and may not be permitted in certain cities, check with local ordinances
  • Require extra maintenance

Battery Power

These tillers are powered by a small electric motor and a rechargeable battery pack. They are convenient and easy to use. The battery pack means not being tied to a power source, you can go anywhere.

  • Cordless tillers are far less powerful than electric models
  • Batteries have a limited charge duration
  • Quiet operation
  • Not made for heavy-duty work

Electric Power

All you have to do is plug in and go, you can go as far as the cord will let you. They are quiet and ideal for city gardeners with small gardens.

  • Very quiet operation that meets most city noise ordinances
  • Lower power than gasoline models
  • Limited range based on length of cord
  • Environmentally friendly

Solar Power

If you have a small garden that has already been created, a solar powered tiller might be just what you need.

  • Very environmentally friendly
  • Perfect for existing small garden
  • Good for soft soil conditions

Features to Look for in the Best Garden Tillers

When you start searching for the best garden tillers, you will notice that most offer that same basic features. But you may find upgrading to one that includes one or more upgraded features such as those listed below can be a much better investment.

Variable Tiller Depth

In order for a tiller to get the job done, it should have some way to adjust the tilling depth. You should buy one that lets you go deep for clearing new ground or turning over old soil or set it to a shallow depth for weeding and aeration.

Tiller Controls

Before you buy a tiller, take the time to locate all of the controls. You never know where each of them is and how easy they are to get to. The easier they are to reach the less likely you are to have an accident.

Easy Start

If you are buying a gasoline powered tiller, look for one with electric start and easy to reach starter controls. This can save you time and effort each time you go to use your tiller.

Strong Motor

Whether you are buying a gas or electric powered motor, quality is important. Opt for electric motors with ball bearings. Choose four-stroke gas engines with OHV (overhead valves) and cast iron cylinder sleeves as they will last far longer.

Adjustable Handle

We are not all the same height. A tiller with an adjustable handle lets you set its working height, making it easier to control blade depth and control side-to-side motion. This amount of control significantly reduces your risk of becoming stuck in soft or muddy soil or when you hit a root.

Variable Rotation Blades

Opting for a tiller that lets you change the direction of tine rotation gives you more control and makes moving your tiller around while tilling the ground far easier. Forward rotating blades are also self-cleaning, making clean-up at the end of the day much easier.

My Pick for the 7 Best Garden Tillers

Okay so now you have a better idea of what's out there and what to look for, let's take a good look at my pick for the 7 best garden tillers currently on the market.

The Best Hand Tiller Pick

True Temper 4-Tine Cultivator

A Simple 4-Prong Hand Tiller

This simple hand tiller features a 54-inch long hardwood handle with a cushion grip for maximum comfort. It has four curved forged steel tines and is perfect for tilling or aerating even the rockiest of soils.

To help dig into hard soil, the prongs feature sharpened points. It is perfect for homeowners and contractors alike. With no moving parts, this lightweight hand tiller is a joy to work with.

Pros

Cons

Lightweight

Tines might bend under extreme usage

Sharp curved forged steel prongs

Hardwood handle may crack and split if left out in the weather

Strong hardwood handle

Comfort grip may crack over time

The Best Electric Tillers

GreenWorks 27062A G-MAX 40V Li-Ion Cordless Cultivator  

Battery Power Lasts a Full 40 Minutes

This lithium battery-powered tiller has an interchangeable battery pack for longer run times and is highly adjustable to meet your needs. It features 4 adjustable tines that measure 8 inches in diameter and are forward rotating.

It is lightweight and very easy to use. Comes with six wheels that make it easy to move around and to transport. Features a two-step start switch to help reduce the risk of accidentally starting it.

Pros

Cons

Lots of torque

Poor quality tires

Compact lightweight design

Handle has no flex

Easy to assemble

Short battery life

Earthwise 11-Inch 8.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator

Compact All Electric Tiller Handles Light Jobs with Ease

This is a great tiller for use in smaller gardens, the powerful electric motor is perfect for renewing the soil. It starts easily as soon as you pull the lever.

Tilling cut is 11 inches wide and up to 8 inches deep. You can go anywhere in your garden based on the length of the extension cord you use. The powerful 8.5-amp motor comes with a limited two-year warranty.

It is highly maneuverable and the affordable price makes it a good choice for use in smaller gardens and flower beds.

Pros

Cons

Easy to use

Quite heavy at 30 pounds

Easy to assemble

Restricted mobility

Very affordable

Plastic gears

Sun Joe TJ603E 16-Inch 12-Amp Electric Tiller and Cultivator

Small but Quite Powerful

If you are looking for an environmentally friendly way to till your garden this powerful tiller from Sun Joe may be what you are looking for.  

The stout 12-amp motor turns at 340 rpm making cutting into the ground a breeze. A simple push of the button starts a motor that is quiet and offers zero emissions.

It features a total of six extremely strong tines that span 16-inches wide and cut up to 8 inches deep. Perfect for small to medium size gardens and can go anywhere you have an extension cord long enough to reach.

Pros

Cons

Very powerful

Mobility is limited by length of cord

Environmentally friendly

Heavy

Handle folds for convenient storage

Metal tubes are not as strong as the motor 

The Gas Powered Tillers

Husqvarna FT900-CA Adjustable Width Front Tine Tiller

One of the Most Powerful Tillers in its Class

Fitted with a powerful Husqvarna 205 cc engine, this is one of the most powerful gas-powered front tine tillers available. The front-facing tines let you cut through the hardest of soils with ease.

You can choose from cutting widths of 12, 24, or 26 inches. Whether you are digging a new garden or trying to keep up on your current one, this tiller is more than up to the job.

It features an adjustable handle that lets you set the height to make it fit you. The 8-inch wheels make transporting the tiller easy and the drag bar helps the unit remain stable.

Pros

Cons

Very versatile

Does not have electric start

Very durable

Does not have agricultural wheels

Very maneuverable

Does not have safety shields

Earthquake MC43 Mini Cultivator with 43cc 2-Cycle Viper Engine

This is a Small Tilling Monster

This gas-powered tiller is a beast considering its diminutive size. It can handle churning up the soil or tearing out weeds with equal aplomb. At only 35 pounds, the Earthquake is one of the lighter gas-powered tillers in its class.

Despite being 35 lbs., most of the weight is centered over the tines and the front to the machine, making it much easier to control. The adjustable wheels and highly maneuverable design let you work in your garden all day long without excessive arm strain.

Pros

Cons

Good tilling width and depth

Not for beginners

Lightweight design

2-cycle engine not environmentally friendly

Easy to transport

Can be hard to start without optional Hyper Coil

Husqvarna DRT900 205-cc 17-in Rear-Tine Tiller (CARB)

This Rear Tine Tiller is a True Beast

For those of you who prefer a rear tine tiller, this 208-cc powered model from legendary manufacturer Husqvarna may be just what you are looking for.

The Briggs & Stratton motor gives you the torque needed to till the toughest soil. Comes with a reverse gearbox that helps with maneuverability and to make working with it easier. Features power forward and reverse makes operation and transportation easy.

The heavily treaded agricultural tires give you great traction in freshly cultivated or muddy soil. It is perfect for those who have larger gardens.

Pros

Cons

Very powerful Briggs & Stratton four-cycle engine

Some rubber parts may rot when left out in the rain

Large agricultural heavily treaded wheels

No safety shield covering belts

4-cycle engine less polluting

Lightweight frame not strong enough for engine

The Final Cut

Now that you have a better idea of what you should be looking for when shopping for a garden tiller, you know how to pick out the best garden tillers.

Before you buy your new tiller, be sure to take into consideration the size of your garden and how often you think you will need to till it. There is no reason to buy one that is much bigger than the task at hand as all this is doing is wasting money.

Since I have a pretty good size garden, I have a Husqvarna DRT900 and love the way it churns up the ground each spring.

If you have enjoyed reading about the best garden tillers, please let me know.

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