How to buy the best garden tiller

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in Tillers

The author using the best garden tiller for the job

Here I look at buying the best garden tiller for your particular needs.

I have to say that I love using garden tillers, or rototillers, as they are very often called. That’s me using one on the right.

For me, as a gardener, the beauty of these machines lies in the speed at which you can prepare large areas of ground for planting – and getting to the planting is what I like best.

I know that there may be some purists who say that a true gardener should dig the soil by hand. And I understand that point of view.

But when you have large areas to prepare and all you have is your spade, your fork and the strength in your body, it takes a lot of time and fortitude to get the job done. So, in those cases, give me a garden tiller, every time.

Of course, you can also use these machines for other ground preparation jobs, like loosening soil that you need to level. Again, if you’ve got a lot to do or hard compacted soil to deal with, you will be grateful for one of these machines to help you.

Quick recommendation: If you are looking for a good all round, mid-size rear tine tiller, the gas powered Troy Bilt tiller, the Pro-Line FRT, is a great choice. This tiller derives its power from a high class Honda engine and is a very well regarded machine. Read our detailed review of this Troy Bilt tiller here.

Garden tillers will do a lot of hard work for you and they can save you a significant amount of time and effort. However, choosing the best model for your needs isn’t always straightforward, I’ll, therefore, cover the main points to look out for below.

First, though a quick word about terminology. You’ll see these machines described in several different ways, both by users and manufacturers.

So, what I’m covering here under the broad descriptions of garden tillers or rototillers, you may also see described as roto tillers, cultivators, rotavator, rotary tillers or power tillers.

To some extent these different descriptions are related to the specific type of machine or the use it might be put to. But, generally they do the same basic job.

The essential garden tiller buyers’ questions (the EBQs)

Choosing the right piece of power equipment requires you to ask yourself the proper questions. Here are the garden tiller EBQs:

  1. How big is the area you intend to till? If you intend to use the tiller for light work such as getting a small plot ready for an herb garden, you will not require the biggest, most powerful machine available. However, if you plan to use the tiller regularly and/or to dig up lawns and prepare larger garden plots, you might need a larger, more powerful machine.
  2. What kind of soil needs to be tilled? If you are lucky, you may have a lovely soft loam. If you are not so lucky, you might have especially stoney or gravelly soil or clay that bakes hard in the sun. If your soil is tough and unforgiving, then you should probably look into gas powered, high-horsepower, rear-tine tillers. If the soil is soft and easily manipulated, then you might be able to get by with a smaller, front-tine machine.
  3. Will you be tilling existing garden areas, or breaking new ground? If you only intend for your tiller to be able to maintain existing plots, then a smaller, less powerful machine will do. However, if you are breaking new ground, a larger unit will be more appropriate.
  4. How much versatility will you require from your tiller? Most garden tillers are equipped to do one job and do it well. That being said, some machines, such as the Mantis tiller models are set up so that you can attach different implements for other tasks. These jack of all trades tillers are usually front-tine models, so they are not the most powerful, but they are terrific if you need a machine capable of completing a number of tasks, or if you are challenged by space and budget limitations. Some common attachments include de-thatchers, edgers, plows and aerators.
  5. What is your budget? Depending upon the style of tiller you require, the prices can range from less than $200 to over $3000. Generally, you will want to get the most machine for your money, but you should also avoid buying a tiller with unnecessary features.
  6. How much work are you willing to do? The purpose of purchasing a tiller is to give yourself a break from the intense labor involved in doing tilling or cultivation jobs by hand. That is not to say that a tiller will do all the work for you, though. In fact, most tillers will still require you to exert some effort in order to operate them. Certainly, tillers will do the majority of the work, but if you are going to use a smaller tiller for larger jobs, be prepared to break a sweat. But be aware that you’ll need a fair bit of strength to handle the larger machines too.

Best garden tiller: front tine electric model

Electric front tine garden tiller

Types of garden tillers

There are several different types of garden tillers available.

At the low end are inexpensive, electrically-powered tillers which are designed for very light work. These are available in corded or cordless versions.

Next up are gasoline-powered rototillers.

First come the cultivators or mini tillers which offer a bit more power for slightly tougher jobs. These machines feature front-tine designs, meaning that the tines are located in the front of the machine, and they are responsible not only for tilling, but for pulling the unit forward, as well.

Mid-size, front-tine tillers are also available. These machines are suitable for even larger jobs that require more earth to be turned. Like the mini tillers, these machines rely on the tines for propulsion, but the tines are larger and the engine sizes for these units are bigger, also.

Finally, rear-tine tillers with big, gasoline-powered engines are also available. These units have drive systems separate from the tilling apparatus, so there is less work involved in propelling them. These machines may feature front rotating or counter-rotating blades. The latter are more aggressive and can be more effective at digging up the soil. But they are harder to control and can be more dangerous. Additionally, these units are able to till deeper and handle rocky or clay soils more effectively.

Best garden tiller troy bilt

Troy Bilt Pro-Line FRT, gas powered rear tine garden tiller

Summing up

If you have big plans for your yard, you will probably need the help of a garden tiller to realize your vision.

There are many types of tillers available, however, so you will need to carefully consider your needs.

It is important to ask yourself the right questions so you can get yourself the right machine rather than the one that shouts loudest from retailer’s web pages. You also want to avoid purchasing an inadequate tiller just to save some money.

By asking yourself the OutdoorPowerBuddy EBQs, you can shop confidently for the tiller that will give you years of ideal use.

Recommendations

Gas powered rear tine tillers

If you are looking for a good all round, mid-size rear tine tiller, the gas powered Troy Bilt tiller, the Pro-Line FRT, is a great choice. This tiller derives its power from a high class Honda engine and is a very well regarded machine. Read our detailed review of this Troy Bilt tiller here.

Tiller cultivators

To my mind, as an owner of one of their models, Mantis probably makes the best tiller cultivators you can get. These are small, easy to use yet powerful units and come in 9 inch, 16 inch, 2-cycle and 4-cycle models. Read our full run down of the Mantis Tiller range here and our full review of the 2-cycle Mantis rototiller models here.

Electric tillers

Undoubtedly one of the top electric tillers available today is the Mantis electric tiller. This tiller has an impressive 15 amp motor, 4 tines, 240 rpm tine speed and 3 speed operation. Read our full Mantis electric tiller review here.


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About the Author

Martin Cole is editor and publisher of outdoorpowerbuddy.com, as well as a couple of other related websites. At heart he is a gardener, but appreciates the value of using the best power equipment.

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