- What is a Garden Tiller?
- Before You Buy…
- Size of Your Garden
- Common Garden Tiller Questions
- Choosing the Best Tiller for Your Garden
- The Right Garden Tiller For You
Nothing is quite as satisfying as a freshly tilled garden. Unless, of course, your garden tiller isn’t cut out for the job. Tilling with the wrong type of garden tiller can be more than a hassle – it can be a nightmare. The first time I tilled my garden was a sweaty, frustrating, and time consuming disaster.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Tilling your garden can be a rewarding and straightforward task, provided you have the best garden tiller for your needs.
If you want quick recommendations on the best gas or electric tillers, look below. Otherwise, dive into this long article on tillers
Best Electric Tiller: Mantis Tiller 7250
Best Gas Tiller: Mantis 2-Cycle Tiller Cultivator 7920
*These tillers (and more) are reviewed in much more depth at the bottom of this article.
What is a Garden Tiller?
Is your garden actually more like a mini-farm, making a tractor more efficient?
Front Tine vs. Rear Tine
Electric tillers are perfect for small gardens. With an electric tiller, you never need to worry about running out of gas, although you do have to work near a power outlet or have a long extension cord. Electric tillers tend to be less powerful than gas powered tillers, but this is not necessarily a problem for small gardens.
The other thing to consider when looking at tillers is maintenance. Electric tillers start easily without having to pull a cord, and compared to gas tillers they are relatively maintenance free. Electric tillers also tend to be cheaper than gas powered tillers.
Gas tillers pack a punch. These are the tillers you want in your corner if you need to till large areas at a time or if you are breaking new ground. Gas tillers are more powerful than electric tillers and can handle weeds, rocks, and compacted soils with ease.
All that power comes at a price. The downside of gas powered tillers is that they are significantly harder to push and maneuver than electric tillers. Your forearms will definitely get a workout, along with the rest of your body, so be prepared to break a sweat. Gas powered tillers also come with more maintenance tasks than electric tillers, so if you are not mechanically inclined this might not be the right tiller for you.
Cultivators vs. Mini-Tillers
Cultivators are not rototillers, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. Like tillers, cultivators come in gas and electric models, but cultivators are used to loosen the soil in an existing planting area and to weed (think soil maintenance vs. breaking new ground).
The tines on cultivators are not designed to cut as deeply as tillers. As a result, they are easier to maneuver than the average tiller and are perfect for cultivating – just not tilling. A mini-tiller, on the other hand, has the deeper slicing tines of a tiller in a smaller package.
One of the most important distinctions you need to make is whether you need a front tine or a rear tine tiller. Rear tine tillers cut more deeply into the soil and are typically more powerful than front tine tillers. This makes rear tine tillers the better tiller choice for breaking new ground or dealing with heavier soils.
Front tine tillers do not cut as deeply as rear tine tillers, but they are perfect for dealing with already loosened dirt. They are easier to push through slightly loosened soil than rear tine tillers, making them ideal for gardens that don’t require regular deep tillage or for gardeners who till several times throughout the season.
Before You Buy…
Now that you know about the different types of tillers, it is time to ask yourself a few more questions. The first, and for many gardeners the most important question, is about your budget.
What is your budget?
Not all of us have bottomless pockets. Tillers range in price from $200-$3000. The trick is finding a tiller in your price range that does not sacrifice efficiency for economics. Buying a cheaper tiller that is too small or not powerful enough for the job is not worth the investment.
On the other hand, spending hundreds of dollars on a machine that is way too powerful for your small garden is definitely a waste of your funds. The trick is to find the balance in-between.
How big is your garden?
The size of your garden plays a huge role in determining what type of garden tiller to buy. If you have a small garden, consider investing in a smaller, electric tiller instead of a larger, gas powered tiller. If your garden is large, then you want a tiller that is going to be able to run all day and cover a lot of ground, which means a gas powered tiller is probably the better choice.
What type of soil do you have?
If you are lucky enough to have fine, loamy soil rich in organic material and that is relatively weed-free, congratulations. You can get away with buying a less powerful tiller that is easier to use and probably cheaper. If your soil is heavy, clay-based, very gravelly, compacted, and/or full of rocks, then you need a more powerful tiller.
Are you breaking new ground or re-tilling?
Breaking new ground is tough work, which is why you need a tough tiller to help you. If you are re-tilling, then a smaller tiller, front tine tiller, or electric tiller might be enough to suit your needs.
How versatile do you need your tiller to be?
Some tillers come with multiple attachments. If you are looking for a “multi-tool” tiller with other accessories then that will play a large role in your decision making process. Just keep in mind that the same selection standards apply for versatile tillers as they do for stand-alone tillers. Don’t sacrifice quality for versatility.
What manufacturer do you want to go with?
Some gardeners have manufacturers that they know and trust. If you have a preferred company that you have purchased things from in the past, or if there is a company in your area that manufactures good-quality tillers, then the first place you want to look is in their showrooms or catalogs.
Does the manufacturer have a decent warranty or guarantee?
Let’s face it. Anything that you use in your garden is guaranteed to encounter unforeseen circumstances, like very large rocks, buried twine, and a host of other things that put stress on tilling twines, engines, and parts. Warrantees and guarantees protect your investment and give you the peace of mind that most of us like to enjoy while gardening.
Size of Your Garden
Tillers can be dangerous. Use a low gear any time you are operating a heavy tiller on a slope or in loose soil and turn it off immediately if you feel the tiller is getting out of control. When it comes to powerful tillers, machine beats man every time. Don’t try to wrestle the tiller into submission. Instead, take a minute to regroup and start again.
Common Garden Tiller Questions
You should ask a lot of questions before investing in a tiller. Here are the answers to some of the most common garden tiller questions that seem to come up.
Why won’t my tiller start?
Sadly, tillers don’t always turn on when we need them. There are several reasons why your tiller might not be starting. If your gas tiller has been sitting in a shed for months then you might need to clean the old fuel out of the carburetor. Fuel that sits around for months can cause problems, and in a worse case scenario you might need to replace your tiller’s gaskets and diaphragms, so make sure you read up on the best way to store your tiller.
If your pull-string has no resistance and your engine does not fire up, you might have dirt or debris caught in your pawl catcher assembly. Read through your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for the best way to clean this out.
Your tiller also could be out of gas, out of oil, or suffering from damaged parts. If you’ve tried everything you can and your tiller still won’t start, contact the manufacturer or a repair person to investigate the situation further.
Can I turn my backyard into a garden using only a tiller?
It would be nice if all it took to turn your backyard into a garden was a tiller, but tilling is just the first step towards a new garden. Once you have tilled the soil, you will need to prepare it for planting by adding organic material – which you can do as you till – and by shaping the beds, if you prefer a raised bed or square foot gardening method. You also might want to smooth out the soil further using a rake.
Tilling certainly makes transforming your backyard into a garden easier, but do some research into preparing your garden for planting before you start sticking seeds in the ground.
Should I buy a gas or electric tiller?
The decision to buy a gas or electric tiller depends on the size of your garden and whether or not you are tilling or re-tilling, among other factors. In general, electric tillers are ideal for small gardens and gas tillers work better for larger gardens.
How do I maintain the tines?
The best way to maintain the tines on your tiller is to remove the tines after each use and clean them of dirt and debris. Once they are clean, spray the tines and the tine shaft with a light lubricant like WD-40. This will protect the tines from rust and prevent them from freezing onto the shaft.
How often should I replace my fuel filter?
You should replace your fuel filter after 100 hours of running time or every 3 months.
Choosing the Best Tiller for Your Garden
Nobody can tell you what the best tiller for your garden is. I can, however, offer my recommendations to help you find the best garden tillers for 2016.
Best Electric Tiller: Mantis Tiller 7250
The best electric tiller on the market is the Mantis Tiller 7250. This front tine tiller costs around $337.49, making it one of the best tillers for the money out there.
- 3-speed, 540w motor
- 21 lbs
9” tilling width
- 10” tilling depth
- Reversible tines for shallow cultivation
- 5-year warranty and lifetime tine guarantee
- The 3-speed, 540w motor makes it one of the best small garden tillers available
- At only 21lbs, the tiller is light and easy to maneuver
- The 9” tilling width makes it ideal for tilling in between rows and in small spaces
- Foldable for easy storage and transportation
- Easy to use electric start and quiet motor
- The width of the blades (10”) is not sufficient to handle larger gardens
- Make sure you pair the Mantis Tiller 7250 with a heavy gauge extension cord or you might damage the motor
If you have a small garden and are looking for a lightweight, easy to maneuver electric tiller, then the Mantis Tiller 7250 is a great product that comes with an even better warranty and lifetime tine guarantee.
Best Gas Tiller: Mantis 2-Cycle Tiller/Cultivator
If you want both the best gas tiller and the best tiller for the money, then the Mantis 2-Cycle Tiller/Cultivator could be the tiller for you.
- 10” tilling depth
- 2-cycle 21.2cc engine
- 9” tilling width
- 20 lbs
- Gas/oil mix
- Reversible tines for shallow cultivation
- Up to 240 rpm tine speed
- Finger controlled throttle
- 9” tilling width is perfect for maneuvering around tight spots in the garden
- 10” tilling depth is perfect for aerating the soil and loosening the seedbed
- Foldable, making it easy to store and transport around your garden
- At 20 lbs, this tiller is lightweight enough for people with lower fitness levels to use with ease
- Comes with a 5-year warranty and a lifetime guarantee on the tiller tines
- The tines tangle in weeds if the weeds are not mowed before hand
- The drive shafts on the model are sometimes faulty
- The 9” width is small compared to larger models
- The tiller does not have wheels
The Mantis 2-Cycle Tiller/Cultivator is a great small gas powered cultivator perfect for small to medium sized gardens, plus the product warranty and tine guarantee provide consumers with peace of mind.
Best Large Garden Tiller: Husqvarna FT900-CA
- 208cc Briggs & Stratton Engine
- Adjustable Tilling Width - 12, 24 and 26-Inch
- Front Tines
If you have a larger garden, then you need a tiller that doesn’t compromise. The Husqvarna FT900-CA Adjustable Width Front Tine Tiller is by far one of the best mid-grade tillers of 2016.
- 208cc Briggs & Stratton Engine
- Adjustable Tilling Width – 12, 24 and 26 inch
- Front tines
- CARB compliant
- Comes with drag bar and counterweight
- 100 lbs
- 6.5” working depth
- 2 year product warranty
- The adjustable tilling width means that you can cover more ground more quickly without compromising maneuverability
- The drag bar is easy to adjust and helps balance the tiller during different working conditions
- The depth bar is adjustable as well for deeper tillage
- The reverse gear helps you maneuver around and re-till tough areas
- At 100 lbs, this Husqvarna is certainly “husky” and requires strength to operate and maneuver
- The tiller is not very maneuverable when the tines are not engaged
This tiller is a good choice for gardeners looking for a mid-grade garden tiller to break new ground and till existing garden beds. It is not ideal for gardeners with weight lifting restrictions or individuals with low fitness levels, thanks to its size and weight. Husqvarna also carries rear tine tillers for heavy duty tilling that are worth looking into if you are a Husqvarna fan.
The Right Garden Tiller For You
Part of the battle of finding the best garden tiller is knowing what to look for. Now that you know the right questions to ask yourself as you search for the perfect garden tiller, you are well equipped to make an informed decision about the best product for you.
Tillers are a big investment. While all of this information might initially feel like an information overload, choosing the right tiller the first time around will save you money and make gardening easier, more rewarding, and more productive.
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Last update on 2020-01-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API