In the spring before you plant, you have to till your garden. It’s a necessity! But what hand tiller should you use? Today we’re going to go over the top hand tillers on the market today, both handheld and long-handled upright models. I’ll tell you about the differences between them both, and help you make the perfect choice for your needs.
A hand tiller is really an essential tool for anyone who does serious gardening, so let’s dive in so you know which to choose!
Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast
Other Good Choices:
- DeWit 5-Tine Cultivator With P-Grip Handle
- Fiskars 79906935J 40 Inch Long Handle Steel Tiller
- Garden Weasel Garden Claw Pro
What Is A Hand Tiller?
For centuries, we’ve known that before you can plant your crops, you have to till the soil to loosen it. Tilling makes the ground softer and easier for young roots to penetrate. While there are no-till methods such as soil layering in use nowadays by contemporary gardeners, most of us still go out and loosen our soil by hand in the spring.
A hand tiller is thus necessary for those of us who work in smaller spaces. Whether it’s handheld for minor soil work, or a long-handled upright tool for deeper penetration, both help to turn and aerate your soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting young seedlings.
A hand tiller can also be used to blend in supplements to the soil such as vermicompost or perlite. It also works great for working in granular slow-release fertilizers or meals such as bone or blood meal.
Sure, you can use a shovel to do the job, but it doesn’t break up the soil as effectively. With a shovel, you end up with large clods of dirt. A tiller will break the clumps up more and mix them well. It’ll also loosen any weeds that might be present and enable you to turn them under or remove them entirely.
Power Vs. Hand Tillers
A power garden tiller can be a fantastic addition if you have a large, devoted gardening space. These machines are incredibly useful and till large areas of soil to a uniform depth. Especially notable is their ability to handle even the most packed of soils, making tilling a breeze.
But there are many instances in which a power tiller just wouldn’t work. In those situations, a hand tiller is what’s required. While it takes more muscle power than a motorized tiller, a hand tiller can solve many problems.
In the average yard, most folks have narrow built-in garden borders. These just aren’t wide enough to require the use of a powered tiller. In fact, using a power tiller in many beds can provide a risk of damage to the bed borders themselves.
Further, most residential areas have a myriad of hidden pipes beneath the surface of their soil. If you have an irrigation system for your lawn, using a power tiller may be risky unless you know exactly where your pipes are and what depth they’re buried at. Similarly, sewer and gas pipes may be a risk.
When To Use A Hand Tiller
There’s two times of year when a tiller should be used: in the fall, and in the spring.
Tilling in the fall can be beneficial if you don’t plan on overwintering crops or planting a cover crop. This time of year is perfect for working in soil amendments such as a thick layer of compost or manure. Over the winter, these materials will continue to break down. By the spring, your soil will be fertile and ready to spur on new plant growth.
Spring tilling of your garden is absolutely necessary. At this time of year, tilling breaks up soil which has been compacted by rain or snow throughout the winter, loosening and aerating it. This makes it simple for the roots of new plants to penetrate and take hold. Further, it makes it easier to plant in, as digging seedling holes will be a simple process in softer soils.
For spring tilling, you should wait until the soil temperature reaches about 60 degrees. Till right before planting your plants so that weed seeds don’t make their way into your prepared soil.
Fall tilling can be done at any time before the wintery cold sets in, but is best done shortly after you’ve harvested your plants. It’s a good idea to lay a thick layer of mulch down over your fall-tilled plot to prevent weeds.
Choosing The Right Hand Tiller
Before you pick a hand tiller, you need to look at the area you need to work.
Both types of hand tillers can make it far easier to loosen the soil around grass or weed roots. This enables you to remove grass and weeds with ease. They also both break up the soil easily for planting or amending purposes. However, you need to pick the one which works best for your particular space.
Is your garden bed narrow and compact? If so, you may want to invest in a handheld tiller.
Some are called hand cultivators. These have a claw at the end of a handle, which will dig deep into the soil and break it apart. A hand cultivator is great for soil which only needs to be tilled a 3-4 inches deep.
Others are shaped differently and are called hand tillers. This variety has a wide blade on one side of its head, and a claw on the other side. Depending on your soil compaction, you can use either side to break it up. These can be used to depths of up to 8-10 inches deep.
A hand cultivator or short-handled hand tiller can also be very useful for those with raised bed gardens. Since the soil is generally less compacted in raised beds, you don’t usually need to till quite as deeply. A smaller tool will do the job admirably.
Larger Spaces or Inability To Kneel
If you have a larger devoted space, or can’t kneel down for long periods of time, an upright model is better.
An upright, long-handled tiller generally has a series of spikes on its base. These spikes are attached to the handle with some form of foot rest to assist in pushing the tiller into the ground. At the top of the handle is a T-type grip. Once in the ground, you simply twist the tiller and it neatly breaks up the soil into loose particles.
A long-handled tiller is fantastic at breaking up clay or compacted soils. Since it’s physically-powered rather than motor-powered, you’re unlikely to damage pipes below the ground’s surface. You’re also far less likely to run the risk of accidentally hitting a thick tree root and damaging it or your tiller. Risks like that exist with a power tiller, and they’re eliminated with a hand version.
Hand Tiller Reviews
Best Hand Tiller (Handheld)
Yard Butler TT-4T Hand Garden Tiller
I have to give it to Yard Butler, they swept the hand tiller category this year. There’s a good reason for this, though. Their tools are built to last and work beautifully.
With this hand tiller, the bladed side will take a deep bite into your soil while the three-tined fork side will break it neatly up. There’s no chance of the head separating from the handle. All-steel construction with a welded connection ensures that no matter how hard you’re working, it will stand up to the task. The size is great, and the tool is comfortable in the hand.
Overall, the Yard Butler offers great functionality for your money. Whether you’re working in a raised bed or in the planter next to your porch, this tool will help you loosen your soil.
Best Hand Tiller (Long-Handled)
Yard Butler TNT-4 Garden Twist And Tiller
I chose this because I own and use one of these, and I swear by it. This is one solid piece of equipment. While there are a wide variety of other similar tools on the market, Yard Butler has provided one which takes the best aspects of all of them and combines them.
I find the construction on this model is extremely good. All steel from claw to grip, there’s no wooden parts to break or weak points. The tines are spaced perfectly for cultivation or tilling, and with a few twists, you’ve taken a hard patch of ground and turned it into loose aerated soil. A wide foot plate allows for adding your weight to help push the spikes deep into the ground.
The grips are very slightly textured and lightly padded to ensure you have a secure grasp. Height-wise, the 36″ length is a good size for most people, although those who are extremely tall might prefer a couple extra inches.
Really, the ease with which this chews up the ground makes it worthwhile. Even when I find one of the potato-like rocks that are scattered through my yard, this will loosen it and help me get it out of the way. It’s the best hand tiller I own, and should be in your tool collection as well.
Other Good Choices
DeWit 5-Tine Cultivator With P-Grip Handle
DeWit came very, very close to stealing the top handheld hand tiller position away from Yard Butler with this cultivator.
What I love about this is that it’s designed to be an heirloom tool. The thick steel tines provide a perfect claw that will cut through the ground like butter. They have nicely-sharpened tips to aid in biting deeply into the soil, and it’s easy to work with. Its P-handle is long enough that you can use it with a two-handed grip to rip out deeply-embedded weeds or to get down into the ground.
But where the longer handle is good at times, at other times it’s also a drawback. Small space gardeners usually don’t require a tool of that length. This can be a bit awkward to use in one of the two-foot border beds that surround many homes, because it’s just a hair too much. The lack of a bladed side also means that should you find something that needs prying up, you may be forced to get a shovel.
As the best hand cultivator, this takes top marks, and I would recommend it every single time. But this doesn’t beat out Yard Butler for the position of best hand tiller overall. Still, it’s a solid and well-crafted tool that would be a great addition to any shed. I know I’d like to get one personally!
Fiskars 79906935J 40 Inch Long Handle Steel Tiller
I like Fiskars. They’re a solid company with a great number of quality tools. But this one just doesn’t quite measure up against the Yard Butler model for a few reasons.
Firstly, the claw’s spike placement is a bit closer together. While that can be a benefit, it’s a major drawback to me as I do have large rocks hidden in my soil. Wider spacing of tines enables me to slide around them, but the narrower space means that I hit a rock and get stuck. I can find myself scrabbling for purchase, trying to get the rock out of the way. That’s a problem for me.
The second issue that I have is in the narrow foot plate. Only your toes can fit in there. There’s not much room for you to put your weight down.
Still, its 40″ length means that even taller users will find this model comfortable to use. Comfort grips offer good purchase, and the tool has a solid weight to it. The spikes are just a hint sharper on the tips than the Yard Butler, and they penetrate easily into softer ground.
If your soil isn’t dense hard-packed clay, and doesn’t have hidden rocks to get caught in the claw, the Fiskars model will serve you extremely well. I think it’s a great tool for the right person. But I still prefer the Yard Butler to this one.
Garden Weasel Garden Claw Pro
Garden Weasel makes great tools. There is no question about that, and I own some of them! But this is an unusual piece, and is great for some gardeners but not all. Let me explain why.
Firstly, it has adjustable tines with three spacing profiles: small, medium, and large. Now, this is good, but it presents a minor problem. To adjust these, they have to have a joint which moves. If you’re like me and you have hard ground, that movement is not a good thing. Shifting tines means you can’t exert as much tilling power unless they’re fully tightened down, and you can feel that slight adjustment in your hands.
Secondly, the foot plate on this juts off to one side. Now, this actually has a benefit in that it’s easier to step down on it from the side rather than in front of you. However, it’s a very small foot plate, and if you have larger feet, that may be a problem.
I love the curved shape of the claw itself. I love that for softer soils, you can adjust it and work smaller or larger spaces. It’s a phenomenal tool for someone who is maintaining an already-worked garden. But if you’re looking for a tool which is able to be used for all tilling situations, the price of the Garden Weasel is far higher than others.
Do I want one? Absolutely. There’s no question about that. But I can only use this in my long-term cultivated beds, rather than for the sun-baked clay that makes up the rest of the yard. For those difficult locations, there’s always my Yard Butler.
When all’s said and done, Yard Butler sweeps the hand tiller category, claiming best hand tiller in both handheld and long-handled varieties. Nonetheless, the other tools I’ve mentioned are also worthy to be in your tool shed.
Have you used one of these before, and what were your thoughts about it? Do you prefer the long-handled version or a shorter tiller? Share your gardening situation with us in the comments and let everyone know what works for you!
Last update on 2018-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API