Aerate Your Soil and Prep Your Garden for Spring With One of Our Favorite Tillers (2024)

Tillers use a gasoline- or electric-powered engine to move rotating blades through hard soil, breaking the dirt into smaller pieces. A tiller aerates the soil and makes it easier to plant seeds or transplants. Aerated soil allows crop roots to grow faster and deeper than they would in compacted dirt.

Gary McCoy, a Lowe’s manager, says there are a few factors to consider when shopping for a tiller. “When choosing a tiller, consider what jobs you need it to do,” he says.

There are large, gasoline-powered tillers made to dig new planting beds into sizable swaths of compacted earth, and lightweight electric cultivators for weeding or mixing compost or fertilizer in existing garden beds. Many tillers have adjustable blades that allow you to loosen garden soil at a range of depths, McCoy says.

What We Researched

  • Tine Position: Tines or blades can be on the front of the machine or in the rear. The location impacts the tines’ tilling power.
  • Power Source: Tillers can be powered by electric motors or two-cycle gas engines.
  • Weight: Heavier tillers break ground with less effort than lightweight ones, but lightweight tillers are easier to push.
  • Tilling Depth: This is how deep the tines go into the soil. Depending on the model, tillers and cultivators can work the soil at depths ranging from 4 to 8 inches.

Our Top Picks

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Best Cordless Electric:

Greenworks Tiller at Amazon ($299)

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Why You Should Get It

  • The outer tines can be removed for tilling in tight spaces, and the tiller comes fully assembled.

Keep in Mind

  • With an engine displacement of only 25cc, this tiller is best for established gardens with finer soil.

Our overall choice for the best tiller is the Honda FG110 25cc 9-Inch Front-Tine Tiller, which allows you to customize the machine to your ground conditions and space limitations. The four-stroke engine starts easily, and the machine can also cultivate if you remove the drag bar and move the machine back and forth, giving you a two-for-one tool.

Another great feature is the ability to adjust the tine configuration. For larger spaces, you can opt for the regular configuration, which will till with a width of 9 inches. If space is tight, you can remove the outer tines to create a tilling width of just 6 inches—a great option for tilling in between established plants.

"The machine's commercial-grade toughness has a heavy-duty drive gear and a front engine guard for adding protection. In addition, the ergonomically-designed controls are user-friendly for easy operation." -Gary McCoy, Lowe's store manager

The machine also arrives fully assembled, which means zero time is needed to assemble it, and it's relatively easy to move since it's compact and weighs less than 30 pounds. It comes with a limited lifetime tine warranty and a two-year residential warranty, in case you run into any hiccups along the way.

Keep in mind that this tiller, which has an engine displacement of 25cc, is best for tilling existing gardens with finer soil, not churning up rough ground to create a new bed. But it's a great choice for most gardens since it's easy to maneuver around obstacles, transport from bed to bed, and store in a small garden shed.

Product Details: Power source: Gas | Engine displacement: 25cc | Weight: 29 pounds | Tine position: Front | Maximum tilling width: 9 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 8 inches

Key Terms to Know

  • Cultivator: This is a smaller, lighter machine used to loosen soil in an existing area or work fertilizer or soil amendments into the earth.
  • Tiller: This is a larger, more powerful machine that’s used to loosen compact soil in a new bed or a big plot of land.
  • Tines: These are the blades on a tiller or cultivator.

Why You Should Get It

  • Its wheels adjust to three different heights, and the handle is collapsible for easy storage.

Keep in Mind

  • This electric tiller requires an extension cord and outdoor outlet for power; it does not have a battery.

Not every garden requires an extra-large tiller. If you have an established small garden or are a beginner to gardening, a small electric tiller should meet all of your needs—and at a fraction of the cost.

Our choice for the best option on a budget, the Sun Joe TJ604E Electric Garden Tiller has a 13.5-amp motor to help you efficiently prepare your beds for planting as well as aerate the soil.

Its tilling width of 16 inches is just as wide as the more expensive Earthquake 33970 Victory Rear Tine Tiller below, although it doesn't till quite as deep (just 8 inches).

A wider tilling width allows you to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. We also like that you can adjust the Sun Joe tiller's wheels into three different height positions to accommodate various ground types. For those with small storage spaces, this tiller is relatively compact to store due to its collapsible handle.

Keep in mind that this electric tiller needs an extension cord and an outdoor outlet to supply power, so you'll want to make sure that your garden bed is within reach of an extension cord before purchasing. You'll also need to be careful that you don't accidentally run over the cord when tilling.

Product Details: Power source: Corded electric | Motor power: 13.5 amps | Weight: 27.1 pounds | Tine position: Middle | Maximum tilling width: 16 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 8 inches

Why You Should Get It

  • It’s big engine means it tackles tough soil with ease. It’s self-propelled to make it easier to push, and it can be set to rotate its tines forward or backward enabling it to do a range of tiller tasks.

Keep in Mind

  • It weighs 269 pounds.

If you’re looking for a powerful tiller, the Troy-Bilt’s 450 Series Mustang Tiller is our top choice. It has dual-direction tines, which means it can be set to rotate tines forward or backwards.

Forward-rotating mode is ideal for tilling soft soils or established beds, while backward (or counter-rotating) mode can till new beds or hard soils. This tiller also has power reverse to make it easier to maneuver around rocks or obstacles.

Its 13-inch steel tines can dig up to 7 inches deep and 18 inches wide in one pass, making it the second widest tiller on our list. It can be adjusted to five height settings to allow for a range of tilling depths.

Rear-tine tillers like this one are generally more powerful and expensive than front-tine tillers, but they can prepare new ground or loosen compact, rocky soil with ease. “Rear-tine tillers are best for larger planting areas,” McCoy says.

This tiller has a 208cc engine displacement that’s powerful enough to break through hard dirt, so it can till clay soil in medium- to large-size gardens. This model also is self-propelled to make it easier to push and maneuver as you work. It has 16-inch diameter tires with an aggressive tread that help the tiller gain traction in loose soil.

Keep in mind this tiller weighs 269 pounds and will require more strength to transport and control than smaller tillers, so make sure your physical ability is a match to this size of tiller.

Product Details: Power Source: Gas | Engine Displacement: 208cc | Weight: 269 pounds | Tine position: Rear | Maximum Tilling Width: 18 inches| Maximum Tilling Depth: 7 inches

Why You Should Get It

  • This tiller is a two-in-one garden tool, converting from a tiller to a cultivator. It also has the widest tilling width of the picks on our list, allowing you to cover more ground in one pass.

Keep in Mind

  • It's 75 pounds and may be a bit heavy to maneuver.

If you prefer gas tillers over electric machines, the Earthquake 20015 offers both versatility and an extended reach to help you make the most of your time in the garden. This two-in-one machine can be used as a tiller or cultivator, which are relatively similar yet work very differently.

"A cultivator is good for loosening the soil in an existing planting area, weeding the area during the growing season, or mixing compost into soil. On the other hand, a tiller is a gasoline-powered machine with a greater working width than a cultivator, which is what makes it a great option for heavier jobs." -Gary McCoy, Lowe's store manager

Without any extra tools, the tiller can be converted from a front-tine tiller to a cultivator in just seconds by removing the shields and outer tines. You also have the option to choose between 11-, 16-, or 21-inch tilling widths to cover more ground at once or to navigate between existing rows of plants. The tiller can reach a depth of up to 11 inches.

It's worth noting that this tiller offers the widest and deepest reach of all the tillers on our list, but it's also hefty at 75 pounds. It may not be the best choice if you plan to regularly load it into a truck bed to transport it around your property.

Product Details: Power source: Gas | Engine displacement: 99cc | Weight: 75 pounds | Tine position: Front | Maximum tilling width: 21 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 11 inches

Related: The 9 Best Wheelbarrows for All of Your Home and Gardening Needs

Why You Should Get It

  • The included 4Ah battery provides up to 40 minutes of runtime.

Keep in Mind

  • Its maximum depth is 5 inches, which is less depth than most of the tillers on this list.

If you want an electric tiller option that won't keep you tethered to a cord, the Greenworks 40V 10-Inch Cordless Tiller is our top pick. It allows users to move freely around big or small outdoor spaces and has a battery life of up to 45 minutes, which should be plenty of time to till most small- to medium-size garden beds. But you can also purchase an extra battery for more runtime.

The tiller's four durable adjustable rotating tines have a cutting width of 8 to 10 inches and a depth of 5 inches, which, while less than other tillers on this list, should get the job done in established garden beds. It can also till and cultivate, depending on your needs.

Other electric benefits this tiller brings to the table include an easy push button start, none of the fumes that come with gas models, and very little required maintenance.

The manufacturer says the Energy Star-rated tiller's battery can also recharge for as little as $0.04 per charge, making this a wallet-friendly choice over the long term when compared with the cost of refueling a gas tiller. Plus, its compact size and foldable handle makes it easy to store in an outdoor shed or garage.

Product Details: Power source: Electric; 40V battery with up to 45 minutes of runtime | Weight: 21 pounds | Tine position: Front | Maximum tilling width: 10 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 5 inches

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Why You Should Get It

  • At 27 pounds, this is one of the most lightweight tillers on our list, reducing the potential for arm and hand fatigue.

Keep in Mind

  • There isn't a cord lock, so you'll need to be careful to not tangle the cord in the tines.

If you're looking for a lightweight electric tiller, a corded model is often your best bet since it doesn't include the added weight of a battery pack. The Sun Joe TJ603E Electric Garden Tiller is one of the lightest on our list, weighing just 10.3 pounds. Using lightweight tools can help you avoid straining your arms and hands, allowing you to work more comfortably for longer spans of time.

This Sun Joe tiller has a 12-amp motor for powering through dirt and weeds as well as a maximum tilling width of 16 inches and a depth of 8 inches to get more done in fewer passes. Some other helpful features include its folding handles for easy storage and transport, its three-position wheel adjustment, and its maintenance-free design.

Since this is a corded electric model, you'll just want to be careful to keep the cord out of the way as you work, especially since this tiller doesn't have a cord lock feature.

Product Details: Power source: Corded electric | Motor power: 12 amps | Weight: 27 pounds | Tine position: Middle | Maximum tilling width: 16 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 8 inches

Related: The 10 Best Garden Hoses for Watering All Your Plants

Why You Should Get It

  • It can tackle up to 325 square feet with each charge, so you can maximize its usage.

Keep in Mind

  • This is more of a cultivator than a tiller, so it's best for mixing soil that's already loose as well as adding in fertilizer or compost.

Looking for a machine that makes it easy to mix in compost or fertilizer? A cultivator, such as the Black+Decker Garden Cultivator, is your best choice and is a great option if you already have a large tiller in your garden shed and want a quick tool to easily mix your soil or remove small weeds.

Created with an ergonomic design, the cultivator has an adjustable, soft-grip handle and telescoping tube to accommodate users of different heights. Its cordless design lets you haul it anywhere around your property, and because it's small and weighs less than 12 pounds, you won't have to worry about straining your hands and arms.

However, its best feature is that it can cultivate up to 325 square feet before running out of battery. Note: It does take eight hours to fully recharge, so it's worth checking the machine ahead of using it to make sure it has a full battery. The machine also arrives with a two-year warranty, in case you run into any mishaps, and requires little to no maintenance over time.

Product Details: Power source: Electric; 20V battery | Weight: 11 pounds | Tine position: Middle | Maximum tilling width: 7 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 4 inches

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Why You Should Get It

  • This tiller has heavy-duty features yet remains lightweight and compact.

Keep in Mind

  • The tiller doesn't come with wheels, but you can purchase a wheel kit separately.

The Mantis 7268 Mini Tiller is the best choice for those looking for something mini yet heavy duty. "It's easy to use and feels lightweight when you carry it," McCoy says.

With a four-cycle engine, it can handle getting rid of weeds, aerating the soil, weeding in between narrow rows, and digging up garden beds, including those in hard-to-reach areas. It has a maximum tilling width of 9 inches and depth of 10 inches.

"The machine is also tough enough to till through sod and stubborn soil, thanks to its curvy tines," McCoy says. In addition, the ergonomic handles fold down for seamless transport and storage.

This tiller doesn't include wheels, but you can purchase a wheel kit and add them for an additional cost, if desired. The wheels will allow you to roll the tiller from your storage shed to the garden bed and help the tiller to stand upright without additional support, like a wall.

The Mantis tiller has a five-year warranty, so you can rest assured knowing that it can be easily fixed or replaced.

Product Details: Power source: Gas | Engine displacement: 25cc | Weight: 21 pounds | Tine position: Front | Maximum tilling width: 9 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 10 inches

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Why You Should Get It

  • It comes with a lifetime warranty and takes up the least amount of storage space of the tillers on this list.

Keep in Mind

  • This tool isn't designed to till or cultivate an entire garden.

For a weeding and cultivating solution that doesn't require fuel or a battery charge, consider the Yard Butler Hand Tiller. This steel tiller includes a lifetime warranty and is built to last season after season.

Weighing in at under 5 pounds, it's lightweight enough to carry throughout your property, and its compact size also makes it easy to store in a small garden shed. It also has cushioned grips for a comfortable feel and a foot bar to help you drive it into the ground.

A hand tiller is a great tool to have on hand for quick weeding and cultivating needs that don't require hauling out a bulkier tiller. Created with a long-handled garden claw cultivator, the Yard Butler tiller uses the force of your body to rotate angled claw tines to get deep into compacted soil.

In addition, it can also be used to mix fertilizer, prepare garden beds for planting, weed, and amend soil. Just keep in mind that a hand tiller is too small to till an entire garden, and you'd likely tire out quickly if you attempted to do so.

Product Details: Power source: Manual | Engine displacement: N/A | Weight: 4.6 pounds | Tine position: N/A | Maximum tilling width: 6 inches | Maximum tilling depth: 6 inches

The Bottom Line

The Honda FG110 25cc 9-Inch Front-Tine Tiller tops our list of the best tillers because it has removable tines to allow you to work in narrow spaces, and it can both till and cultivate. The 25cc engine has plenty of power for working the ground of established gardens, and we also like that the machine comes fully assembled so you can put it to work right away.

What To Know About Tillers Before Shopping

Power Source

When it comes to selecting a tiller, you'll want to think about your gardening needs and soil type and then decide between an electric, gas, or handheld tiller.

A handheld tiller, like the Yard Butler Tiller, requires more manual labor than an electric or gas option, and it's generally best for weeding small areas and mixing in compost or fertilizer. It's also much less expensive than an electric or gas tiller, and it's compact and easy to store in a small garden shed.

An electric tiller, such as the Sun Joe TJ603E Tiller, requires little to no maintenance, and it tends to be more lightweight and cheaper when compared to a gas-powered tiller. However, electric tillers are also generally less powerful than a gas tiller, and they may not provide enough oomph if you're starting a new garden in rocky or very compacted soil.

You'll also need to remember to charge the battery on a cordless tiller (or purchase a spare one) or be comfortable being restricted to a certain section of your property if you're using a corded electric model that requires an outdoor power outlet.

Voltage and Engine Displacement

The more powerful the motor, the more heavy-duty work a tiller can take on. But keep in mind that with more power comes a higher price tag and generally a heavier, more cumbersome machine.

When choosing the best tiller for your property, consider your soil type, whether you're creating new beds or just turning the soil in established gardens, and the amount of land you need to work.

If you have compacted or rocky soil or a large garden, you may want to consider a gas tiller with a 200cc or higher engine displacement, like the Earthquake 33970 Tiller with an engine displacement of 212cc. Smaller, established beds will need less power.

If you have your eye on an electric tiller, make sure the battery's amp hours will last you the duration of your daily tilling needs. You could also purchase a spare battery. You'll find corded electric tillers in the range of 5 to 14 amps, with those on the latter end offering the most power.

Corded tillers are generally more powerful than cordless tillers because they can draw a steady source of power through an outlet.

"Overall, it's worth keeping in mind that the higher the voltage, the longer the run time and the horsepower, which equals the stronger the machine," McCoy says.

Tine Position

Tillers fall into one of three tine positions: front, rear, or middle. Front-tine machines have their tines at the front and are ideal for working in established gardens.

“Front-tine tillers perform generalgarden maintenancelike weeding, soil prep, and composting in small or medium gardens,” Mccoy explains. “Rear-tine tillers have engine-driven wheels, making these machines best for larger planting areas.”

Mid-tine tillers share a lot of the same characteristics as front-tine machines, but since their tines are centered under the engine, they offer a bit more maneuverability and ease of control.

Your Questions, Answered

What is the difference between a tiller and a cultivator?

According to McCoy, a cultivator is smaller and easier to maneuver than a tiller and is best for loosening the soil in an existing planting area, weeding the area during the growing season, or mixing compost into the soil. "A tiller is more powerful than a cultivator and tends to have larger, heavy-duty tines that work the soil."

How often do you need to use a tiller?

A tiller should be used every fall to allow the crops to settle in and break down over the winter so the beds are ready for planting in the spring, McCoy says.

A tiller is also useful in the spring to turn and loosen the soil for planting. A small tiller or cultivator can weed a troublesome patch and mix in fertilizer and compost during the growing season as well.

What is the easiest tiller to operate?

McCoy says that depends on the job you want the tiller to do. Overall, electric tillers are lighter, easier to maneuver, and need less maintenance than gasoline-powered tillers, he says. Electric machines, like the Sun Joe TJ604E Electric Garden Tiller, also need less maintenance than gas-powered ones.

However, gasoline-powered tillers, such as the Troy-Bilt’s 450 Series Mustang Tiller, can do a larger job faster even though they are heavier. The easiest tiller to operate is the one that will do the task at hand most efficiently.

If you opt for a large, heavy tiller, look for features that make the tool easier to use, McCoy says. “You may want to look for a self-propelled version,” McCoy says. He also recommends pneumatic tires which provide more traction and make the tool easier to maneuver. A tiller with reverse gear will make the tool more maneuverable in tight spaces and easier to push, McCoy says.

Who We Are

This article was written by Rachel Dube, who has written for a wide variety of publications across all topics related to lifestyle. She wrote this article in July 2022, and has been updating it regularly since then. To come up with this list, she consulted Gary McCoy, a Lowe's store manager. After speaking with McCoy, she thoroughly researched the best tillers while considering factors like power source, tine position, ergonomic features, and tilling width and depth.

This article was updated by Leanne Potts, who has written about gardening and lifestyle topics for two decades.

Aerate Your Soil and Prep Your Garden for Spring With One of Our Favorite Tillers (2024)
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