It's Time to Prep Your Garden for Planting Season With the Best Tillers (2024)

Garden tillers—also called rototillers or cultivators—are the best tool for breaking up hard, compacted soil, dealing with difficult clay soil, or working amendments into the earth before planting vegetables or flowers.

When choosing a garden tiller, Noah James, professional landscaper and the owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance, says size is crucial. "A small garden calls for a nimble mini-tiller, while larger spaces demand more power," he shares. Tillers that are user-friendly thanks to ergonomic handles, simple controls, and options to adjust tilling depth will also make your gardening project easier, he says.

Tillers can run on gasoline, batteries, or an outdoor-rated extension cord. Professional landscapers often use gas tillers because they are great for tilling big gardens or for working with especially hard, compacted soil. An electric corded or battery-operated tiller is the best option for homeowners who have small gardens or who have limited storage space. They work for tending spaces, such as flower beds or raised gardens.

We evaluated dozens of tillers of various sizes, and of all three power sources, before choosing our list of the top models for your garden. To decide, we considered each garden tiller's power, overall value, and maintenance requirements, as well as how deeply it digs down into the soil.

Our Top Picks

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What We Like

  • Runs up to 40 minutes on a single charge

  • Quick charging time

  • Easy to maneuver

  • Push-button start

What We Don’t Like

  • Not for use on soil with a lot of roots or weeds

  • Doesn't till as deeply as some other models

We chose this battery-powered tiller from Greenworks as our best overall pick because it doesn't need gasoline, starts easily with a button, runs for up to 40 minutes on a single charge, and can break through compacted or clay soil. This cordless garden tool comes with a 40-volt, 4.0 amp-hour battery, so no smelly gas fumes, and no need to tether yourself to a nearby electrical outlet, either. Just power it on and go.

This is a front-tine tiller with four, 8-inch tines that dig down into the soil to a maximum of 5 inches. The tines turn fast enough so that the soil is struck 2,000 times per minute, slicing and dicing through your garden bed. It has two, 6-inch wheels that roll easily over the soil or other surfaces, and we love how easy it is to maneuver this tiller around obstacles while smoothly cutting through the soil.

Note, however, that this is not the best choice if your soil is full of roots, extensively covered with weeds, or loaded with rocks. But for existing garden beds with soil that's become compacted or heavy with clay, or that needs to have supplements mixed into the native soil, it's hard to go wrong with this offering from Greenworks.

You can set the tilling width to either 8.25 inches or 10 inches, which is very helpful when cultivating soil in a vegetable plot or other area requiring careful maneuvering. Unlike many gas-powered or heavier tillers, this one doesn't create excessive vibrations to bother your hands and arms while you work. Once you're finished gardening, the tiller's handles fold down to make it easy to store, too.

The included charger for the battery takes just a couple of hours to fully charge the tool up, so you'll also be quickly ready for your next work session.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 8.25 or 10 inches | Tilling Depth: 5 inches | Power Source: Battery | Weight: 21 pounds

What We Like

  • Easy to maneuver

  • Quiet and no excessive vibrations

  • Ergonomic handle

What We Don’t Like

  • Not super powerful

  • Requires outdoor-rated extension cord

With this corded tiller from Earthwise, keeping your budget under control doesn't have to mean sacrificing performance. While this admittedly isn't the most powerful or the largest tiller out there, it does a great job at breaking up compacted soil, and can even chew through small weeds in your existing vegetable beds, flower beds, or garden beds beneath shrubs or trees.

You will need to supply an outdoor-rated extension cord to use it, but once plugged in, it starts up at the press of a button, and is quiet. It doesn't create a lot of vibrations, and is very easy to use. It has a 2.5-amp motor that requires very little maintenance, as well.

The tiller has four front tines that dig down into the soil up to a depth of 6 inches. There are no rear wheels; this is a lightweight, handheld tiller that weighs a mere 9 pounds (the lightest option on our list), so you can lift it and reposition it wherever you need to work the soil with ease.

There's an ergonomic, soft-grip handle at the top, as well as a large second handle for extra control. This pick also has a set tilling width of 7.5 inches, which is good for working your way through rows of plants or between obstacles.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 7.5 inches | Tilling Depth: 6 inches | Power Source: Corded electric | Weight: 9 pounds

What We Like

  • No gas fumes

  • Deep tilling depth

What We Don’t Like

  • Handles don't fold for storage

If you garden in an area with clay soil, you know how difficult it can be to dig through it, and how tiring it can be to try and work supplements into the soil. But with this sturdy corded tiller from Earthwise, you'll be able to get the job done easily and with little fatigue, thanks to its powerful 13.5-amp motor.

Like the other corded options on our list, you will need to supply an outdoor-rated extension cord, but once plugged in, you'll love the way this tiller smoothly chews through clay, hard-packed soil, and even roots. Keep in mind that it's important to stop the tool immediately and clear the tines should the roots tangle around them.

This tiller has six tines in the front, along with two rear wheels for easy maneuvering across the ground. You can adjust the tilling width from 11 inches to 16 inches; that means you can get even a large garden bed in tip-top shape for spring planting quickly. With a maximum tilling depth of 8 inches (the deepest on our list), you can work amendments deep into the soil or just get the dirt as fluffy and light as possible for healthy plants with strong roots.

At 34.8 pounds, this isn't the lightest tiller out there, and we do wish that the handles could fold down for storage. But other than that, this is a great addition to the garden tool collection of anyone who has to deal with clay or compacted soil.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 11 to 16 inches | Tilling Depth: 8 inches | Power Source: Corded electric | Weight: 34.8 pounds

What We Like

  • Can adjust wheel height

  • Comfortable handles

What We Don’t Like

  • Rear wheels somewhat small

  • Tilling width not adjustable

With a 13.5-amp motor, here's a corded electric tiller with plenty of power to chew through compacted soil, clay, and even roots that aren't too thick. You'll need to have an outdoor-rated extension cord and access to an outdoor electrical outlet, but no need for gasoline and no worries about a battery running down before you finish your project.

This tiller has six angled front tines that dig down up to 8 inches beneath the soil, leaving your garden beds well-prepared for the planting days ahead. The two rear wheels are 5.5 inches in diameter, which is a bit on the small side, but you can adjust them to three different angles to best accommodate your terrain, making it easier to maneuver the tiller where you want it to go.

The tilling width is 16 inches and is fixed. That makes this a good choice for larger areas, but not quite as versatile for tilling between rows of crops or other confined areas. This is also a useful tool for working amendments or compost down into the soil where your plant roots can easily access the nutrients. We also like the tiller's double handles, which are comfortable to hold and fold down for storage when your project is done.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 16 inches | Tilling Depth: 8 inches | Power Source: Corded electric | Weight: 27 pounds

What We Like

  • Three-year warranty

  • Three speeds

  • Lightweight option

What We Don’t Like

  • Battery sold separately

If you're looking to get the soil in your vegetable plot, flowerbeds, or small lawn area ready for planting, or you need to mix amendments or compost into the soil before sowing seeds, then we recommend this battery tiller from Ryobi. The battery is sold separately, so if you don't already own a Ryobi 18-volt battery, you'll need to purchase that as well.

Unlike many similar small tillers, this one has an adjustable tilling width of 6 to 8 inches, so you can tailor it to your needs. It has four steel tines that can dig down to a maximum of 4 inches. The three-speed control is another great feature. We recommend using the lowest speed when working through compacted, hard soil; the highest speed when tilling relatively soft soil; and the medium speed when tilling in between the two extremes or when mixing amendments into the soil.

The handle is comfortable to hold, and there's a large secondary handle for better control. While not the most powerful tiller, it has enough oomph to handle most garden soils, and it's a perfect size for slipping between rows of crops or tilling a small flowerbed.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 6 to 8 inches | Tilling Depth: 4 inches | Power Source: Battery | Weight: 13.5 pounds

What We Like

  • Dual-direction tines

  • Control over tine spin speed

  • Adjustable tilling width

What We Don’t Like

  • Some gas fumes

  • Occasionally hard to start

If you have a big garden to till, then you need a tiller that's also large so you can get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. Our top recommendation for gardeners with a lot of land to cover is this gas-powered beast from Champion Power Equipment. The 212cc, four-stroke engine provides enough power to chew through clay, compacted soil, and weeds that aren't too thick.

It has four, 13.8-inch tines that can cut down to a maximum of 8 inches beneath the top of the soil. Controls on the handles let you adjust the turning speed of the tines, as well as set them to rotate forward or backward. The tilling width can be adjusted to a minimum of 16 inches or a maximum of 22 inches.

While that might be too much for working your way between rows of vegetables, it's perfect for preparing new garden beds, getting a stretch of soil ready for planting grass, or working amendments into the soil around trees and shrubs.

Like most gas-powered garden tools, you might need to yank the starter a few times before the tiller comes roaring to life, and it is louder than electric models—and additionally weighs a whopping 119 pounds, which can be difficult to navigate. But when you need power, it's hard to beat this gas tiller.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 16 to 22 inches | Tilling Depth: 8 inches | Power Source: Gas | Weight: 119 pounds

What We Like

  • Ideal for small gardens

  • Cordless convenience

  • Ergonomic, telescoping handle

What We Don’t Like

  • Less powerful than other options

If you just have a small garden to tend to, or you don't want to handle a heavy tool, then you don't need an oversized, heavy tiller. Instead, we recommend this offering from Black+Decker, which runs off an included 20-volt, 1.5 amp-hour battery, so there's no need for an extension cord or gasoline.

It can till up to 325 square feet before needing a recharge, which is enough for most small areas. And with a 7-inch tilling width, it easily slips between rows of vegetables or around plants you want to protect. The tool has two, 4-inch tines that move in a counter-oscillating fashion to avoid becoming clogged. It can also be used to remove small weeds, although it should not be used for removing grass or extensive stretches of tall weeds.

The tiller has a comfortable, non-slip handle and a second handle for better control. The shaft is adjustable, so you can set it to the height that works best for you, and at a mere 11.7 pounds with the battery in place (the second lightest option on our list), it's not too heavy.

While this isn't the right choice for clay soil, heavily compacted soil, or soil that's loaded with roots, it's a great tool for those who can't wield a heavy tiller and only need to get a fairly small area ready for planting or sowing seeds.

Type: Front tine | Tilling Width: 7 inches | Tilling Depth: 4 inches | Power Source: Battery | Weight: 11.7 pounds

What We Like

  • Very powerful

  • CARB compliant

  • Forward or reverse control

What We Don’t Like

  • Very heavy

  • Requires periodic oil changes

If you need a beast of a tiller to handle clay or compacted soil, or to cover a lot of ground, then you need the power of a gas tiller like this one from Yardmax. With a 4-stroke, 209cc engine, along with 12, 13-inch tines in the rear of the tiller that can be set to spin forwards or backward, you'll soon tame even the toughest soil.

We do wish the tilling width was adjustable, like our best for clay soil pick, the Earthwise Corded Electric Tiller. But at a set 18 inches, it's wide enough to cover a lot of ground in one pass, but not so big that it's unwieldy. The maximum tilling depth is 6.5 inches. At 205 pounds, this is a very heavy tool (the heaviest on our list), so you'll want an assistant to help assemble it. Once up and running, it does have large pneumatic wheels that help it glide across the terrain, but due to the weight, it can be a bit tough to turn sharp corners.

Like many gas-powered tools, it can take a few tries to start it, and you'll need to carry out periodic oil changes. However, there is no need to mix oil with the gasoline. This is a California Air Resource Board (CARB) compliant gas tiller, meaning that it meets that agencies stringent requirements for reduced emissions, although there might still be a low level of fumes.

Type: Rear tine | Tilling Width: 18 inches | Tilling Depth: 6.5 inches | Power Source: Gasoline | Weight: 205 pounds

Final Verdict

If you want a cordless tiller that’s easy to handle, has plenty of power, runs up to 40 minutes on a single battery charge, and lets you adjust the tilling width, then our top pick, the Greenworks 40V 10-Inch Tiller/Cultivator, is our recommendation. But if you want to keep costs down, our budget pick, the Earthwise TC20025 2.5-Amp Tiller, is a corded option that is more than adequate to till typical garden soil or work in amendments.

What to Look for in a Tiller

Power Source

As with many other landscaping tools these days, tillers have three power sources to choose from: gas, battery, and corded electric.

  • Gas tillers are the most powerful option, and typically cut the widest tilling paths and dig down the deepest into the soil. The Champion Power Equipment 100379 has a 22-inch tilling path and 8-inch tilling depth. Gas models are the best choice if you have a very large garden to till, you have clay or heavily compacted soil, or you have soil that’s studded with roots. However, gas-powered tools are heavily regulated in some areas. They also require occasional oil changes as well as having a can of gasoline at hand. They are noisier than electric tillers, and they produce smelly fumes.
  • Battery tillers, like the Ryobi One+ 18-Volt Cordless Cultivator, are far quieter and produce less vibrations than gas tillers. They need little maintenance beyond charging the battery, but you’ll need to keep an eye on your battery charge to avoid running out of juice before you finish working. These tillers are generally not nearly as powerful as gas options, and they don’t dig down as deeply or have exceptionally wide tilling paths. Still, for the average homeowner or homesteader who has a small- to medium-sized garden, these are a great option.
  • Corded electric tillers require you to supply an outdoor-rated extension cord, typically no longer than 100 feet, and plug into an outdoor electrical outlet. Most of these tools have a clip to keep the cord out of the way, but you’ll still want to keep an eye out to be sure you don’t run it over while working. Corded tillers are generally the lightest options, and many are quite powerful, although not as powerful as a gas tiller. Because of the cord, these are best for gardeners who only want to till a small vegetable plot or flower garden, not for a homeowner with a large stretch of soil to till. Our best budget pick, the Earthwise TC20025, is a corded tiller.

Size

There are two numbers you’ll want to consider when it comes to the size of a tiller: the tilling width and the tilling depth.

  • Tilling width refers to how wide of a path can be tilled in one pass across the soil. Smaller tillers, commonly used by homeowners, generally have tilling widths between 6 inches and 12 inches, while more powerful machines can have tilling widths that are more than 20 inches wide. Some tillers have adjustable width settings so you can choose the size that works best for your needs: wider when working an open area, and narrower when tilling between crop rows or around obstacles. One such model is the Earthwise TC70016 (our best for clay soil pick), which is a corded tiller that can be set between 11 and 16 inches.
  • Tilling depth refers to how deeply the tool penetrates into the soil. Most cultivating tillers have a depth of 5 inches or less. A more powerful tiller with larger tines can cut 6 inches or more beneath the soil surface. The Sun Joe TJ604E is our best corded pick, and has a tilling depth of 8 inches. But, whatever the tilling depth of the machine you are using, it’s generally better to make several passes, each a little bit deeper, than try to cut as deeply as possible in a single pass.

Tines

The tines of a tiller, which are the bladed spinning disks that cut through the soil, can be positioned towards the front of the tiller, towards the rear, or in the middle right beneath the motor. Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance says, “If you're working with a smaller area or tight spaces, or need a lightweight and easy-to-maneuver machine, the front-tine tiller is the right choice. However, if you're dealing with larger plots or rough terrain, or need some power behind your cultivation, the rear-tine tiller will be your go-to choice.”

Most tillers sized for home use, including our best overall pick, the Greenworks 40V 10-Inch Tiller, have their tines towards the front of the machine. As a general rule, front-tine tillers do not dig down as deeply into the soil as rear-tine tillers, but are easier to maneuver and easier to push. However, they do not have a reverse function.

Rear-tine tillers, like the gas-powered Yardmax YT4565 (our best heavy-duty recommendation), are more powerful machines that can dig deeper into harder soil, but they are heavier and harder to maneuver. Most have a reverse function that allows you to back up while tilling.

Mid-tine tillers are similar in performance to front-tine tillers, but have tines positioned a little further back under the motor.

Portability

Tillers can be heavy, especially powerful gas models. Larger tillers have back wheels, which make it easier to move them across the ground, as well as to push them back to your garage or garden shed for storage.

Smaller tillers and cultivators generally don’t have back wheels, but are simply held in your hands while working. These typically weigh less than 15 pounds, but that can still start to become tiring if you’ll be working for a long time. The Black+Decker 20V Max Cordless Garden Tiller (our best lightweight pick) weighs less than 12 pounds with battery in place, however.

Of course, the power source also affects the tiller’s portability. You can take a gas or battery tiller anywhere, but a corded model needs to be within your outdoor-rated extension cord’s reach to the nearest outdoor electrical outlet.

The Checkout Counter

During gardening season, you may also need these items to complete your projects.

  1. HUANCHAIN Indoor-Outdoor 50-foot Waterproof Extension Cord: Many of our favorite tillers do require an outdoor-rated extension cord. This one is waterproof and comes in a variety of sizes, so you can pick what best fits your project.
  2. Fiskars 4-Claw Deluxe Stand-Up Weeder: To tackle weeds in your garden without having to bend over or kneel as much, check out one of our favorite weeding tools; its claws dig into the soil.
  3. Firm Grip General Purpose Gloves: All gardening projects start with a pair of gardening gloves. We have tested a lot of gardening tools, and these gloves were comfortable and padded.

Why Trust The Spruce?

Michelle Ullman is a writer for The Spruce who specializes in home improvement products, including tools and landscaping supplies. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs around the house and yard. She’s also an avid gardener and loves to spend time caring for her garden and many potted plants, both indoors and outside.

For this roundup, she considered dozens of garden tillers, evaluating each for power, effectiveness at tilling hard soil, ability to adjust tilling depth and width, portability, ease of use, and overall value. She also considered feedback from customers, both positive and negative.

Our Experts:

  • Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance
  • Daniela Galvez, senior editor at The Spruce

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It's Time to Prep Your Garden for Planting Season With the Best Tillers (2024)
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