A Guide to Garden Tillers



Tilling is the gardening practice of turning the soil to loosen it, usually to prepare a garden for planting, to work organic matter (like grass clippings or peat moss) into the earth or to kill weed seedlings between rows of plants.

While many gardeners manually till the soil with a garden spade, manual tilling is laborious and time-consuming for large gardens. A gas-powered tiller makes tilling faster and less strenuous by using the power of an engine to drive rotating rows of metal tines into soil. Two types of garden tillers are available:


  • Rear-tine tillers have the tines behind the engine. They have several forward gears and a reverse gear to aid in deep tilling. Rear-tine tillers are driven by the wheels, so you guide the machine rather than push it. Rear-tine tillers machines are heavy, large and powerful.  They’re best for deep-tilling heavy soils to prepare for planting. You can use them to cut through sod—it’s easier than busting sod by hand, but it’s still hard work. At the time of this writing, rear-tine tillers range in price from about $700 to $900.


  • Front-tine tillers have the tines in front of the engine. Front-tine tillers are lighter, smaller and less powerful than rear-tine tillers. They aren’t wheel driven, so you have to push them forward through the soil. Front-tine tillers are designed for light soils that don’t pack tightly and for cultivating between rows to kill small weeds and improve air flow into the soil. They can’t cut through sod and are prone to popping out of the soil if they hit an obstacle. Front-tine tillers range in price from about $220 to $600. 


With two types of tillers on the market, how do you choose which one to get? Choose a rear-tine tiller if you have soil that’s difficult to turn or if you have a huge garden of any soil type. Opt for a front-tine tiller for a small to moderate sized garden with light soil. Also consider the storage space needed.

If you’re still not sure which is right for you, rent both types first to see how they handle and which does the best job in your soil.