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Published Jul. 29, 2021

Inch by inch, row by row, you can make that garden grow. A healthy greenspace requires the right garden tools. Your first job? Finding the best garden tiller. A garden tiller breaks up and aerates hard soil so you can use it for planting. You can go the old-school hand tiller route, which is what it sounds like (you hold it in your hand, it tills). Or you can add something to your yard tools that requires a little less effort, like an electric, battery-powered, or gas tiller. If your green thumb is itching to get to work, any one of these babies will get the job done, at lots of different price points. 

What to consider when shopping for the best garden tiller

Especially if you’re new to gardening, the first step in purchasing gear is to know exactly what you need, and that includes your tillers. It sounds simple enough—a tiller is a tool that breaks up soil—but garden tillers come in all shapes and sizes (and power modes and prices). Here’s how to tell your rear-tine tiller from your front-tine tiller from your hand tiller.

Do you know what kind of tiller you need?

Here is the Cliffs Notes rundown on tillers: Rear-tine tillers (which have blades at the back of the machine) are more hard-core than front-tine tillers (which have blades at the front). On a front-tine model, the wheels are behind the blades, making it easier to navigate, especially in small or narrow areas. Rear-tine options are better for harder, craggier, rockier soil, and are typically hardier and heavier (and therefore slightly more difficult to maneuver). A vertical tine tiller cuts forward instead of downward (unlike rear and front models), so it’s speedy—but also typically more expensive. A mini tine tiller is the smallest (and therefore lightest) of the rototillers (or powered bunch), making it perfect for weeding. Finally, a hand tiller operates by hand, making it the most affordable but also the one that takes the most effort. If you just need your tiller for minimal weeding or cultivating, a hand tiller will do. Anything more laborious than that (like breaking up very hard soil) will be a pain in the butt without some power. Beyond those types, you also need to consider what kind of power you want: none, electric, battery, or gas.

What are the pros and cons of a gas tiller vs. an electric or battery-powered tiller?

A gas tiller is powerful, so it’s great for any job that needs major muscle. The downside is that it’s also heavy and requires fuel (which is not only an added expense but not great for the environment). Battery-powered and electric tillers are not as powerful, but you also don’t have to worry about making sure you’re gassed up. (And you won’t pollute the environment as much.) With a battery model, you’ll have to remember to recharge before using; with a corded model, you can’t roam as freely.

Are you sure you don’t want a cultivator?

The main difference between a tiller and a cultivator is that the latter is for mixing soft soil, not breaking up soft soil. The truth is you may want both—and some models are a tiller and cultivator in one—but the purpose of a cultivator is to make loose soil even finer to prep it for planting. (First you till, then you cultivate.) Some models function as both a garden tiller and a cultivator, so if you’re not sure what you need—or you are sure that you need both a tiller and a cultivator—there are options for you too.

Are you particular to any garden-tool brands?

If you are, there’s good news. The Mantis tiller, Earthquake tiller, Craftsman tiller, and Stihl tiller are all quality choices at a variety of price points. 

The best garden tiller

Best cordless tiller: Sun Joe TJW24C Cordless Power Weeder

Easy to Maneuver

All the perks of a rototiller without the hassle of gas or the need for a plug. Sun Joe

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For a reasonable price, with the Sun Joe TJW24C Cordless Power Weeder, you get a 250-watt motor and 10 durable steel tines that you can easily steer in narrow spaces on one wheel. At just 4.5 pounds, it won’t strain your back, and a rechargeable battery means you’re free to go wherever you want. 

Best mini tiller: Earthquake 12802 MC440 Mini Cultivator

Quiet and Comfortable

If you’re in the market for a combination, this tool could be the answer: This one is easy to start from a standing position (no bending required). EARTHQUAKE

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Optional add-on accessories like edger and dethatcher kits make the already versatile Earthquake 12802 MC440 Mini Cultivator even more robust. Because it operates without gas or oil, it’s also better for the environment than some other models.

Best gas tiller:  Tazz 35310 2-in-1 Front-Tine Tiller/Cultivator

Total Powerhouse

A snap to start, this 86-pound device allows for precise operation to suit your gardening needs. TAZZ

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For its weight, the Tazz 35310 2-in-1 Front-Tine Tiller/Cultivator maneuvers surprisingly well, and the handlebar adjusts to four different heights for maximum ergonomic comfort. Toggle back and forth between a 21-inch tilling width and smaller cultivating widths (16 inches or 11 inches) for more micro jobs. You will, however, have to make sure to gas it up like a car.

Best hand tiller:  Yard Butler Twist Tiller Heavy-Duty Manual

Ergonomic Design

If you insist on using elbow grease, this pick is 38 inches high, features a step plate, and has a 12-inch T-handle to make rotation easier. Yard Butler

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This old-school tiller-cultivator combo weighs just 4.5 pounds, so it’s not too heavy to carry around (though, all the work you’ll be doing will be manual, so the weight may add up more quickly than you think). Users like the Yard Butler Twist Tiller’s ability to weed and get around hard-to-reach places, like flowerbeds and shrubs.

Best budget garden tiller: Earthwise TC70001 Corded Electric Tiller

Some Bells and Whistles

Powered by an 8.5-amp electric motor, this combo tool is ideal for small and medium-size gardens. Earthwise

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At just 2.2 pounds and with an ergonomic grip, you won’t break your back (or your bank account) as you till and cultivate your garden. For extra ease, it starts with a single-lever switch, but a cord means you’re confined to a certain amount of space (i.e. this isn’t great for large plots of land). 

FAQs

Q: What kind of tiller do I need for my garden?

The kind of tiller you need depends on the kind of garden you have. If you have hard-to-break-up soil, consider a rear-tine tiller or vertical-tine tiller. If your soil is softer, a front-tine tiller will likely suffice. (If you mostly want to use your tiller for mixing soil and planting, consider a cultivator instead, or a combo tiller-cultivator model). In addition, think about whether you want power (i.e. a rototiller) and if you do, whether you want that to be gas, plug-in, or battery. (There are pros and cons to each.) If you want to garden like your ancestors did, a hand tiller will suffice (and you’ll get a workout to boot).

Q: What is the best small garden tiller?

If you’re working with a smaller patch of grass, you need something that maneuvers easily, can get into small spaces, and is relatively lightweight. If you don’t mind something non-electric, a simple, old-school hand tiller will get the job done. If you want a rototiller, consider a single-wheel design so you can get around narrow corners and into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

Q: Will a tiller break up clay soil?

A tiller will break up clay soil as long as it’s the right tiller. If you specifically need a tiller for clay, make sure to invest in a rear-tine tiller or vertical tiller, which is heftier than a front-tine tiller and will get the job done. 

The final word on shopping for the best garden tiller

The best garden tiller for you may not be the best one for your neighbor. Once you determine your budget and particular needs and wants in a soil tiller—power or no power, type of power, type of tines—you can get to work perfecting your verdant oasis. Turns out it is easy being green!

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