When you are planning your garden, it is helpful to know when to use a tiller or cultivator. Each has its purpose. A tiller’s primary function is breaking up soil and mixing in fertilizer and/or amendments (like compost). It generally does this better than a cultivator. Cultivators on the other hand generally leave more uniform soil and don’t mix in nutrients as a tiller will.
Article: What are uses of Tillers?
When To Use A Cultivator?
For serious gardeners who want something between prepping the soil with a rototiller and hand-tilling with a shovel or hoe, I’d recommend looking at cultivator attachments for garden tractors – or even small riding tractors if they have room in their budget for another piece of equipment. A good quality cultivator is easy to use, but it’s definitely harder to use than an inexpensive tiller. A bad quality tractor attachment will fall apart after two hours of use (or less), and will be a pain to use. Sometimes all you need is a small cultivator attachment, but other times you’ll want the big boy: a large rear-tine tiller attachment that’s able to do most of what your rototiller can do without the fumes and gasoline required.
The last thing I’d like to point out is that if you’re looking at purchasing either one… make sure they are both attachments for your garden tractor (which means it has four wheels, not two). If it’s something like a “rotary tiller” or “rototill”, then those are stand-alone units such as older people might run in their backyard for personal gardening needs; I recommend against them since they’re generally too small to accomplish anything more than small yard edging or planting, and you’ll pay a premium price even if it’s used.
Most tillers available today come with either 3 or 4 rotating blades that turn the soil, cutting into it using sharp angles. They will normally have 2-4 counter-rotating wheels that do most of the work; they help pull the machine forward while turning, allowing for uniformity of soil depth and removal of weeds along the way.
Tillers at their core are used for breaking up compacted soils and mixing in fertilizers and amendments (like compost, rock phosphate, and/or greensand). They can be a great addition to your garden arsenal if you have large areas to cultivate.
Tillers work best when the soil is moist but still firm enough to walk on without sinking in too deep; the added weight of the machine helps turn over even hard ground by adding extra weight while walking around. If you happen to add too much weight with a tiller, just double-check that all your wheels are set at the same height for uniform weight distribution and if they aren’t simply adjust each wheel’s height accordingly using the axle bolt or quick-release pin. Some tillers are designed to work best when pulling them, while other tillers are designed to push. Read your owner’s manual for proper instructions if you have any doubts about how to operate the one you have access to.
Article: What is the cost of Tiller?
When Should I Use It?
There are a few simple principles about when to use a tiller. You should till when soil is moist but not wet or muddy, because if the ground is too wet, the tines will just pack down your soil and you’ll have another problem on your hands. If it’s too dry, the machine won’t work well either – so try to find a nice balance, and avoid going out in crummy weather unless it’s going to rain soon.
Don’t till in beds that have been newly planted with seeds or seedlings – they can be easily mangled by all those tine movements. Wait until the plants are at least two inches tall before using this piece of equipment near them! I know you’re tempted – don’t do it.
Pros And Cons Of Using A Tiller
- Tilling can help add organic matter to the soil.
- It breaks up the ground and lets air circulate, which stimulates healthy soil microbes to do their jobs.
- Weed seeds are frequently unearthed in tillage operations, ending their life cycles before they have a chance to become an invasive or noxious weed in your garden. You may also miss a few weeds when you till, but don’t worry about it – because you will probably knock out some useful insects too. But if your soil is very weedy, you might want to run over it again with a rake before planting; this will pick up many of those seedlings that escaped tiller blades.
- The gardener’s back doesn’t feel nearly as weary at the end of tilling as it would after working with a spade, because tilling involves less lifting and fewer strokes.
Tillage is often used to accomplish cultivation or mixing compost into soil. However, if you are growing vegetables using the no-dig method, you will have to use another tool for these purposes.
- Most gardeners who till their beds do so before planting. Plants grow faster in loose soil that has been worked over thoroughly, without large clumps or lumps of clay. The gardener’s back is also much happier at the end of the day on tilled beds!
- A rototiller can be used to turn under cover crops between growing seasons – an excellent way to add organic material to the garden’s soil.
- Rototillers can also be used to mix compost into soil, or to break up the very dense clay soils that are common in some parts of the country. However, tilling is not necessary for good organic gardening practices . It certainly should not be performed until after plants have established themselves and created beneficial microbial connections to their surrounding environment.
Rototillers turn over the top layer of soil only , so you need to till continually as you work your way down to original grade (or deeper). The repeated tilling action releases carbon dioxide which speeds up global warming1, reduces organic matter content in the soil2 and depletes essential microbes like mycorrhiz3 that live on plant roots and help plants access plant nutrients (especially phosphorus).
Rototilling disturbs the soil structure. This means that the clods of earth created will not mesh together and hold water4, and there is no room for air or water to be held, so it becomes more difficult for roots to travel through such a dense root zone . This is especially bad in clay soils as they can become “rock hard” when compacted5.
Rototillers create physical barriers between tree roots and microbes6. The disruption prevents mycorrhiz from forming, potentially causing long term damage7. Soil that’s been tilled repeatedly has lower levels of mycorrhiz than undisturbed soil.
How Tillers Can Be Helpful Tools?
Tillers can be helpful tools in preparing the soil for seedlings or young plants prior to final seeding or transplanting, but they really shine in cultivating around established plants and shrubs. Tillers don’t cut through weeds or roots the way a hoe does, but they do help get between plants quickly and efficiently, even ones with woody stems that would take forever for hand-cultivating methods to deal with. Deep cultivation is good because it breaks up compaction layers that can inhibit water penetration into your plants’ roots and it brings up fresh nutrients.
Are Tiller Or Cultivator Is Best For You?
The question is whether a tiller or cultivator is best for you and your garden. A rototiller obviously does more than a regular cultivator, but the extra effort to get the machine might not be worth it if you don’t need to till deeply (an inch or two isn’t deep enough for most vegetables) if the ground where you till won’t get heavy hardpan after one season of use, and if you can get by with only occasional weeding and cultivation that doesn’t involve ripping into the soil and turning it over then and there. A regular cultivator (the kind that forks rather than pulverizes) has more versatility in regard to weeding around established plants while preparing the soil for planting. However, it’s not as good at loosening the ground deeply without repeated passes over the same spot.
A tiller is great if you have a lawn or garden big enough to justify the purchase cost. If you want to take care of your own row crops and don’t mind keeping up with a tiller, you probably know if one would be too much equipment for your use. But my advice is still: Don’t buy a tiller unless you’re willing to make a major commitment in time and money from the start. Otherwise, it’ll lie around collecting dust while you wish you had something more versatile that could do multiple things – like till small areas AND cultivate AND weed AND they didn’t fall apart after two uses. If you can’t afford to buy two tillers, then don’t buy one that will fit all your needs… get one less expensive, more specialized tiller instead of a big multi-purpose machine.