Cultivator vs Tiller – How to Choose the Best One for Your Garden

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Did you know there is a difference between a cultivator vs tiller? As if the overwhelm of starting a garden wasn’t trouble enough to begin with! No need to worry, this guide will walk you through the differences, pros, and cons of a cultivator vs tiller and which tool is best suited to your gardening needs.

Cultivators and tillers can be incredibly helpful tools when it comes to preparing and maintaining a garden. They’ll turn a fresh patch of soil into a beautiful, turned vegetable garden. They’ll also till organic matter, such as manure and compost, into your soil.

Farmer plowing the land using a cultivator.

Both cultivators and tillers save many an hour’s back-breaking work and chances are, they’re exactly what you need. It’s easier than you might think to decide which tool is better for you, but we’ve made it simple in our cultivator vs tiller guide.

Read on!

Cultivator vs Tiller – What’s the Difference?

Farmers weeding the plantation using manual tools and a motorized tiller.

Scenario 1: You Want to Start a Garden 

You stare longingly at that bare plot of grass (or dirt), envisioning a bountiful harvest of food or flowers. Most gardens you have seen look like a raised bed full of dirt, or a fenced-in area with a gate. 

You know you want to start with a clean slate (though, point 9 in this article might convince you otherwise), but which tool do you use, a cultivator or a tiller?

Scenario 2: You Want to Revive a Garden

Maybe your scenario looks more like a garden that has done good work for you for many years. But its yield has started to dwindle, the weeds are out of control, and you know that some nutrients need to be packed into that soil.

As you can see, two different scenarios might actually need two different tools. Some people use the words cultivator and tiller interchangeably. This is not a “to-may-to/to-mah-to” situation. Would you use a clothes dryer to toss a salad? Of course not.

Cultivator vs tiller – these tools are not the same, and they have different functions. 

What’s a Tiller?

Farmer using a rototiller to soften the hard garden soil.

Tillers are the best tool for creating a new garden or a farming plot

Tillers to the garden are like blenders to a kitchen. You have a hard thing (like frozen fruit and ice) that needs to be broken up smaller (like a smoothie). 

Tillers are a powerful force that loosen up hard ground. This grinding up is important because new plants don’t thrive in hard ground. Their roots are not strong enough to permeate through. A new garden with baby starter plants will grow happily in loosened soil.

How Does a Tiller Work?

There are two main types of garden tillers, front tine tillers and rear tine tillers.

They both have large tines (a.k.a. metal forks) that break up soil. Both options are gas-powered machines. Just add gas, pull the line a few times, and you’re ready to go! Bring your “big guns” though; this is a monster of a machine and difficult to push!

Front tine tillers are best for moderately hard ground or a smaller sized garden. They are not as powerful and easier to maneuver. Home-improvement store Lowes explains that the tines within the front tine tiller help propel the machine forward.

Here’s a front tine tiller:

Rear tine tillers are for heavy-duty jobs, like a big garden or farming area. This tiller’s engine powers the wheels to propel it into motion.

There are also options in this type of tiller to make the tines rotate with or counter-rotate against the direction of the wheels. This is the king of all tillers!

Here’s a rear tine tiller:

What’s a Cultivator?

Cultivators are more suitable for improving or sustaining the health of your already-established garden. Though they still break up the dirt, they typically aren’t as heavy-duty.

Cultivators to a garden are like a baker adding quick yeast to bread dough. You have a thing (dough) that, if left alone, will naturally create nutrients for itself over time (natural yeast, think sourdough), but if you want it to thrive (rise) quickly, you need to churn in some nutrients (quick yeast through kneading).

Cultivating the ground is essential for crops like asparagus. They need to be planted on furrows and creating those is hard work without a cultivator.

Read more:

Are your plants begging to be fed more nutrients? Cultivators can help!

They break up bigger chunks of soil into small particles and can knead in compost or fertilizer. Are weeds coming out of your ears? Cultivators can also churn up weeds and dig deep enough to disrupt their root system, but not so deep that they disturb the rest of your garden.

How Does a Cultivator Work?

Cultivators come in gas-powered and electric-powered options. If you’re looking for electric cultivators, they come in cordless and corded options.

Cultivators have smaller tines than tillers. Because the machine itself is smaller, it’s much easier to move around. No machismo needed here!

How to Choose Between Tiller vs Cultivator

Farmer using a small tiller tractor to help plant spring crops.

If you have read this far, you probably have a good idea which machine you need. I trust you to make a good decision!

If you need more help deciding, here are some examples of when you might need a tiller:

  • Breaking up hard or rocky ground
  • Creating a garden out of nothing
  • Getting a field ready for larger-production farming
  • After the last harvest of the season, tearing up dead plants and griding them into the dirt
  • Removing a large area of unwanted plants or grass (e.g. removing a lawn)

A cultivator is best in these situations:

What Is the Best Tiller?

So you have decided that a tiller is best for your job. Many tillers online claim to also be cultivators. If this is true, this is fantastic news! No need to look for two different machines.

Just be careful – if you’re after a heavy-duty tiller, don’t choose a machine that advertises itself as a cultivator/tiller. Go for a dedicated tiller like the examples I showed above. 

The Best Front Tine Tiller

If you’re wanting to till a very large area, consider the Earthquake 99cc Versa tiller.

It is also 4-cycle gas-powered, which makes it more powerful than, for example, battery-operated cultivators. 

The Best Rear Tine Tiller

Our favorite rear-tine tiller online is Troy Bilt’s 14″ Bronco.

Got a huge plot of land to till? That’s no problem for this tiller. It tills up to 14″ wide and can dig up to 10 inches deep. Though a bit more pricey, remember that rear tine tillers are pushed forward more easily because the tires are engine-powered.

What Is the Best Cultivator?

Cultivators are generally battery-powered, corded, or gas-powered.

The Best Corded Cultivator

On Amazon, check out Earthwise TC70001 corded electric cultivator. It’s a little guy with less power than a tiller. It almost looks like a weed-whacker, so it’s easy to store by hanging up in a garage or shed. This version is corded, so you will need a long extension cord.

The Best Cordless Cultivator

Over at Tractor Supply, Sun Joe 24-Volt iON+ Cordless Garden Tiller + Cultivator Kit with 2.0-Ah Battery and Charger is a good electric cordless option for cultivating your garden.

It can run for 30 minutes on a full charge, and it can till up to 6 inches deep. It weighs in at 10 pounds, less than your average vacuum cleaner!

The Best Budget Tiller/Cultivator

The best tiller/cultivator for the best value on Amazon right now is the Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator. It also comes in a 12 amp version. It boasts a tilling depth of up to 8 inches.

The wheels adjust manually, so you can control the depth of tilling you want to do. 

After reading some reviews for this product, it seems to be a great option for those not wanting to spend hundreds on a tiller/cultivator. A cool feature is that it’s electric, with the same power as smaller gas-operated tillers. Many people also talk about how it’s lightweight, so anyone of any ability can push it.

Which Will You Choose, Cultivator vs Tiller?

It’s easy to know which tool (cultivator vs tiller) you need for your backyard job. It’s difficult to know which one to buy! 

With many different options online, and somewhat misleading names (tiller AND cultivator…are you sure?!), a good option, if you’re not ready to buy, might be to see if they are available for rent in your area.

Then, after testing them out, invest in a new tiller or cultivator for years of gardening happiness. Or don’t, and plant a food forest!

Either way, let us know in the comments which machine is best for your garden! What experiences have you had with a tiller vs cultivator? 

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