Did you know there is a difference between a cultivator and a 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 cultivator vs tiller and which tool is best suited to your gardening needs.
Cultivator vs Tiller – What’s the Difference?
Scenario 1: You Want to Start a Garden
You stare longingly at that bare plot of grass (or dirt), envisioning 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?
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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.
Of course, the most sustainable option is to create a forest floor, but maybe you just don’t have the space or desire to do that. Which machine should you use?
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?
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.
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!
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.
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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
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:
- Readying soil for planting seeds in an established garden
- Introducing more air, compost or other nutrients into the soil
- Pulling up many small weeds at a time
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 Champion Power Equipment 22 in. Dual Rotating Front Tine Tiller from Tractor Supply. This beast is a little wider than the previous tiller. It is also gas-powered, which makes it more powerful than, for example, battery-operated cultivators.
The Best Rear Tine Tiller
The best rear-tine tiller online is the YARDMAX YT4565 Dual Rotating Rear Tine Tiller, 208cc.
Got a huge plot of land to till? That’s no problem for this tiller. It’s 18 inches wide and can dig up to 6.5 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.
- Earthwise tiller with a powerful 8.5-Amp electric motor with superb run time and service...
- Corded electric tiller ideal for small to medium-sized gardens
- 4 tine cultivator long handle that can cultivate and till up to 11" wide and 8" deep
- Lightweight and maneuverable 11-inch cultivator with single lever switch
- Cultivator machine with a soft ergonomic grip that is an planet-friendly alternative to...
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 gas-operated tillers. Many people also talk about how it’s lightweight, so anyone of any ability can push it.
- Questions, Text 563563 to chat directly with a Sun Joe expert
- DURABLE: 6 Steel angled tines for maximum durability and performance
- EASY STORAGE: Handle folds for convenient storage and easy transport
- WHEEL-ADJUSTMENT: 3-position wheel adjustment
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?
Last update on 2021-10-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API