Best Tillers & Cultivators for 2017
Whether you are starting a new garden or renewing an older one, you will need a tiller or cultivator. Tilling or cultivating gets your garden ready for planting. If you’re adding sand, compost, lime, or fertilizer, tilling or cultivating will mix them into the soil where they will do the most good.
You will also want to till or cultivate your garden in the fall. Tilling or cultivation at the end of the season will turn under the remnants of plants and provide a head start for next year’s garden. Fall tilling is also a great time to add some of the compost that you’ve been making all summer.
Although there is electric, battery, and gasoline powered tillers and cultivators available, all are similar in purpose. They prepare the soil for planting and maintain its integrity.
There are quite a variety of models and prices available. Which is right for you? We've made deciding which to purchase a little easier for you by reviewing many tiller and cultivators, and choosing what we think are the five best available on the market today!
Top 5 Best Tillers and Cultivators
Tiller and Cultivator Reviews
- Transports easily with flip up & down wheels
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- Fast tine speed covers ground quickly
- Bounces around in hard packed soil
- Activating the on/off switch requires the user to release the grip with one hand which can result in loss of control
Number one on our list, with five stars, is the Earthwise 11-Inch Electric Tiller and Cultivator TC70001. This electrically powered gem has no start-up hassle. Simply pushing the start button and squeezing the lever will get it started. Letting go of the lever will power the tiller off.
This Earthwise garden tiller and cultivator is durable, easy to store, and easy to use. It has a dependable 8.5-Amp electric engine made by the American Lawn Mower Company. It is light weight, mulches well is self-propelled, and sturdy. Users will find that this machine has plenty of power and tears up clay soil with no problem. Because of the model's light weight, it bounces easily, and it may be a problem while using it, especially if you are working on hard-packed soil, to keep it on the ground going forward. If this happens, users will find it much easier to pull it back toward them as they step backward.
The Earthwise 11-Inch Electric Tiller and Cultivator TC70001 has dual four-blade steel tines that maximize efficiency. It has a cutting width of 11" with a tilling depth of 8", ideal for preparing smaller gardens and flower beds, loosening soil, and bed cleanup at the end of the season. It is easy to transport, has flip down wheels, and is lightweight. Because it has such a slim design, this piece will store nicely in your garage taking up only a small amount of space.
- Handle folds for convenient storage and easy transport
- 3-position wheel adjustment provides versatility
- Shoulder width handles mean less strain on arms & back
- The motor speed is not variable so the blades cannot rotate at a lower RPM when desired
- Its light weight makes it hard to control when striking obstacles
Placing second in our top 5 picks is the Sun Joe® TJ603E Electric Tiller + Cultivator. This sturdy machine is driven by a 12-amp motor that slices through the soil at 340 RPM, aerating and preparing the seedbed for planting. It cultivates an area 16-inches wide and up to 8-inches deep with each pass. There are 3 rows of steel tines on each side. Instructions are provided that show how to reduce the width of the cut if desired. This is done by removing a complete row of tines from either side which basically reduces the tilling width by half.
The TJ603E is capable of handling heavy sand mixtures. It is specifically geared low to provide maximum torque through sand, clay, mud, and other stubborn sediments. Although it is made to move forward as it tills, if the ground is really hard, dragging it backward does the trick. The tines are sturdy and are capable of hitting large rocks without showing signs of damage or bending. The machine is rather light, however, so it does have a tendency to bounce a bit while it's tossing out stones.
The wheels are located at the rear of the Sun Joe TJ603E. This makes it possible to easily tip the unit up as well as to maneuver it wherever it’s needed for cultivation. The wheels can also be adjusted to three different positions for more flexibility. The Sun Joe’s handle is collapsible making it a cinch to store.
The Sun Joe® TJ603E Electric Tiller & Cultivator comes with a full two-year warranty.
- Comfortable, ergonomic grips with fingertip controls
- Tines can turn around for cultivating and power-weeding
- Handles fold easily for storage and transport
- Lifetime Tine Guarantee against breakage
- The 4-cylinder model needs to warm up before it can be properly used
- Both the 2 and 4-cycle versions bounce around a lot on weeded hard packed soil.
The Mantis Tiller/Cultivator 7940 rates number three on our list. It is available in both a 2-cycle or 4-cycle Honda gasoline-powered engine. The 2-cycle model is the lightest tiller/cultivator available (it weighs only 20 lbs!). It runs on a mixture of gasoline and oil in one tank. On the other hand, the Mantis 4-Cycle Tiller/Cultivator (weight 24 lbs) uses gasoline and oil in separate tanks. The 4-cylander engine needs the oil changed every 10 hours of use. Yes, the 4-cylander has more power. However, both models can tackle heavyweight gardening and landscaping tasks such as busting tough sod and clay soil or digging a planting hole for a new shrub or tree. Also, both have a 10” digging depth and 9” wide swath.
Although the Mantis Tiller/Cultivator is generally described as a garden tool, it is capable of much more. There are recorded instances where it has been used for leveling and terracing land, building dikes to control erosion, digging utility ditches and fish ponds, and plowing contoured trails out of steep rocky hillsides.
This machine is versatile. By flipping the tines around, you can speed-weed around established plants and seedlings. Among the several available accessories (at additional cost) are an aerator that cuts into the soil to permit easy absorption of water, oxygen, and nutrients; a border edger that edges around paths, flower beds and bushes; and a hardened steel plow blade that forms furrows in tilled soil. Accessory wheels can be used on the rear of the machine to control the depth of cut.
- Has an adjustable tilling depth selector
- Removable tines allow for a narrower tilling width of 8.25"
- Foldable handle makes storage easy
- The assembly instructions are not well documented.
- There is a tendency for pins and washers to come loose
Number four on our list with 4.7 stars is the GreenWorks 27072 8 Amp 10-Inch Corded Tiller. The weight of this machine is 29.3 lbs. This is more than comparable electric corded machines which tend to give it a bit more stability although it is still light enough to buck when hitting obstacles. It has adjustable wheels, a feature that allows the tilling depth to be varied as required for specific cultivating needs. The maximum depth of the tilled swath is 5”. This is shallower than some similar models. However, due to its ability to narrow the tilling width from 10” to 8.25”, it can more easily cultivate between plants.
The unit is self-propelled and runs forward in front of the user although tilting the tiller forward or pulling it backward on occasion is helpful for more difficult digging situations.
The GreenWorks 27072 Tiller works especially well as a cultivator for previously tilled soil where It is fast and can get into tight places. It does a good job controlling weeds and fluffing up the top of the garden. It does not do heavy duty tilling that requires much deeper digging or slicing up roots and stems and incorporating them into the soil.
Cotter pins or washers have been known to come out or fall off when the unit bounces around a lot. Also, if not careful, the tines can bend under excessive pressure.
The GreenWorks 27072 8 Amp 10-Inch Corded Tiller is mostly useful for tilling and cultivating small and moderately sized gardens and removing sod and small roots.
- Adjustable cultivating and tilling depth up to 8 inches
- Variable speed, throttle and clutch control
- Tilling width can be set to 6 or 10 inches
- Often requires several attempts to start
- Needs to warm up before using to avoid stalling
- Some cotter pins and washers have a tendency to fall out during rough use
Last on our list of 5 recommended tiller cultivators is the Earthquake MC43 Mini Cultivator Tiller. The unit weighs 33 lbs. The weight is concentrated in the front where the engine is located, but it can be easy to pick up by lifting from the lowest section of the handlebars.
The 2-cylinder engine, an Ardisam Viper, is made in China although it is American engineered. The Viper is a CARB Compliant Engine. CARB stands for California Air Resources Board, an agency that deals with environmental protection, specifically air pollution.
The Earthquake MC43 Mini Cultivator Tiller has some user-friendly features such as a quick adjust for the rear wheels (just pull a sleeve on the axle and slide the wheels up or down to one of 3 positions). It also makes it easy to remove the tiller wheels when you need to unwind any weeds or vines that wrap around them (just pull a pin, and they slide off the driveshaft).
Running this machine takes some attention since the tines only turn when you apply the throttle. Squeeze the throttle more, and the tines turn faster. Let go of the throttle and the tines stop turning, yet the engine keeps running. As a safety feature, completely letting go of the handlebars also stops the tines from turning.
The height of the handles on the Earthquake MC43 is not adjustable. Coupled with a tendency of the machine to vibrate, particularly under hard use, this makes it especially uncomfortable for shorter people to use for an extended period of time.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TILLER OR CULTIVATOR
All of our five recommended tiller-cultivators will perform well as described. The one you choose should be the one that best meets your needs and preferences. Consider the following:
Choosing The Best Tiller
- Are you okay with filling a gas tank before each use or would you rather just plug in an electrical cord? Gasoline tillers are noisier and produce exhaust fumes while using electric powered ones limit range and require constant attention to the cord’s location.
- If you choose gasoline, do you prefer a 4-cycle engine that weighs a bit more and has separate gas and oil tanks, or a 2-cycle one that requires a gasoline-oil mixture?
- What are the requirements you have for the depth and width of cut? Some tiller-cultivators have fixed limits. Others are adjustable so that you can, for example, narrow the width for cultivating between closely planted rows.
- Are accessories available? These generally entail additional cost. They can include items such as edge trimmers and furrow-forming plow blades.
WHAT MAKES A QUALITY TILLER
Garden tiller-cultivators are machines designed for digging and mixing hard soil into a loose garden bed and keeping the soil conditioned throughout the growing season.They are not only lighter than their larger, heavier, rear-wheeled counterparts but most are also more maneuverable because their tines are in front and wheels in the back. This allows for easier turning and reversing. Another feature of rear-wheeled tiller-cultivators is that they have forward rotating tines which not only break up softer soils but can also more easily weed or aerate.
Quality garden tiller-cultivators have some user-friendly features like quick and easy adjustments for height and width of cut. Adjustable tine widths allow the tilling of narrow spaces or rows. Tine-height adjustments provide some choice in the depth of cut, especially while cultivating.
A quality tiller will have folding handlebars and probably folding wheels to accommodate limited garage or shed storage space. Lesser quality machines may have folding handles but sacrifice strength and stability as a result.
The starter cord on a gasoline engine must be strong enough to the handle multiple pulls over time without fraying or breaking. The engine itself, whether electric or gasoline, must be reliable. In a quality tiller-cultivator, the engine can be relied upon to start and stop easily and safely, be easy to maintain, and run without stalling. Some engine manufacturers that meet these standards include Honda, Ardisam Viper, Briggs & Stratton, and the American Lawn Mower Company.
TIPS TO MAINTAIN YOUR TILLER OR CULTIVATOR
Whether your tiller-cultivator is powered by gasoline or electricity, it is the engine that spins the tines and turns the wheels, so you want to treat it well.
For gasoline engines, using only non-ethanol gas will keep the engine from gunking up. Always use fresh gas. Using gas that’s over a month old, will over time foul up the carburetor. If you leave store your tiller-cultivator with unused gasoline in the tank, be sure to add gasoline stabilizer. Whether your engine calls for straight gasoline or a mix of gasoline and two-cycle oil, it would be a good idea to add fuel stabilizer to protect against moisture in the tank. The percentages of stabilizer to use with gas-oil mixtures are generally the same as those used with straight gasoline, but check the fuel stabilizer’s label to ensure you add the proper amount. As an alternative, you can pour any unused gasoline back into the gas can and then crank the engine until it runs out of gas and dies.
An electric engine doesn't require dealing with gasoline, oil, or gas stabilizers. The tradeoff is that you have to plug it into an 110 electrical outlet to use. You need to make sure not to get the wire caught in the tilling blades or trip over it.
Because the cord must be plugged in, the distance from the outlet limits how far you can till or cultivate before the plug pulls loose. Your electric tiller-cultivator requires a heavy duty three-wire grounded extension cord. A cord will extend the working range of your machine, but trying to extend the use of your tiller-cultivator without increasing the capacity of the cord can cause problems. An inappropriate extension cord, one that is gauged too small for the job, can affect the amount of current and reduce power to the motor. Dropped voltage causes the amperage to rise. The internal windings of a motor are insulated to accommodate certain temperatures that the motor is designed to work in, and when these are exceeded, damage occurs to them.
How to select the proper extension cord based on length of cord run.
- Cord Length: Up to 25 feet - Proper Gauge Size: No. 14 Gauge
- Cord Length: Up to 50 feet - Proper Gauge Size: No. 12 Gauge
- Cord Length: Up to 100 feet - Proper Gauge Size: No. 10 Gauge
After careful consideration of many different tiller-cultivators, we recommend the Earthwise 11-Inch Electric Tiller and Cultivator TC70001 if you prefer a versatile electric machine. If your preference is for a gasoline powered tiller-cultivator, our number one recommendation is the Mantis Tiller Cultivator 7940.
Both Garden tiller-cultivators are strong, well-made machines designed for digging and mixing hard soil and cultivating that soil into a loose garden bed. Both are lightweight making for easy lifting and maneuvering. Both the Earthwise 11-Inch Electric Tiller and Cultivator TC70001 and the Mantis Tiller Cultivator 7940 can be folded or collapsed, a feature that allows them to be easily stored in small areas.
Online reviewers overwhelming agreed with our recommendations and gave them each the highest possible ratings.