The best tillers are designed for breaking new soil on large gardens or just keeping your small garden or vegetable in top shape, and we’ve found the best gas and electric options for every yard. When buying a rototiller, there are a few different factors to consider. Firstly, what is your soil texture like? Rocky or hard soil will require a little extra muscle, whereas already broken soil in smaller yards will only need a budget tiller to keep them maintained.
The ideal soil for growing flowers or fruit and vegetables will be loose, air-rich, and soft soil, so using a tiller to turn up compacted and hard soil will transform the gardening potential of your yard by breaking up dense and waterlogged soil. Tillers are also great for those who want to mix fertilizer or compost in with their existing soil because it breaks down clumps of earth and allows new agents to integrate properly.
One major thing to consider when buying a new rototiller or cultivator is the power source. An electric tiller will usually cost less, but this is because it’s usually corded and less powerful than gas alternatives. Despite the fact that you might need an extension cord, though, an electric tiller is a great investment for smaller gardens because it is typically more lightweight and easy to store. There’s two types of gas tillers to consider if you want something with more muscle. For breaking new soil, a gas tiller is always your best bet. They’re cordless, powerful, and often work as both cultivators and tillers in one. Two-cycle rototillers will cost and weigh less on average, but you need to achieve the right mix of oil and gasoline to get them working, which can be fiddly and time consuming. By contrast, a four-cycle gas tiller will run on just gas, so they’re easier to maintain and run.
Tiller vs cultivator: Which should you buy?
There is a small difference between a tiller and cultivator, and the right rototiller for you depends on the garden you’re working with. While tillers can turn up new, dense soil and also work with existing gardens, they may be a bit deep-reaching for some areas. A cultivator, by contrast, has a shallower reach and will do a wonderful job of loosening up the top layer of soil in your existing garden, but will struggle to make a difference in firm and dense soil. Our guide includes tiller and cultivator combos, designed to offer an optimum performance in best areas, but we’ve also included the best cultivators for those who want something to regularly maintain their garden.
1. Craftsman C410: Best tiller overall
If you want a crossover between a cultivator and a tiller, the Craftsman C410 is a top choice. This gas tiller is super powerful and has a 4-cycle engine that runs clean and doesn’t require you to mix gas and oil for it to run. This tiller has six inch tines, which isn’t as deep as some other tillers in our roundup, but it is powerful enough to break up dense, rocky, and waterlogged soil and turn it into fresh and loamy ground, ready for planting. It is also suitable for maintaining your yard, and because it’s not too heavy for a gas tiller, it will make easy work of even dense and large spaces.
Of course, the Craftsman C410 is a pretty expensive option. It has a 4-cycle engine, which is an instant price-booster, and it also offers an adjustable tilling path of up to 12 inches. Its electric start cable is designed to make it easier to turn on than many gas alternatives, and it also comes with a variable speed throttle.
- Read the full Craftsman C410 Gas Tiller review
Sun Joe TJ604E: Best electric tiller
There are many benefits of investing in an electric tiller, especially if you’ve got a smaller garden to tend to. While they’re known for being less powerful than gas alternatives, these tillers are great for maintaining soil and can be a lot cheaper, too. The Sun Joe TJ604E is great for those with already loose soil and can effectively aerate your garden for perfect plants and thriving vegetables. With a depth of eight inches, this is also a top pick for those with deep yards. It’s also 16 inches wide, which is impressive for an electric model.
The Sun Joe TJ604E is corded, but its smart design allows the cord to leave through the handle, so you won’t get tangled up in this tiller. It also has a safety switch and an instant start button, making it both safer and easier to start than most gas alternatives. This tiller is covered by a two year warranty, and folds away easily when you’re ready to store it again.
- Read the full Sun Joe TJ604E Tiller review
3. Remington RM4625: Best cultivator
The Remington RM4625 is the best lightweight cultivator we found, and while it may be a little too lightweight for your tilling needs, its six inch tilling depth is not too far off many of the gas tillers in this guide. At only 29 pounds, this cultivator is easy to use and plenty maneuverable. It also has an adjustable tilling width between six and nine inches, and a variable-speed throttle that lets you work at the right speed for you.
You'll need to assemble this machine before you can start working in the garden. However, it's easy enough to put together that it should take you only a few minutes. You simply assemble the handlebar and shaft, then affix those items and the wheel assembly to the main tiller. Among its other convenient features, the Remington is easy to clean, and its folding handle makes it easier to store compared to other tillers.
We suggest buying one of the tillers in our guide if you want to turn up new soil, but the Remington RM4625 is a perfectly suitable cultivator and will keep your garden weed-free and loamy all through the year. Because it’s a 2-cycle cultivator you do need to combine oil and gas to make it run, but you can always buy this premixed and save yourself the hassle.
- Read the full Remington RM4625 cultivator review
4. Earthwise TC70001: Best cheap tiller
The Earthwise TC70001 is the perfect tiller cultivator combo for those on a budget. It’s electric and corded, which is the major drawback of this model, but it boasts a deep 8.5 inch tine depth and a decent 11 inch tilling path width. This tiller starts with the press of a button, and it also has a safety button for quick emergency shut offs.
This powerful machine does the job, especially if you have a relatively small garden. This is designed with a 2-cycle Viper engine with substantial power for a garden tiller. Besides tilling the ground, this machine also helps you weed your garden, aerate the soil, and work in fertilizer or compost into the dirt. This results in loose, fresh earth that will cultivate seeds and seedlings, and make it easier for water to reach the plant’s roots.
Its tillers are front-tine, which are more suitable for light use on existing gardens and great for weeding. However, despite the fact that this claims to be an effective tiller, the Earthwise TC70001 is probably not your best bet if you want to turn up new soil.
- Read the full Earthwise TC70001 tiller review
Earthquake MC33: Best for small gardens
The Earthquake MC33 is a small and helpful tiller/cultivator that will get your soil in great shape for planting, and keep it that way. This lightweight gas-powered tiller frees you from having to use an extension cord for an electrical hookup, and it slices at either six or ten inches thanks to its removable tines, which is a reasonably good feature for a tiller at this price.
While this machine doesn’t cut as deep or wide as some other tillers on the market, it is more than powerful enough to do the job, especially if you have a relatively small garden. This is designed with a two-cycle Viper engine with substantial power for a garden tiller. Besides tilling the ground, this machine also helps you weed your garden, aerate the soil, and work in fertilizer or compost into the dirt. This results in loose, fresh earth that will cultivate seeds and seedlings, and make it easier for water to reach the plant’s roots.
The Earthquake Mini Cultivator has a recoil starting system rather than an electric starter, which means you need to pull a cord to turn it on. This is not a big problem for most people, but it is more challenging than just pushing a button on an electric tiller. The cultivator does not come fully assembled, but the assembly isn’t difficult. You'll also need to mix gas and oil for the fuel according to the directions in the manual.
- Read the full Earthquake MC33 review
6. Southland SCV43: Best gas cultivator
For light work on existing gardens, a cultivator is all you need. While they don’t reach as deep as many tillers, cultivators are great for turning up the top layer of soil and making it loose, which makes it easy to add fertilizers and other nutrients in the mix. The Southland SCV43 is our top pick of cultivators because it offers direct gear drive and can be easily transported.
Although it’s heavy, the Southland SCV43 is relatively easy to transport and maneuver. It has a front carry handle and can fold away into three pieces. Its tillers are five inches deep and its tilling path is eight inches, and although the tillers are front-line, this does make it easier to steer and direct.
- Read the full Southland SCV43 cultivator review
Choosing the best tiller for you
Some tillers are great at breaking in soil that has never been tilled before, which calls for a robust machine and strong tines. Others are better at loosening dirt that has been tilled before so you can plant your garden. Different tillers may work better than others at helping you weed and aerate your garden, as well as work in compost and fertilizers. It's important to pick a tiller that will do the work you need done on your property.
Tillers have been used in agriculture for centuries as they enhance the properties of a soil in many ways. The benefits of a tiller include breaking dense, compact ground into loose soil that is easy to plant in, they help to mix organic compost into the soil, and they also remove weeds. Tilling the soil also has some disadvantages, such as promoting soil erosion and increasing the need for pesticides. So, you will have to judge if it is beneficial for your purpose.
Tillers are best for large areas of land that you are looking to cultivate into a growing space for the first time - to help de-compact the soil and introduce nutrients. The smaller models, often called cultivators, are handy for weeding between seed beds and mixing in compost in an empty bed, but typically won’t plow through the hard, compact soil and something more dedicated for weeding a garden may be better.
We wanted to give you a wide enough assortment so you could find what you need, for both gardens big and small. We also looked for models that can handle different tasks, sought out tillers than come fully assembled as well as those you assemble yourself and tried to find a mix of sizes since that will affect your storage needs as well as what you need in terms of performance.
What is the difference between a tiller and a cultivator?
Cultivators and tillers are designed for different tasks. Cultivators are designed for mixing up loose soil and a tiller breaks up solid ground. Tillers can dig much deeper into the ground than a cultivator. You generally use a tiller at the beginning and end of growing seasons. At the beginning of a growing season it will break up hard-packed dirt so it’s the right consistency for plants to take root in. At the end of the planting season it will till all the leftover growth into the soil so it can decompose naturally. It is also fantastic for mixing in compost into the soil.
Cultivators, while they look similar to some tillers, are generally smaller. They are good for mixing up the soil, especially if you’re planting in a field with a lot of grass and weeds. You can use a cultivator to stir in compost and fertilizer and blend the soil before planting. Cultivators help you keep weeds in check so they don’t overtake your garden. You can regularly break up weeds between rows of plants in your garden with a cultivator, saving your back and the extra work of getting down on your hands and knees.
Tiller maintenance tips
The work tillers do is dirty, so it’s no wonder they get strewn with rocks and debris. To maintain your tiller, it’s important to thoroughly hose off the tines and carefully inspect them to make sure all the debris is removed after each use.
You’ll know it’s time to sharpen the tines when they stop slicing through the dirt efficiently. Before you sharpen them, thoroughly clean the tines by scrubbing them with mild detergent. Grime and debris can scratch the tines if they aren’t properly cleaned before they’re sharpened. Once the tines are clean, use a mill file to sharpen each one individually. If the tiller is small, you can simply turn it over and sharpen the tines attached to the machine. For bigger tillers, you’ll want to remove the tines and fasten them into a vice while you sharpen them.
Be sure to change the oil and air filter at least once a year, preferably at the beginning of the gardening season, so you know you are starting out the season with clean fuel. Consult the owner’s manual for the appropriate grade and amount of oil. Also, either use up all the gas in the tank at the end of each season or add fuel stabilizer to whatever gas remains in the tank. Store the tiller indoors, in a garage or shed, to keep it away from the elements.
Rear tine vs front tine tillers
The key component of a garden tiller is the tine design. Tines are the metal prongs that work and loosen the soil. Their length and position determines how the machine operates, how far the machine can cut into the soil and what kind of soil it works best in. In some cases, short tines are sufficient, but for other jobs, you need tines that dig deep. Here are some differences between tillers with rear tines and those with front tines:
Machines with their tines in the back typically do a better job of breaking up soil that has never been tilled and cutting deeply into dense, thickly packed dirt. They have large wheels with deep treads and adjustable depth regulators, so you can till to different depths.
Some rear tines are counter-rotating. Because they move counter-clockwise, they give you even more control to handle the toughest dirt. These tillers create the least amount of vibration when cutting through clay and rocky dirt, and they are great for creating new garden beds where they didn’t exist before.
Generally, tillers that have tines located in the middle are the easiest to control and move while the machine is operating. The rototiller’s engine is usually located above the tines with gives it better weight distribution.
They are not as powerful as rear tines, and are more suited to light maintenance work, over creating new seed beds.
These tines sit in front of the wheels and rotate forward. Front tillers don’t cut as far into the soil and aren’t as effective at breaking up tough, clumpy dirt. Front-tine tillers generally cost less than rear tillers of comparable size and power.
They are much easier to maneuver over dirt that is already loose and doesn’t require quite as much work.
Electric vs gas tillers
Another consideration is the way a tiller is powered. For many people, the convenience of an electric-powered tiller is obvious. They are simple to start, they will run indefinitely since your electricity is always available and they are handy for smaller-sized gardens. However, the drawback is you will need an extension cord if your garden is farther away from the house and without a power source, you’ll be out of luck.
Gas-powered tillers are potent machines that can muscle through tough soil. However, with many of these models, you must mix oil and gas to fuel the machine, and occasionally stop to refuel, which is a chore not everyone likes. Gas powered machines tend to be heavier and harder to push, which could be a problem for some consumers.
As with all tools, electric are generally less expensive than gas-powered. If you prefer electric to gas you will find good, affordable models, but you won’t get the same power gas tillers provide.