Garden Tillers For The
Successful Gardener


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Garden tillers are powerful tools for home gardeners. If you are planning on having a garden of any size at all, you really should consider purchasing or at least renting one. A small garden can be created and maintained with only hand tools, but most people will soon tire of the hard labor involved in turning the soil with a shovel or potato fork. A good tiller can make things much easier (and faster).


Garden Tillers - In the Beginning...


There have been many innovations in the design of garden tillers over the past 40 or 50 years.

Originally they were heavy monsters that had the tines in the front and small wheels in the back. The only forward power came from the tines themselves, and moving them from storage to the garden relied solely on human power.


On particularly hard ground this design of tiller might jump up onto the surface and take off, leaving the operator chasing after it, or face down in their garden with a mouth full of garden.


Garden Tillers - The Troy-Bilt Revolution

A 20 year old Troy-Bilt Pony Model tiller - still running fine


Troy-Bilt revolutionized tillers in several ways. First they moved the tines to the back, and covered them for safety. Then they added larger pneumatic tires, which aided in pulling the tiller along.

They also added forward (and reverse) power to the wheels, so the operator simply "walk behind" the tiller and steer it's direction.

Finally the added "dead man" paddles to the handles. The person operating the tiller had to hold the paddles against the handles to engage the drive. If the tiller jumped onto the surface, and started to take off, all the operator has to do was let go of the handles, and the tiller would stop.

They also introduced a hiller-furrower attachment that connected behind the tines that allowed gardeners to cut furrows, and hill up around plants.


Garden Tillers - The Latest and Greatest

There have been additional innovations since that time, that include tillers with tines that operate in reverse direction to the wheels. Basically the wheels pull forward while the tines operate in reverse.

This accomplishes two things. First it prevents the tiller from jumping onto the surface and taking off across the garden.

Second, reverse direction tines dig in deeper and faster than forward tine tillers, so that a section of sod can be turned into plantable soil in much less time than with a standard design tiller.


Garden Tillers Come In All Sizes

Micro Tillers - like the Mantis that advertises on television quite a bit in the spring are small and lightweight. they run on a 2 cycle engine like a weed eater or a chainsaw.

They are pretty good for weeding and cultivating between rows of an established garden, but I wouldn't recommend using one to start a garden "from scratch".


Walk Behind Tillers - Those like the Troy Bilt design are also made in varying sizes and engine power. For example, a recent check of the Troy Built website showed 8 different models to choose from.

I recommend picking the next size larger than you think you will need. If you know someone who owns a tiller, talk to them first. Find out what features they like before you decide.

There are many brands of driven, rear tine, reversing tillers on the market today, but my favorite is still the Troy Bilt brand.

Pull Behind Tillers - If you have a lawn and garden tractor, you can even get tiller attachments that can either driven from a belt shaft driven PTO (power take off) of your tractor or one that is a self powered pull behind model.

These can be up to 6 feet wide, and can really rip up the soil quickly. However, a piece of equipment this big may not be practical for many small scale home gardeners.


Garden Tillers - Basic Maintenance

Just like any other gas powered machinery, your tiller will require some basic maintenance to assure that you get MANY years of successful use.

-Engines have to be maintained. Engine oil, fuel filters, air filters, and spark plugs all have to be changed regularly.

-Oil levels have to be checked before each use, and topped off if needed.

-Gas in the tank either needs to be used up at the end of the season, or have a preservative (like Sta-Bil) added before winter storage.

-Grease fittings have to be greased.

-Gear oil needs to be checked and changed based on the manufacturer's recommendations.

-Drive belts need to be checked for wear and changed as needed.

-And finally, it's a good idea to just keep your tiller clean. Tilling and working soil can generate lots of dust that can (in addition to clogging air filters), build up on all surfaces, and get into moving parts and cause wear. Keeping your machine clean will reduce the amount of wear and tear on your investment.


Alternatives For Beginners and
Small Scale Gardeners

Many rent-all stores and some home and garden stores carry tillers that can be rented for a day or a week, allowing the small scale gardener to get their garden tilled up without having to have a tiller sitting around taking up space all year.

Renting one will also allow you to learn what features you do and don't like before you commit your hard earned money to buy one.

Just be cautious - make sure you're judging it on its design features, and not on the quality of it's maintenance. Some rent-all places will only perform just enough maintenance and repairs to just keep their equipment running, but not necessarily up to like new operating conditions.


Owning a garden tiller can make the home gardener's life much easier. However, purchasing one can be a fairly large investment, so it's a good idea to be sure of what you want and need before making that investment. Do your research, talk to people who own one already, try out a model you think you might like. Then decide what to buy.



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